A week ago. I’am boarding the TG fly from Manila to Bangkok. Walk in the aisle looking up for the row number, holding my boarding card in one hand. I must have looked at the number printed on it at least 50 times an yet I keep on looking at it and then look up to search for the right row. Why can’t I remember these plane seats numbers?
I reach it, 34 aisle seat. A Filipino lady is next to me. She looks nervous. I store my luggage up, sit and notice that she is looking at the middle seat row. Another lady is sitting there and they both look at me. They are friends and want to sit next to each other. So I offer my seat and move to the middle three seat row. They are happy and smile. Do not speak English though. I seat down and notice that at my right side sits a young Filipino lady, small, kind of petite type. Black t-shirt, light brown trousers and simple sandals. Longish black hair. ‘Hi’, I said. ‘Hi’, she replies in English with a shy smile. A stewards comes waving immigration cards for Thailand. The young lady does not know for what they are and I explain that she should fill them only in the case she stops in Bangkok. ‘No, I am going to Doha’. A Filipino young woman on the way to Doha can mean several things. Join the large Filipino expat community living there and working in hotels, or being a made or nanny in the house of some rich families or else be on the way to become a bar girl. There must be several other options, but these are the three that come to my mind.
‘I am going to join a friend in Doha’, she tells me when we are are flying over the South China sea. ‘What is she doing’, I ask. ‘She is working in tourism sector, in a kind of company over there’, she explains but to me it sounds she does not know much about it. ‘What kind of visa do you have’, I ask. ‘A three months one until end of the year’, she says taking from her bag all the documentation she is carrying to enter Qatar. She finally finds the pink A4 page which is the temporary visa. Processed from Qatar as Filipino immigrants must have a connection there in order to enter the country. Arabic words from right to left and their English translation from left to right. Read her name, Maria Lourdes. She is born in 1982, so she is 27 years old but looks younger.
‘What will you do after December, when the visa will expire?’. ‘I hope to find a work before then and then change my visa’. ‘How long do you plan to stay there?’. ‘Some years’.
I ask if she has been overseas before. I am a bit surprised when she says that she has been living in Japan, near Tokyo for 5 years working as a maid. ‘Why did you leave?’. ‘Japan in the end was difficult place to be’. I imagine her as a Filipino workers in Japan. Maybe lonely. Earning a decent salary, saving and sending money home but cut out from society. Hopefully there were other Filipino staying in the same city or area. At least in Doha is full of Filipinos workers, I think.
So she has been overseas but seems a bit nervous or tense. As if she would not leave again the Philippine but had no choice. The seat belt sign is switched on. At the same time when the captain announces with a calm voice that we will meet a turbulence the plane pliunges several hundred meters. Some people shouts. Mari Lourdes grabs my harm with a nervous laugh. It si all ok in few seconds and we continue to cruise calmly. She keeps holding my harm and tells me that the two lady on our right side shouted in Tagalo something about ‘God save us’. She says this with a smile as she found quite funny the expression they used. I fall asleep and at one point I feel her head resting lightly on my left shoulder and open my eyes. She is also sleeping and I try not to move too much so not to wake her up.
We land in BKK. Grey clouds but no rain. The plane taxis in an open space, so we all have to go down and get the bus to the transfer terminal. I walk down the stair with her. When she sees the bus she asks me if we need to pay for it. ‘No, it is for free. It will bring us to the terminal where you will check the gate of your next flight’. She looks a bit worried. When we enter the bus she looks at the plane and says: ‘But that is the plane that will bring me to Doha. How do I get back to it?’. I tell her that she will have to change plane a larger one as the flight to Doha is quite long. She is still a bit nervous. We reach the terminal. Walk in the arrival corridor which is 900 meters long in BKK and has little signs. One has to walk either 450 meters right or 450 meters left to reach the transfer desks. So one may walk to the wrong transfer desk and have then to walk back the whole airport to reach right concourse. ‘Follow me’, I say, ‘Let’s go this way’. She looks around a bit amazed of how big is this concourse is with its three levels, the modern architecture and design, the shops, and all these people walking to one gate to another.
We reach the Thai Airways transfer desk. My time is also running out as I have only 40 minutes connection time and have to find Jeff who arrived this morning from London and will continue with me to Hanoi. I read to her the gate she need to go, C5. We pass through a new security check in. They stop her to open her bag and search it carefully which make her even more nervous. She doe snot look suspicious to me, but will that is the job of the security staff. We reach the corner where I can show her the huge letter C of the C councourse. Point her to that direction and tell her she has plenty of time. Up to this point all her attention was for the airport, the building, the people, the shops. She now looks at me. We stand for a moment in this walking crowd and look at each other. ‘Thank you very much for helping me’ and she extend her hand to say good bye. ‘Nothing to thank’. I take her hand. ‘All the best and good buy. Take care. Ok?’. She holds my hand firmly for few seconds. Strong little hand. We then turn to opposite directions and fade in the walking crowd.