Can’t blog about my Biñán trip with Arnold Arnáiz and Levi Soledad because our maids left abruptly this morning. Damn. And I was supposed to join Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Javier Ruescas, and Arnold in Sining Gising on NBN Channel 4 today. But because of the foregoing, I’m stuck here at home doubling as a blogger and a yaya.
Household helpers have been a part of Filipino every day life even before the Spaniards founded the Philippines. We give them various tags: maids, the muchacha, the achay, the catulong or casambahay, yaya or aya for the children, and, worse, lonkatuts in calle language.
Before the Spanish era, the concept of a catulong already existed, but was still in its nascent form: they were either called the aliping saguiguilid or the aliping namamahay. During our elementary school days, we were taught that these social classes were slaves. However, in its purest sense, they weren’t. Our concept of slavery today is somewhat Western or European, i.e., chattel slavery or debt peonage. This concept in the pre-Filipino sense is incorrect.
The aliping saguiguilid refers to a “slave” who could own property, even a house (but should stand on the property or land of his/her master). The aliping namamahay, on the other hand, is a “slave” without a house and who totally depends on his/her master’s graces. The latter alipin is somewhat closer to the catulong of today.
In the modern Filipino world, having household helpers is crucial in order to survive economically. This is especially true for the middle class who have children in the household. Without the catulong, a Filipino family is rendered helpless. For instance, working parents cannot go to work without a catulong or two to take care of their children and the household chores; the parents or other members of the family couldn’t be there for them always (as in our case — we don’t live with our relatives anymore; we’ve been on our own for more than a decade already). Besides, relatives have lives of their own to take care of.
The above scenario happened to us a few months ago, so me and my wife entered a very difficult phase in our lives: I was forced to work from home (quarelling with my immediate superior in the process), had minimum hours of sleep, lost much time for myself and other stuff that I love doing (such as staring at house lizards for hours), had a couple of misunderstandings with my wife, got to spank our kids when they start to become hard-headed even if we didn’t mean to, household chores left unattended, the whole apartment becoming topsy-turvy, etc.
During those horrible days, someone even commented to my wife that we were living like North Americans because having household helpers in the US and Canada is not part of their established standard or every day life. And I sometimes theorize that the reason why there are many psycho killers in the US is because of the arduous lives they live there.
Procuring a catulong is another difficult thing. The trend is to recruit women (usually young school dropouts) from far-flung and backward villages in the provinces. Many people from such places have never been to Metro Manila and would love to experience working for the first time aside from farming and other rural jobs. Many families in need of household help contact their relatives in the provinces to help locate suitable maids for their homes. We’ve done this in the past. When the maids that we have are about to leave, I contact my dad who’s based in Unisan, Quezon. My wife contacts her relatives in Abra de Ilog, Mindoro Occidental. If both of us fail to find maids, we turn to our friends and officemates to ask for possible recommendations.
Nowadays, it’s no longer easy to look for maids because of work opportunities abroad. They’d rather work for foreign households and earn dollars, which of course makes sense. What’s more difficult is to find people you can trust. Some of them would steal from you (we experienced that also). Others will hit your children. Others will partake in neighborhood chismis with maids from other houses, telling others about the behavior of their amo (or master). Yung ibá namán uutañgan ca ng uutañgan. Still others have a much bigger appetite than all of your kids’ appetite combined, forcing you to stretch your budget even more. The worst thing that can happen to you is when you leave your home to your maids for a while and when you finally get back, the maids have already left — with some of your cash or belongings. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to us (and I pray that may it never happen). But a similar thing happened a few years ago. When my family went back to our apartment after visiting some relatives (we still had only two kids back then), our maid has already gone away, leaving the doorkeys to a neighbor. She didn’t steal anything. Nonetheless, she left us with the burden of where to leave our children when we get back to work the following day. We were lucky that one of our neighbors knew somebody who needed work as a maid (but that one left abruptly as well without our knowledge).
There is the option to recruit maids from manpower agencies. But that would be a last option to take because it comes for an extra fee.
Usually, only the moneyed class can afford to have maids. But there are some cases wherein some families from the lower class can also afford to pay for extra household help! I know of someone whose maid has a maid to take care of her children in order for her to work as a maid, LOL!!!
Indeed, the catulong has become a vital part of Filipino every day life for centuries. Without them, we won’t be able to pursue other interests nor can we have special and extra time for ourselves and our loved ones. The catulong is another thing that separates us Filipinos from our First World counterparts.