Bernadeth and I grew up on the same old house separately. Her family lives above the stairs, my family lives in the basement, silong in Filipino, the space usually dedicated to chickens of typical families in the 70s/80s.  The house was built by our Tatang with his hands.

It would seem that our family were the ones living like chicken and eating dirt that comes off from above, but it was actually the other way around. While I go study in a private institution, Bernadeth had to work in the market after school to fend for her school or her family’s needs. While I collect scented stationery sets with my excess allowance, she had to give the 50 pesos she intends to use for a school project for her family’s dinner.

“Five pm to past 10 PM ang pasok ko, ang kita 60 to 70 pesos, pag wholeday 120 naman. Mahirap kapag umulan kasi nababasa ako. Ang ginagawa ko ginagamit kong pang cover sa paa ay plastic, nagkaalipunga nga ako don. Minsan may libreng hatid kay bossing pero minsan kailangan kong maglakad pauwi medyo late na yun kaya madilim sa daan at wala na ring tao sa kalsada. Natatandaan ko nun one day tumatakbo ako habang umiiyak, siguro sa takot kasi mag-isa lang ako tapos ang dilim. Sa pagod na rin, halos wala kasi akong pahinga – ung uuwi lng ako para matulog paggising ko aalis na ko ng bahay tapos gabi na uwi ko para matulog ulit. Kung wala naman akong pasok sa palengke tinutulungan ko si nanay maglabandera, tatlong sako nilalaban namin, ang kita 300 pero may pa-RC at magic flakes naman.”

Hongkong was just supposed to be her stepping stone to reach greener or snow-whiter pastures abroad. Although she found a probable employer in Canada in 2018, she didn’t make the cut. As in a literal sense as she was found lacking in height. Did she back down right then? The answer is a resounding NO.

“Mahirap lang kami, lumaki akong kailangan lahat ng bagay pinanghihirapan at pinangtatarabahuhan bago ko ito makamit. Kapag pagod na ako at parang gusto kong sumuko, iniisp ko lng ung pangarap ko, ung pangarap namin ng pamilya ko, yung kung ano ang magiging bunga ng desisyon ko after 5 or 10 years.

I used to dream very big and fancy dreams like being a business woman in black suit and talking about business dealings. As I’ve got older, I like to think I’m becoming wiser. I now realize the things that actually matter. My aspirations are to be happy, to live fully, and to love, to never give up on anything no matter what life throws my way. My goal is to be the best I can be.”

For someone who has been laboring hard through these years, one could easily pick up how to outsmart others in this marathon called life. But Bernadeth believes otherwise.

“Natutunan ko na dapat huwag mo lang hangaring manalo, mas hangarin mo na may matutunan sa hamom ng buhay at higit sa lahat ipagdasal mo na kahit nasa kalagitnaan ka na ng labaan mas piliin mong maging makatao. Para sa’kin ito ang nakakapagod kaya madalas doon tayo nasusubok. Bilang tao pag pagod at hirap ka na minsan nakakalimot na tayo maging patas sa kapwa at mas nangingibabaw ang sarili natin interes.

Para sa’kin kung ano ang ginagawa mo ngaun, ganun din ang magiging future mo. If you work hard today, your tomorrow would be better.”

Every time I would be overly dramatic how life can be hard, I remember my cousin Bernadeth, then I am game face on again.

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