Thoughts

Motherhood and an election

(I started writing this yesterday but it is getting published only today. My toddler would not go to bed without her mommy and I couldn’t rush to finish and post as I didn’t know how to end it…)

I was going to sleep early tonight. I had only two hours of sleep last night, this morning actually. But no, it doesn’t look like I will do as planned. I’m feeling as though my heart is going to burst.

Does maternal instinct grow stronger with age? I don’t know. Perhaps, this is only an anxiety attack.

I often say that I am not maternal at all and would joke that the reason God gave me children is to tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. He has a good sense of humour.

I don’t know what kind of mother I am. I am not strict or authoritarian per se but when I say no, most of the time, I can stick to that no. I’m also quite tough, maybe even tougher than the firm parents, because I stick to the given punishment even if normally, a mother would feel sorry for her child. Perhaps, I am callous and cold. I do think that I am quite capable of disowning a child, given a reason. My mother once threatened to disown, if I didn’t leave the Philippines for Africa after I graduated from college. I obeyed her. I didn’t know if she was capable of executing the threat. Almost 25 years later, I know she wouldn’t have disowned me; she is very forgiving and although not expressive of love, she is loving.

My son is 50% Afrikaans and 50% Filipino by blood but grew up 100% South African. He grew up with English as his home language. He learned to speak Afrikaans. He doesn’t know Filipino/Tagalog at all. Okay, he did know a few words and phrases but apart from “Gusto ko ng pritong manok” (I want fried chicken), the rest of what he knows would make me even more embarrassed than I already am for not raising him with at least 50% of Filipino culture.

(To those who have accused the people of the Philippines to possess no culture of its own, this is not the venue to defend the Filipino people.)

It is not unreasonable for my son to blame me for not teaching him the language. However, I just did not think that he would need it. I was absolutely certain that the only time he would go to the Philippines is for a holiday every once and a while. I didn’t even worry that he didn’t have a Philippine passport. A South African passport holder can enter the Philippines without visa provided that the stay does not exceed 21 days. A Philippine passport holder cannot come into South Africa without visa, period.

It is also my fault that my son does not eat seafood at all. Absolutely no seafood at all! It’s a pity because he’s missing out on my personal favourites – salmon, prawns and langoustines. I call him uncultured. How maternal is that? He gets angry with me. I laugh. He shakes his head. I’m making fun of him in a loving way. He knows I’m making fun of him but I’m not sure if he knows I do it with love.

Although I allowed my son to be his own person and I was comfortable not having to worry about budgeting for university for him, I didn’t want him to have a limited future. His father, my ex-husband, has always been vocal about not spending a cent for his tertiary education. I didn’t think about his future until just before he matriculated. I am now acknowledging that my decision to give him a chance to go to university was rather late especially if I wanted him to study where I completed my undergraduate degree. He was not an academic but he was not intellectually challenged. His weakness was laziness and his love for sports and fun.

Fast-forward to present, having survived some dramatic episodes in our life when I temporarily disowned him due to his lack of appreciation, wrong priorities and disrespect, he is now in the Philippines, waiting to start a new life, of course, as soon as his dual citizenship is finally sorted.

Let me say this with crystal clear clarity that apart from lacking the maternal instinct that most “normal” mothers have (“normal” being those who are not shy to judge you, verbally or by sharp looks, for how others raise their children), I cannot deny that anyone can call me ‘not truly Filipino’. In fact, as mentioned on my introduction, the nickname Anna Banana I got from an ex-boyfriend in the early 2000s was quite spot on. I am a banana – yellow (despite my dark olive skin, I am mistaken for a Chinese by many, in Africa, that is) outside and white inside.

I knew that 2016 is election year for the Philippines. I was going to vote – for the first time. I registered as an Overseas Absentee Voter in 2006 but I had never voted.

It must be noted that I have exercised my right and responsibility as a South African to vote. I’m also quite expressive about South African politics.

To say that I didn’t know much about Philippine politics is an understatement. The following is where I am:

  1. Corazon Conjuangco-Aquino was the first President I liked. Why would I not? She got the Marcoses out of the country. But, I wasn’t even in the Philippines. I was a high school student in a girls’ boarding school in a remote place in the northern province of Zambia.
  2. Marcoses were bad news. There was Martial Law. I was a kid and we had a “legal” curfew. Come to think of it, the 10pm curfew I had at the age of 22 may have been influenced by the martial law. Imelda built a building and many workers died. The Marcoses had gold taps in the bathrooms. When people (not Filipinos obviously) found out where I originally came from, I was asked if I had as many shoes as Imelda did and if I knew how many underwear pieces she had. Eventually, I made it my personal joke and I would use Imelda as my excuse for my love of shoes.
  3. Mirriam Defensor-Santiago was my President in the 90s. I was living in the Philippines then, if only for a measly 4 years, but I didn’t vote. She didn’t win. Not because I didn’t vote. We all believed (and probably still believe) that she was cheated. She’s a great Senator. She’s very smart. She should have been President. As most people say, she’s the best President the Philippines never had.
  4. Fidel Ramos, a military man became President. He cleaned up Manila’s red light district. He was an okay President… I guess.
  5. The Filipino people elected an actor as their President. I heard he was rather an embarrassment. I don’t know. I gathered he couldn’t speak English. I knew a few “Erap jokes” then but I don’t remember them. I only found out recently that he was jailed after he was impeached. But then, he is now the Mayor of the capital city! Strange.
  6. I “met” Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during an official visit to South Africa as Vice President. The embassy invites the Filipinos to attend official functions. This was at the fancy Sandton Convention Centre. I heard she eventually elected President after Erap’s impeachment. Yay, another female President! I think she came to visit again when she was President. I didn’t go to the embassy. I didn’t know she joined the dark side. Was she impeached? I have some reading to do.
  7. I read that as South Africa took the place of one of the five worst economies, the Philippines was (and still is?) one of the five fastest growing economy. The Philippines is apparently the new BPO haven. An Aquino is the President. Ah, perhaps I was right to like Cory Aquino in the 80s. The only con is that while the Philippine Peso practically retained its value, the South African Rand nosedived and instead of having between P6 to P10 to a R1, I only have P3 to a R1.

