Monday, April 5, 2010

Xandra's story and my quest to know where in the world is Trinidad

I met Xandra (not her real name) exactly a week ago.

When I first met Xandra, she impressed me as someone who is carefree.  She easily warmed up with me and talked to me like it was not really the first time we met.  I felt she had no airs and because she was bubbly, I almost believed that all the bones in her body are funny ones.

You might wonder how our paths crossed.  My friend is her uncle's private nurse.  Her uncle, let's name him George, is actually an Australian who married Xandra's aunt.  The couple has been residing in one of the remote towns of Bohol for ten years now, but was recently forced (as per George's doctor's advice) to stay and rent a place in Cebu City because of George's very fragile health.  He underwent a major abdominal operation, had a tracheostomy, and as if those were not enough, George had two episodes of myocardial infarctions (or what is commonly known as a heart attack) while recuperating at the hospital.  

It may seem impossible but Xandra's uncle is better now and is on his way to a full recovery.  George and his wife went home to Bohol last weekend and decided to stay in their place for just a few days before they fly to Australia where George will have his cardiac procedures.  They are actually kind of forced to fly to Australia and have the cardiac diagnostic and interventional procedures done there so that George could take advantage of his insurance.  It will be the first time that Xandra's aunt will step on foreign soil.  When she married George, living abroad was actually the last thing in her mind.

The patient's decision to visit his home in Trinidad, Bohol, had a ripple effect on the nurses.  They had to cross the seas between the islands with him.  My friend had to tag along too, and you know how clanish Filipino families can be, especially when a family member gets sick.  You'd find one big contingent coming in that you have to ask who is the patient among them.  

That is how Xandra and I met - through a common friend.  My friend asked me if I could go with them since they, Xandra included, were treated to a tour in Bohol's major tourist attractions.  I said yes.  I also wanted to visit  the patient's place in Trinidad.  It is a good two hours away from the capital city where I am working and I thought it would be great to visit other places in this island aside from the major tourist attractions like the Chocolate Hills.

I was also thinking it would be a way for me to know how far that town is.  It would come in handy when a patient from that place would come in for a health complaint in the middle of the night.  Sometimes, you wouldn't believe it but the complaint has been going on for years and they just happen to choose the perfect timing of going to the hospital in the middle of the night, after all this years of tolerating the condition, and I just happen to be the lucky one to be on duty.

If the complaint can be managed on an out-patient basis, it would be easy to tell the patient to come back the following day and go to a clinic.  However there are cases wherein the doctor needs to advise admission especially when the patient has no place to stay and comes from an area which is worlds away from the hospital.  Admiting him or her into the hospital would be the right move if a doctor would pose more risks to the patient if he or she is ordered to travel back home.   In the case of most people here in Bohol, they usually have to travel back home riding a  habal-habal, a motorcycle that could carry approximately eight persons.  That is only found here in the Philippines.

To cut the blabbering, yes, I went with my friend's touring crowd which included Xandra.  I did the zipline for the second time.  On this side of the country, it's called the Suislide. Yes, you guessed it, it's a terminology created by combining the words suicide and slide.

I stayed at the patient's house with the whole contingent and the festivities went on. I forgot that I was miles away from  the comforts of city living.  I was in a remote town then but the warmth of its people whom I just met, Xandra included, made me feel that I was at home.  We videoked the night away and drank a few glasses of beer just enough to make us feel good.  We laughed and gave away as many high-fives as we can.  We forgot about the world and all its shit.  And mind you, we felt good.  Never better. 

It was on the second and last night of that weekend rendezvous when Xandra told me her story.  No, she was not sexually abused.  Nor is she hearing voices speaking to her and telling her to do weird things.  She also did not end up as a contestant in Wowowee either in one of its episodes.  She just recounted to me one of the most inspiring stories I ever heard in this lifetime.

Xandra presently works as a janitress in one of the big hospitals in Cebu City.   She  earned a high school diploma but her parents could not support for her college education so she decided to get janitorial jobs.  (George's wife is her mother's cousin and is also supporting the whole family.  Xandra does not want to include herself in her aunt's long list of  financial liabilities.)  

Xandra was originally employed in one of the beach resorts in Bohol but was among the many employees who were laid off  when the resort was turned over to a new management.  

Xandra was devastated.  At a young age of 18, she was already the bread winner of the family.  Both her elder brothers already have families of their own, leaving her to support her aged parents.  She needed to find a way to feed her family.

She decided to try her luck in the Queen City of the South.  You would think it would be easy for her to land on a janitorial job with all her experience to back her up.  However, not this time for Xandra.  The maintenance agency had a stiff height requirement for its employees and  Xandra, who stands at barely five feet tall, failed in that department.  But Xandra was not about to give up this time.  She cried and begged the manager as much as she can so that he would hire her.  She promised as hard as she could that she will be a very good employee and that they will never regret taking her in.  

It was just Xandra's luck that, the hospital where she is working in now, urgently needed a janitress - yes, they specified the gender - in its clinical laboratory.  Xandra's tears and acts of begging all worked in her  favor.  She got the job - inspite of her height.  

