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As quickly as she came, she was gone.

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I had a friend tell me once that “All art is relative, but relatives are seldom art.” Filipino families, particularly my wife’s, are complex in their simplicity even more so in a small barangay deep in the provinces.

A few months ago I wrote about the joy my wife and I felt in having my wife’s brother’s infant daughter come to live with us, as her guardian, as her caretaker. The parents are 17 and 18, and as it is in the province, they are cousins of some type. Not first cousins, but someone’s grandmother is the sister of someone’s uncle or something like that. I really think there are only a dozen families and surnames in my wife’s Samar barangay of 1200. We hope that this would be a long custody arrangement. They both signed a document, fingerprinted and written by an attorney. We were elated and during the last 4 months have been parents to little Zia.

How to Move to the Philippines Manual

We discovered she had health problems; she was malnourished, in the bottom 5% in the Philippines. Also, she had parasites. We got her the medical care she needed in Cebu City. They put her on special formula and over the past 4 months she has become a healthy and happy baby. Of course, we had a lot of fun buying her things and giving her our love.

Shortly after Baby Zia came to us, the trouble began. As the people in this barangay do, and I’m sure other places, the baby’s grandmother started bad mouthing her daughter on Facebook, publicly. The baby’s aunts joined in. They said she was a slut who sold her child for 5000 pesos. They said she would burn in Hell. They called her names. This is pretty powerful for a 17-year-old girl who was trying to do the right thing.

In reality, they had nothing. The grandmother had been against the relationship from the start. The “Kids” have no place to live, no jobs, no education and perhaps 10 pesos between them. Zia’s medical care and special formula are expensive, perhaps 10000 pesos per month. These kids will never have that kind of money to spend on a child, so we had some hope that they would see the wisdom of their decision, that they knew that allowing us to take care of the baby was in her best interests.

But to be ostracized, to be shunned, by any group you belong to and especially by your own mother, is a most powerful punishment for a human being. The kids had no chance, “Losers, Sluts and Baby Sellers.”

The rumors started about a month ago, that the grandmother was going to come to Cebu and take the baby, and though we were worried, we didn’t think this would really happen.

The kids moved to Manila, to find work and to live with one of my wife’s sisters, but they didn’t find work. The brother really didn’t want to work. “It makes me tired.” They fought with each other; they’re still fighting; they have no money; they were even less capable of taking care of a child than before.

My wife visited them two weeks ago and had a face to face, about Zia, about the situation. She asked them, “If I bring her to visit you, what would you do? Would you try to take her back even though you have nowhere to live, no jobs, and can’t afford her medical and health needs?” The young mother reassured my wife. She said that she knew that Zia was better off with us and all they want for her is to be healthy and in our care. So Rachel, my wife, though she knew.

On Monday we flew to Manila with the baby so that the teenage parents could see her and say Happy 6 Month Birthday. Zia cried when she was out of my wife’s arms, but within a day, the young 17-year-old mother decided she wanted the baby back. Rural Samar is a part of the world and a segment of Philippines society in which legal matters largely don’t exist. We talked with them. We explained to them, but the pressure from her own mother, the shaming, name- calling grandmother is too powerful. They took the baby; we are heartbroken, especially my wife.

I can see that the girl’s motivation is as much about getting her own mother’s and aunt’s love back as it is about the baby, but there are maternal feelings too. There is simply nothing to do. Zia is back with her teenage parents. We gave them all the stuff we bought for her: clothes, a stroller, baby sling special formula, and medicine. You know, stuff that parents with some means buy for their children. We are afraid because they have no means; the girl’s family, as poor as they are will take her back now. They will also push to break up the relationship between the child’s mother and my wife’s brother. That has already begun. All we can do is watch, cry sometimes, try not to think about it so much. I will go home from Manila to Cebu a couple of days early to get rid of all the baby stuff that is there before my wife comes home. She really can’t stand to see it.

We fear for the impoverished life the child will have in rural Samar, that most children have, living day to day and hand to mouth, malnourished and quitting school like most of the kids do there. Samar is poor, but these barangays on rural Daram Island are even more so. There is a school, but values that are a part of being middle class, hard work, goals, honesty, and even religion do not get passed on to the children. Bahalana I guess, but these people don’t even think of such things consciously. People there just sort of existing and they are most content with it.

Photo: Typical girl’s life in rural Samar

There are many very nice people in Samar, however, in Samar Province, 64% of children attend only elementary school, 11% have no schooling or only pre-school. Only 23.8% complete high school. 5.7% graduate from college. My wife is the only member of her family to graduate from high school and attend college.

In the rest of the Philippines, in order to get any job, you need a high school diploma. Because so many young people drop out of school and have no high school diploma, they cannot get work, except in part-time “construction sites” (carrying bags of cement only) for young men or in the sex trade for young women. This is a very sad reality for the children of Samar. The barangay is filled with stories like this, and this may be what the future holds for this sweet child. While we had “Visions of Sugar Plums Dancing in Our Heads…” ballet lessons, social amenities and good schools, the truth of this was always calling for her.

