3 winning essays
Spam for breakfast
By Jennifer Padilla Celeste
I woke up today, had Spam for breakfast, bathed with my imported bath soap, moisturized my skin with Victoria’s Secret lotion, slipped on a shirt and my Nike rubber shoes. The holiday season officially starts today and I am reminded that this is the fifth Christmas season that my husband has been away from me and my children. I looked in one corner of my room and have used one of the balikbayan boxes to gather hand-me-down clothes for relatives in the barrios. The balikbayan box—once full and now used as a temporary storage—is special to me.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) sending balikbayan boxes has been a popular trend that speaks of the Philippines’ unique culture. The practice transcends generosity and gratitude. It resonates pride and satisfaction manifesting the Pinoys’ mababaw na kaligayahan. We are content with the most basic or the simplest commodity sent through the box. Whatever fits or is stuck in the box, we consider as fruits of hard labor or pinag-pawisan or, in the conventional word of mouth, katas ng Saudi, America, UK or Canada.
Food comes as the most basic content of the box. Topping the list is Spam. This canned goodie will always be a favorite. Obviously, my family cannot afford its price from the black market or from the supermarkets. It has long taken over the place of imported corned beef, which is too pricey. So a typical OFW would, of course, consider budget constraints. We don’t even have to request this from our relative. In the equation, Spam is a “given.” A can of Spam can feed a family of 6 or more if thinly sliced ready to eat or fried. It can gratify more than six people if scrambled with eggs or mixed in the sinangag (fried rice). Spam is handy, easy to stock and its shelf-life is long. Moreover, it is a good ornament to display in the kitchen cupboard to show that we have something imported.
There will always be bath soap. No choice which brand because they say it depends on which is on sale. Sometimes, it also depends on where our relatives shop. I would know because warehouse commodities come in bigger packs like 12’s or 16’s, which are cheaper. Bath soaps can withstand the rigors of travel and time. We really do not request this item but again it is a “given” and we anticipate this item. In my bathroom, I put an imported soap in a separate soap dish, treating it as extraordinary.
Trending? Absolutely! Following the trend is Victoria’s Secret or Bath and Body Works lotion, often requested by us. Preferred over the conventional Jergens or Vaseline lotion, it’s a contention—alin ang mas may dating? Of course, it’s Victoria’s Secret. Once received, VS lotions have a place in the bathroom, bedroom and carried in women’s bags or purses. Not every recipient would be mindful of what kind of scent, peach or linen, etc., as long as it carries the Victoria’s Secret name.
No one will ever disregard the clamor for sneakers, preferably Nike. There will always be rubber shoes. This is where the request is emphasized as money spent for this is costly, maybe $50 and up, depending on the style. It is usually basketball shoes, keeping in track with the Filipinos’ love for basketball, whether it’s NBA or PBA. This is the present, or the pasalubong, that is personalized because shoe size has to be coordinated.
Coming as the fifth item are clothes, preferably T-shirts. Anything that relates to sports (NBA, which is popular) or branded—GAP, Old Navy, Aeropose [sic—Ed.], etc., or simply Hanes. The latter brand is cheap, packed [in bulk] and easy to distribute to numerous kamag-anak (relatives). Clothes really do not matter to the grassroots as long as it has that typical “stateside” or imported smell and the brand name. At one point, we were so excited with an OshKosh kid’s shirt sent from a balikbayan box and it had a label “made in the Philippines.”
The balikbayan box has the top tangibles inside it, Spam or (Vienna sausage, Bubble Bee sardines), bath soap, lotion, sneakers, clothes. It’s the OFWs’ hard-earned money. It is nourishment for the body and mind of the recipients. What we do not see are the intangibles. What’s inside the box? It echoes homesickness, sacrifices, pride and joy of giving and receiving. Sending boxes offers hope, security and temporary satisfaction for some as everything is consumed sooner or later. For a wife and a mother like me, every balikbayan box sent my way means an interim before we can join my husband who is an OFW in Canada.
A Waray remembers
By Mera B. Verunque
No address sent
Last year was a tragic year for us Waray-waray since our province, Leyte, was hit by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” In a blink of an eye, Christmas seems to be forgotten. All we thought about was how to repair or build our houses, food to feed our empty stomach, and how to get back on our feet again. Every night was like an endless ordeal for us Waray since total blackness enveloped our region. But our hopeless spirit was given another spark of hope. Help flooded in from different parts of the globe. Concerned people from different cultures, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, held hands in helping us rise again. We were overwhelmed by such unexpected generosities.
My sister in South Korea was worried-sick when she heard the news. She felt helpless because she didn’t know where to send money for us since all systems were down. But she was surprised and grateful when their organization (which consists of overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, and Filipinos married to Koreans) reached out and filled two big balikbayan boxes. It contained clothes, blankets, towels, shoes and sandals, flashlights and emergency lamps, canned goods, instant noodles, bath and laundry soaps, toothbrushes and toothpastes, mosquito nets and mosquito repellent. Once received, we shared our blessings with our neighborhood. I am happy to receive such generosity from our kababayans abroad but much happier to share them with my covictims of Supertyphoon Yolanda.
It wasn’t the first time I received a balikbayan box, nor will it be the last. But those two balikbayan boxes I received last year will be the most memorable since it was given by people I hardly knew and it came at the time we needed it most.
Surprise for wedding day
By Eileen Pajimula
No address sent
When we were young, my sisters and I would imagine receiving a huge balikbayan box just like our neighbor. Every time we saw the LBC van approaching our street, we would exclaim to ourselves, “A package for us!” Oh how giddily happy we were when mom worked in Dubai and we started receiving packages from her! Looking back, I realize that my five favorite things she sent through LBC were mostly the basic ones.
Let me start with bath soaps. Believe it or not, we used laundry soap when taking a bath. Sometimes, my younger sister would bring home a cake of Safeguard from her friend and that earned her a smile on my face. Mom really knew how important it was for us to be clean and fresh every day so she never forgot to send us bath soaps.
My first wristwatch that I bought was a red Swatch. Of course, it had to be fake. I was a struggling scholar in college when mom gave me an authentic one stuffed inside the jumbo box. I was really proud wearing it.
Chocolates were the sweetest. A balikbayan box would never be complete without them. Every time I gave a chocolate bar or a handful of Kisses to random street children, I saw in their eyes the same expression of happiness in me. Chocolates gave me more opportunities to share.
Shoes also made it on my list because we can’t afford to buy a pair. I usually wore slippers when going to school. During special occasions, I would borrow shoes from a neighbor even if they weren’t the right size for me. Mom sent me Nike shoes when I was in third year college and I was really ecstatic over it.
Lastly, I didn’t expect I would fish out wedding rings from my mom’s package. Aaawww! Just months before I got married, mom surprised me with a beautiful gift that I would always cherish. I never asked for anything from her but she gave me the best I could ever have. God didn’t make us rich, but I am forever grateful to Him for making my family’s life better.
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