A Pinoy in the Wilderness City

I decided to stop what I was doing. My eyelids were drooping and I couldn’t stop myself from yawning incessantly. I needed a break.

I decided to stop what I was doing.

My eyelids were drooping and I couldn’t stop myself from yawning incessantly.

I needed a break.

A hot cup of coffee would surely wake me up.

I left my post and hurried towards the staffroom upstairs.

Canadian Tire’s a big store and I was assigned to supervise an area at the far, rightmost corner.

I met customers along the way; some asked me questions, some smiled, others stared a bit while the rest just minded their own business.

After what seemed like forever, I finally reached the main exit, its automatic glass door opened as I passed.  The entrance to the staffroom was still a few meters away, but as I felt the cold breeze through the door, which was closing, little by little, something from outside caught my attention.

It was starting to snow.

I’d dreamed of seeing snow since I was a kid.

I come from a tropical country and the only thing that fell on it was rain — lots of it. So the first time that I saw snow fa ll from the vastness of the sky was an enchanting moment. It was a sight to behold.

I could say that I was able to retain that magical feeling towards it until the temperature started reaching a low of minus 40 degrees Celsius. That wasn’t funny anymore, nor was it magical.

That’s when I started dreaming of regular rain again.

“Customer needs help at the rope and chain aisle No. 55, customer needs help at the rope and chain aisle No. 55, thank you.’

I found myself standing close to the glass wall near the exit. I realized I was day-dreaming.

“Great,” I said to myself.  “There goes three minutes of my break time. I really needed a cup of coffee.”

I immediately walked towards the staffroom.

I took a loonie from my pocket and approached the coffee vending machine at the corner of the room.

A loonie is worth about 40 pesos where I’m from. There, this is enough for some poor families to have what they consider a decent meal. This, I believe, is what all foreign workers from my country think before spending their hard-earned money. It takes a while before they get over the whole currency-conversion thing.

I sat on the chair where I always sit. I saw a newspaper lying on the table. I read it.

On one of the pages, I saw an article where the word ‘Filipinos’ was mentioned.

Suddenly, I was reminded of what I left and what I now have here.

It was May of last year when I arrived here in Canada. Unlike many who would quickly say that they’ve decided to work here to pursue a dream, I could say that I went here out of desperation, initially at least.

Modesty aside, I’m both a licensed teacher and a licensed nurse.

I was set to take an exam necessary to work in the US as a nurse until an opportunity to work in Whitehorse came up.

My family was experiencing financial problems at that time.

I am the oldest of six siblings. I had to do something to help.

My family was the main reason why I decided to work at the store where I’m working now. I arrived here as a temporary foreign worker. I was a shelf-filler back then and had never done that kind of work before.

A lot of people are either disappointed or surprised (or both) when they hear my story.

But I really don’t mind doing my job. I love my job.

I like interacting with people.

I always want to be on the move. I would not feel comfortable with a job where I would just sit down and watch as my belly increases girth as time goes by.

Of course, I have to admit that salary is a major factor in my working.

What I earn here in three days is equivalent to what a regular government employee in my country earns in a month. I really can’t complain.

What’s even more important is the fact that, now, I am able to help my family the way I wanted to. And that’s enough reason for me to endure anything that is thrown at me.

This country has undeniably become a ‘land of milk and honey’ for me. But even paradise has its down side.

Three months after I arrived here, a tragic event happened. My uncle, husband of my aunt whose house I’m staying in right now, drowned and went missing after trying to save his eight-year-old son.

His body was later found after a week — cold and lifeless. Although our family was deeply saddened by my uncle’s passing, there was pride in everyone of us knowing that he died a hero.

We were still recovering from my uncle’s death when another blow hit us hard.

It was a cold December night when my Lolo (which means grandfather in English) complained of severe pain on his right, lower abdominal area.

Our first assumption was that he had appendicitis.

We were not really worried because it’s not that serious. All he needed was a simple appendectomy and everything would be alright again.

But nothing prepared us for what the doctor said after interpreting the test results. He told us that Lolo had cancer.

He was an inspiration to us all. He was always in a good mood, laughing and cracking jokes all the time. And he remained that way even after the diagnosis.

Despite the discouraging remarks from doctors, he decided to beat the odds and travel back to his homeland. 

There, he reunited with his entire family.

He celebrated his last birthday, which was Christmas Day, like he had never celebrated before. He even made it through the New Year.

Each day was a day of celebration, for he was surrounded by his most treasured group of people. But his health deteriorated with each passing day. Three days after the New Year, my grandfather breathed his last breath.

Lots of things have happened.

There’s a popular statement saying that “if life gives you lemons, make lemon aid.”

But for me, it’s different.

If life gives me lemons, I’ll sell some of them so I could have apples, bananas, grapes and others.

As a popular prayer goes, “Help me change the things that I can and help me accept the things that I can’t.”

We all are dealing with things that we can and can’t do something about.

Death is something that has to be accepted. Poverty is not.

This is not just my story. I share the same fate with my fellow Filipino workers here who have sacrificed a lot for the betterment of their loved-ones.

They are also degree holders who chose to abandon their previous career plans in search of greener pastures.

I’ve seen them laugh and cry.

I’ve witnessed how they’ve longed to once again be reunited with their families and friends.

I’ve heard their stories, complaints and dreams. I have…

“Hardware personnel to the customer care desk please. Hardware personnel to the customer care desk. Thank you.”

I almost choked on the coffee that I was drinking.

It was time for me to get back to work.

See audio slideshow at www.yukon-news.com.

Reymer Agapito is, among other things, a Whitehorse-based writer. This is his first story for the Yukon News.

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