Our friends have been consoling to us; they have said things that you say when someone dies or in those situations where there really is nothing to say and do. And we will just go forward and be thankful for the blessing we had to be surrogate parents to this sweet little girl for 4 months.

I am afraid my wife’s family has other situations that they deal with in these ways. This is their way. Right now there is a raging argument about 1000 pesos. Everybody is in on it with anger and bad mouthing others. To me, it is such a shame, but culturally there is nothing else to do there but live life like this.

And so, though you don’t know them, please think a good thought for this child, and for my wife; say a prayer for them if that is your way, and if not, a good thought would be just fine. And don’t forget to hug the ones you love.

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Rob Ashley

After travelling to the Philippines and SE Asia perhaps 15 times between 2007-2011, I decided to retire in Cebu and moved here in August 2011. Things changed fast. A month after I was here I met my wife Rachel; In 6 months I decided I was bored after having taught high school English and in a graduate school of education at a Portland, Oregon university for 30+ years; I looked around; I was hired as the Head of the English Department at a Cebu international school. Rachel and I got married; we bought a condo in Cebu City; we got two cats. After 3 years here I was offered a similar position at a Japanese international school, so we went to Japan. After two years there I was offered another position of Coordinator of Languages at a Vienna, Austria international school. Living in Europe was nice, but Rachel said, “It’s too cold here.” So, finally last August, we returned to Cebu for good, and I really am retired. I have learned that you pretty much take your life with you wherever you go. I have a PhD from the University of Oregon and I’m a diehard Oregon Ducks fan. Likewise an NBA Portland Trailblazers fan, so I am often up at 3 am on Sundays or Mondays to watch football and basketball games. Cebu is home now and many thanks to Bob Martin for LIP and the services and opportunities he offers us Expats.

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Bob Martin
Guest

Very sad and unfortunate, Rob. I am really sorry to hear this. Feyma and I have gone through similar situations more than once. We have chosen to never put ourselves into this type of situation again because so far it has never worked out well for us. I wish you the best of luck!

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Thank you Bob: I know you’ve told me of your similar experiences before and both my wife and I are listening to your counsel. Be well, Robert

Bob Martin
Guest

Ha ha.. no need to listen. I am wrong as often as anybody. But, sincerely, I wish you the best.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

What you told me rings true to my experience. We have taken members of my wife’s family “in” to attend school, to work as our helper, now to raise a child….it never lasts more than a few months. Thanks Bob

Bob Martin
Guest

My experience exactly, Rob.

Cordillera Cowboy
Guest

“A complex simplicity”. From a father risking his life to rescue daughters from a typhoon destroyed city, to poison tongued grandmothers. The best and the worst. “A complex simplicity”. Aptly said.

Prayers for the welfare of this child. And more of peace for your dear wife.

Take care,
Pete

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Thanks Pete. I think what hurt my wife so much, besides being lied to, is the reaction of her father. There’s not a lot of cerebral activity here and insights into things like people’s feelings and emotions. People constantly walk on each others emotions…just slam them sometimes, and often they are my sensitive wife’s. Her father (the same father who went to Tacloban to find his daughters in the typhoon), said, “Give the baby back. That’s just a paper; it doesn’t mean anything. Ok, let’s play cards.” We have received so many more heartfelt comments about our feelings in this… Read more »

Cordillera Cowboy
Guest

Yes. There is not a lot of trust among the rural poor towards government in general and lawyers and their papers. A stranger shared her tale of legal woes to me one day. She and her foreigner husband had bought some farmland. The caretaker of the previous owner refused to leave, or to pay the landowners share from the crops he raised. They confronted him with the legal paperwork evicting him. He pulled his bolo, saying ”You have a paper. I have the land.” It is a sad fact that some folks who finally get the means to distance themselves… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Cowboy: That sounds very much like “problem solving” in my wife’s province. They have a guy who poisons people. Everybody knows it. People get sick; one has died. No one will confront him as it would cause “trouble” so the prevailing wisdom is, just watch your drink around Bong Bong (made up name). People do violent crimes sometimes, revenge or whatever and then disappear into the mountain. “law” doesn’t really exist. There is law, but it’s really squishy.

Murray
Guest
Murray

Rob I feel for you and your good lady

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Murray: Thank you. Time will help, I think. -Rob

Paul Thompson
Guest
Paul Thompson

Rob:
Yours is a story that has been played out thousands of times on this archipelago. I know of a few times it has worked out for the good. But those were rare and far between. Knowing this, my heart still goes out to you and your wife. Tragic is the only word I have for your situation. The best to you and your wife and like all things in the RP, it will get better.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Paul: I do think that time will help. It seems that all my wife’s sisters are having babies and she feels very left out. We may consider moving a bit closer to where they are in Pampanga so she can be Auntie. Of course, being closer to the family brings up other issues. Can’t complain. This is the Philippines and these are Filipino ways. It will get better, or at least it will get “different.” Thank you. -Rob

Paul Thompson
Guest
Paul Thompson

Rob;
Pampanga Forty five minutes from Subic, and close to Clark Duty Free. Great shopping and less traffic congestion than Cebu. You just might enjoy it..