Landing on the job is just the beginning of Xandra's challenges.   Barely two weeks away from receiving her first salary, she had to make ends meet with a whooping five hundred pesos.  That was all the money she had for her food and her travelling expenses.  

She was staying in Cebu City with another distant aunt who lives two jeepney rides away from the hospital.  That already takes off around 30 pesos everyday from her meager budget.  Xandra was not about to give up this time so to cut on her expenses she would walk half the distance then just take the a jeepney ride on the other half of the way. She would also ride a tartanilla when she sees one, instead of taking a jeepney.  The ride on a tartanilla costs a peso or two less than a jeepney ride.  Today, tartanillas or kalesas - carriages carried around and pulled by horses - are not as common in Cebu City anymore, unlike when I was younger, but one does see them sometimes in the downtown area. 

As for Xandra's meals, here is the heart-breaking part.  She had to thrive on one serving of rice and a serving of monggo (mung) beans everyday for two weeks.  She would eat half of the serving of rice and another half of the serving of mung beans before she goes on duty.  At the middle of her eight-hour duty, she was already tired but she had to put her best foot forward always to impress her bosses so fatigue is a forbidden word in her vocabulary.  She would eat the remaining part of her meal then to sustain her for the rest of her shift and her walk back to her aunt's house.

The vendor from whom Xandra buys rice and mung beans knew her already as her regular buyer or  colloquially speaking, her suki.   The vendor must have pitied Xandra, a hardworking woman trapped in a grade schooler's body.  She would gladly offer to Xandra all the scorched rice that she had.  

I would like to quote exactly how Xandra's conversation with the food vendor went, as she recounted it to me.

Vendor (showing Xandra the almost empty rice pot):  Mokaon ka aning dukot day?  Kay ako ni ihatag nimo.  (Do you eat scorched rice?  I'd gladly give this to you if you want.) 

Xandra:  Oo, nang, mokaon gyud.  Salamat kaayo.  (Yes, Ma'am, I do eat that.  Thank you so much.) 

Xandra thrived on the same meal everyday for two weeks.  She also walked long distances  from her home and back in order to save her fare.  

 At last, her first pay day arrived and Xandra was filled with excitement.  The problem was, she had to withdraw her salary from the ATM machine.  Xandra never pressed the buttons of an ATM machine before but she had to try or else she would finally go hungry and penniless this time.  Her first attempts were unsuccessful that she had to call her employer to confirm if they deposited money into her account.  They were sure that they did.  Xandra tried tinkering with the machine a lot of times until finally, money popped out from the machine.

Xandra immediately went to the nearest restaurant and ate the most decent meal her money could afford her.  She ate two pieces of chicken and two cups of rice, and brought it all down with a bottle of soda.  You could just imagine how Xandra ate that meal with great fervor.  A choir singing "Hallelujah" while she was having her meal would have made the scene absolutely perfect.

Xandra now continues to be the diligent employee that she is.  She tells of how tedious her job is as a hospital janitress, mopping a great hallway which could accommodate around twenty-five cars, and racing with time when she is assigned to clean patients' rooms.  I had no idea could the job could be as tedious as that until I heard it from a janitress herself.  I'd probably fall flat on the hallway out of exhaustion right after cleaning one private room in the hospital.

Xandra is not complaining though.  With all her efforts, she has managed to convert their wooden house to a concrete one.  Sometimes she is able to give a little of her earnings to her brothers.  Recently, she ordered a refrigerator for her mother in Trinidad so she could sell ice and ice candy to the neighbors, a good way to augment the family's income. She also takes jobs of cleaning the rooms of residents physicians.  For cleaning the rooms of doctors for two hours, she earns a generous two hundred bucks.  

Today, Xandra doesn't have to take long walks back home.  She doesn't need to ride a tartanilla at all because she already lives in a decent boarding house which is just a stone's throw away from the hospital.  She doesn't get to meet the kind food vendor daily because she can somehow afford to eat various menus aside from mung beans.    

Xandra's story is so far the one and only modern success story that I have heard.  Surely there are a lot of success stories out there and I would love to hear them.

We slept late that night after hearing a very unique and original bedtime story, unmindful of our early trip back to the city the following day, and in my part, unmindful of the hospital duty that was waiting for me.  I closed my eyes to sleep, truly inspired and mindful of the things I have in life which most of the time I take for granted.  I wondered, how many Xandras are out there?  What treasury of valuable lessons can we learn from their lives?  Those thoughts, those questions. . . then I drifted off to dreamland, sleep never erasing my eagerness to hear more stories from other Xandras. 


  1. She's cool... a real survivor. :-) Good post, doc.

  2. Hello S! Thank you :-)

    As for Xandra, she surely is a real survivor! Hanep talaga! :-)

  3. You'll like this Doc Shing... Where I work now, we had a utility guy who was barely earning minimum wage. He mopped the floors, bought food for the employees, ran errands, all that. When the owner of the company visited the Philippines, he noticed the utility guy working, and for some reason, he had the utility guy take a logic exam, the same exam given to applicants. To everyone's surprise, the utility guy's score was higher than the scores of more than half of the company's employees. He now works in the outsourcing team, with a salary equal to that of the registered nurses in the team. :) Dreams can come true if people work hard...


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