It is embarrassing! I should keep this to myself. Then again, when I went to Europe in 2009, if asked where I was from, I would say I was from South Africa. Even in America last year, I was a South African tourist.

So, when I received an email from the embassy about reactivating overseas absentee voter status, I was too preoccupied with whatever it was I was doing at the time I opened the mail and too busy with work that despite the number of times I went to the embassy, I failed to reactivate my “privilege” to vote. Perhaps, subconsciously, I didn’t feel that I should be voting. I didn’t even have my Filipino citizenship then. I had to go through the process of reacquisition of my citizenship. I was partying at the embassy and I didn’t even have my dual citizenship. As I said wherever I went, I was only South African.

Before our emergency trip to the Philippines this year, purely to sort out my son although not much of it happened, the last time I was “home” was in 2010 – for 5 days! I was in the Philippines for exactly 5 days including the day I arrived and the day I left. I landed in Manila, slept, flew to Naga City, attended the wedding of my cousin from the States, spent some time with my cousins, watched my Spain beat my husband’s Netherlands (disappointed that I could not be home in South Africa where the Soccer World Cup was taking place) and headed back home.

So, I was surprised that I got sucked in to the elections. Maybe not so surprised. I now have an interest in the country. My son is there. I need to know that the country which I decided would be the best affordable place for him to obtain his chosen degree because of its much improved economy is not going to change.

I don’t have to say anything about the election. News, articles and stories abound. Depending on which side you pick to support, you would be boisterously cheering in anticipation of change or scared, in varying degrees, of what might happen. Suffice it to say that suddenly, I felt like one of those “real mothers”. I was worried. I needed to be assured that my son would be safe. I had to ask. I thought that maybe I needed to bring him back home first. It even crossed my mind that maybe he would be better off studying here in South Africa. Unreasonable anxiety, I know, considering our tertiary education these days.

My father and I agreed that it would be wise to fly him back to South Africa. After all, the academic year hasn’t started. There is time. The only question is whether he could, considering that he used a tourist visa to get, while waiting to apply for his Philippine passport, which requires his NSO birth certificate what we are still waiting for. I had to ask the embassy. Since I had been communicating with one specific civil servant who had been very helpful, I addressed my concerns to him. Little did I know that my fears and concerns as a mother would somehow insult the country.

I wrote (excerpt): “My father and I decided that due to the possible political unrest that might follow after the election that is current taking place, it might be best for my son to come back here first since the academic year hasn’t started anyway and if the political situation remains unstable, perhaps he won’t go back first.”

I’m a naturalized South African. My father is a naturalized Motswana (from Botswana). We are both Filipino by blood. Maybe we have been away for too long. I think I should not write emails late at night and have recipients read them first thing in the morning.

Response I received (excerpt): “What political unrest? The Philippines is a bastion of democracy in the world, and Filipinos are proud of participating in elections as a sign of their freedom. Only those that fail to understand and appreciate democracy will feel otherwise. Only those that are not truly Filipino will fear what is going on in the Philippines. I say all this because Philippine elections are always a proud moment for me, not a time for fear. It is, for me, a time to defend my country against those who doubt it.”

Ouch!

Not really. I have always been aware that I am not truly Filipino. I couldn’t help but laugh though. He was right. I just didn’t expect that response. So earnest! So heartfelt! I felt so ridiculous I had to laugh.

I hope that my response did not make matters worse. I do have an unfortunate ‘foot-in-my-mouth’ tendency. Sometimes, I think that I have no filter system. “I apologize if I doubt the Philippines and her election. Admittedly, I don’t know the motherland having lived in Africa for at least 25 years of my 45 years on planet earth without connecting much and sadly, even the last 4 years of my stay there were spent as “apparently” an apathetic Lasallian, although I don’t think we were really that, and the 15 years before as a child/teenager in the province.”

Here’s what I can say now: if he has to run for President, and our basis for our choice is a person’s love for country and utmost dedication and determination to defend her from detractors (since I have no knowledge of his qualifications and experience), I would vote for him. Someone just needs to remind me to reactivate my voter status.

I’m a rather misplaced “westernized’ Filipino-South African working mother who’s more South African than Filipino, and more a career woman than a mother (or a wife), with a son in a country he’s not familiar with, not speaking the language, where the incoming president, according to some, is worse than Donald Trump.

I hope that hope campaign was just for show…

In the end, all we want is what’s best for the country, especially the country where we and our loved ones live. That’s what I wish and pray for.

After all, I am a mother.

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