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Subic was the first place I went in the Philippines. I stayed at the Blue Rock Inn at Baloy Beach and thought, “Who needs Hawaii?” My room cost $40, right on the water. The wife and I stayed there again this past year. I have to admit that I have been to Angeles City, for cultural study and other spiritual matters, of course. Perhaps I’ll get to buy you a beer in Subic one day. be well Paul.
-Rob

Paul Thompson
Guest
Paul Thompson

Rob;
Yours is a story that has been played out thousands of times on this archipelago. I know of a few times it has worked out for the good. But those were rare and far between. Knowing this, my heart still goes out to you and your wife. Tragic is the only word I have for your situation. The best to you and your wife and like all things in the RP, it will get better.

John Reyes
Guest
John Reyes

Wow, Rob, I feel for you and your wife. It is a sad and complicated situation no matter how you look at it. Parting with a loved one is always heart-rending. Your concerns for the baby’s well-being, both for the immediate and long term, are well-founded; after all, you and your wife nurtured the baby like your own. And, the baby acknowledged this simple illustration of bonding when she cried upon being taken away from your wife’s arms. If it’s any consolation, the baby was not given to some random stranger, nor to a cold, impersonal orphanage, but back into… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

John: Thank you for your optimistic thoughts. Yes, time will help us with our loss and we will just pray that things work out for the best for Zia. Yes the mother and her family are not bad people and she will be cared for and loved according to their means. Good thought about the occasional gift and I had already thought about this. My wife is going there again tomorrow to take all the remaining stuff we bought for Zia, a crib, clothes and other things. I appreciate your insights. Be well, Rob

David Haldane
Guest
David Haldane

Very powerful story, Rob, but unfortunately not surprising. We will pray for all of you and send you, as we used to say in the counterculture, “good vibes.” We hope that everything finds a way of working out. My experience is that, sometimes against all expectations, they do. Good luck.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

David: Thank you from another member of the counter culture. I have come to think that life is very much like an amusement park; it’s just that some of the rides are better than the others. My wife is on her way back to Pampanga to be around all the family babies including Zia and this is how she will deal with the changes. Hope you have recovered from your salad attack. Be well, Rob

Louis D
Guest
Louis D

Your article shows exactly how things go at Daram. I’ve had an ill-fated marriage there at Daram, and your post brings up some raw feelings. You can probably eventually get the baby back, but that will require perseverance, patience, money and tenacity.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Thanks Louis: Yes it is an interesting part of the world with a lot of scamming and sideways behavior.We will just have to see what the future holds. Thank you for your comments. -Rob

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Rob,

Thanks for sharing your sad story. You and your wife seem to be very good-hearted people and I feel sorry that things turned out the way they did. I pretty much agree with John Reyes’ comment.

Peace

Jay

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Jay: Thank you for your thoughtful kindness. Yes there is a lot of truths being shared here by y’all. Time and the continuing family saga will provide some more chapters to this story I think. We’ll just see. Be well, Rob

The Equalizer
Guest
The Equalizer

Blame this primarily on the Catholic church who has always been dogmatic and impractical, and have demonized the use of contraceptives and artificial birth control methods. They have been trying to control and/or influence the government and the people in the error of their ways. Even with the passing of the RH Bill, at the present time the Filipinos are still not educated enough to adopt family planning as their way of life. In developed countries, people use birth control methods like they use toothpaste. It’s a way of life. Unless the church stops meddling in government policies, this sad… Read more »

John Reyes
Guest
John Reyes

Equalizer – good point on suggesting that the church be taxed by the government, and the funds collected be used to help raise “helpless kids”. But, in your heart of hearts, do you believe that every cent of the collected funds will go to help the kids, and no one but the kids? In an environment replete with greed such as the pork barrel scam, I think this would only encourage corruption. Also, It may not be entirely the fault of the Catholic Church. Filipinos will go on making more babies than they can afford because they believe that the… Read more »

Louis D
Guest
Louis D

It’s easy to blame the Catholic church, but Daram is a remote, poor area, with many simply living the rag-tag game of survival. Things like birth control quickly get lower priority.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Equalizer, John and Louis: Good discussion guys. It is a complex social situation to be sure. As to Louis’ comment on Daram, my experience is that most don’t want to live anything but their rag-tag game of survival. It’s like Plato’s myth of the cave. Be careful who you tell your “truth” to. They will stone you to death for it because they have a lot invested in their own version of “truth.” Very hard to “improve” people or enlighten them with all all of our incredible “life knowledge” eh?

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

ps..for example. We gave the young parents all of the things we bought for this baby…stroller, crib, formula, solid food. They refuse to use any of it…out of spite? Not sure why. Instead they have stopped feeding the child solid food (as the doctor prescribed) baby again is malnourished and has lost weight. When the baby had a rash all over her body, instead of seeking information (maybe looking on the internet…I mean, it’s free) or going to a free clinic and doctor… they said, “It because of the air…” what some uneducated person said to them, and that’s as… Read more »

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