Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Our Filipino Family's Video Chat News

Yesterday was a historic first in Trien's family history. It was the first time she and her family ever had a video chat.

That was not easy, as nobody in her family is really computer literate. Most of her family has only seen a computer from the other side of a counter at an office. Her sixteen year old sister Emily has at least actually touched one, but barely knows how to more than turn it on.

They texted Trien on Sunday, saying that they wanted to chat on Monday, because it was election day, and everyone would be off. She called them back, and they set up a date, at 2pm.

Mama went with Em-Em, and they got to the Internet cafe an hour early, because they were very excited. In the interim, Em-Em read her e-mail while Mama watched. After Trien got to our local Internet cafe, they chatted for over two hours on Yahoo! messenger. It wasn't that they had so much to say, it's just that Em-Em can't type that fast, so it took much longer than it would otherwise.

After they turned on the video cameras, Mama started crying. I asked Trien why, and her first response was, "Because she missed me," and the second was, "I don't know." That is unusual, because usually the latter response comes first, to give the person questioned a few seconds to think and form a response.

I think Mama cried because Trien showed them her pregnant tummy. Being a mommy herself, I think Mama was touched now that her oldest daughter, the one they thought was never going to get married, was now going to have a daughter of her own. Mama is that kind of sweet emotional woman, and it follows that her daughter is, too.

As for news, it seems that somewhere in the world, I am having a good influence on someone. Her two nieces and nephew are going to school everyday, and not playing hooky, as was the case when we were there in December. Back then, they weren't interested in school. If they went in the morning, half the time when they came home for lunch they wouldn't go back. Now they go every day, all day long. Why? Because Auntie Trien told them Uncle John said you have to go to school every day. Now she is back here with me, she calls up the house, and the kids want to talk to me to make sure that I really said that. She tells them that they can't speak to me, because A) we wouldn't be able to understand each other, or B) she tells them I am in the toilet. Which means that the kids must think I am aphasic, and have some sort of chronic digestive disorder. I think she is afraid I might say something in jest, and they would take it seriously. Something along the lines of, "You don't have to go to school, you have to live there." The result would probably give Mama and Papa a heart attack.

One of the reasons the kids gave for missing school was they didn't have pencils. Before I left, I bought them a big box of pencils. Now they are almost gone. I have a whole bunch of pencils that I have been saving from different conferences that I have been to this year. Trien's friend Lisa over in Tanjung Bunga, Penang, is visiting her family in the Philippines next week, and will be in Cebu for a couple days. She will give the kids our pasalubong. After that the kids will have pencils from the Excelsior Hotel in Ipoh, The Copthorne Orchid in Penang, and elsewhere. They can show the other students their pencils and have something to be proud of. Hopefully that will give them even more incentive to go to school.

The one thing that really makes me glad is that Em-Em is going to college. I was worried about her, as she is sixteen now, and going to graduate from high school. No, she is not some sort of super genius who is graduating two years early. That is the normal age kids graduate from high school in the Philippines. The problem is that because of the crappy economy, legally you can't work until you're eighteen. You need to have a college education to even be considered for a job, even if it's just sweeping the floors at Jollibee, which is the Philippine version of McDonald's. No college, No Job. You won't even get the most menial of jobs.

So if Em-Em was not going to college, she would just be sitting around the house for a couple of years doing nothing. At the end of that time, she wouldn't be able to get a job. Basically, she would just be sitting around their village, waiting for some guy to marry her and have kids. It would certainly not be a rich guy either, just some pesoless guy from around the area barely making enough to support himself. Probably one that would drink, and beat her, and after she had kids, would take up with another woman. I've seen that happen a lot around there. That's not the future I'd like my nice, sweet sister-in-law to have.

I told Trien we would talk to her brothers about putting our money together and sending her through college. Em-Em wants to take a two year Hotel and Restaurant Management course at the University of Cebu Lapu-Lapu Mandaue campus, just over the bridge from Mactan Island, where they live. Trien says they are well known for their program there. I left before we had a chance to have a sit down talk with the family.

Trien talked to them after I left, and that my plan is happening. Her brothers are doing their part, and we are doing ours. She is out today sending our contribution, so that Em can buy her uniform.

That way, she can get a job and help out the family a little bit. Maybe she can meet a nice guy at college, or at her job, instead of some sorry loser who is just hanging around looking for trouble. If all goes well, there's even a possibility that we could help her get a job here in Penang.

It really make me feel good, knowing that in some small way I helped change others lives for the better. My life suddenly seems worthwhile.