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‘Cheerful’ Rose is home for good

08 October 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

Happy is the word that first comes to mind when one meets Rosalinda Pineda, a longtime leader of the Filipino Catholic Group at St Joseph’s church in Central. No matter the task at hand, no matter who she was working with, Pineda, who is “Mommy Rose” to most of her younger church mates, seemed to be always cheerful and calmly in command.

Rose Pineda with Father Midas in one of the church gatherings.

Now the ray of sunshine that lit up many a Sunday at St Joseph’s has shifted its glow farther afield, in Iloilo to be more precise, because that’s where 61-year-old Pineda has moved since Sept. 17 this year.

After working with just three employers in the 30-odd years that she was in Hong Kong, Pineda decided it was time to go back home, to be with her two children and four grandchildren.

But rest is still far from her mind, as she gladly shared that she was offered to run a school canteen near her home. This new project draws her back to one of her lifelong passions – cooking – and she cannot feel any happier.

“Ito talaga ang gusto kong gawin,” she told this writer a day before saying her final goodbye to the place she had called home for three decades.

For now, though, she is happy enough to just take it easy and enjoy the fruit of the hard work she did, albeit cheerfully, all those years.

“As of now pahinga muna, mag-enjoy sa bonding sa mga apo,” she said in response to a follow-up message on how she has been doing since settling back home.

She has reasons to feel good. Her two children whom she raised single-handedly after becoming widowed at age 30 are both doing well in their chosen professions, and Pineda herself has saved enough to be financially comfortable in her retirement.

Seeing her now, one could hardly guess that her first years abroad were fraught with heartaches.

Soon after she came to Hong Kong to work for a relative, her husband who was working as a security guard, was stabbed to death by a drug-crazed junkie back in their hometown. That left Pineda having to choose between going back home to raise her two kids, or staying put in Hong Kong so she could earn enough to provide for their needs.

Her dilemma deepened when a rich relative offered to adopt her kids. Pineda was torn between the idea of letting go of her kids so they could have a better future, or keeping them with her, despite the difficulties she was forced to deal with in the wake of her husband’s death.

What she did was to ask her young children to make their own sacrifices so they could stay together. The two kids stayed on in their house and did all the chores, and were just joined by a sister of Pineda during the night.

Another test came in the form of an offer from a relative to introduce Pineda to male friends online, thinking it was time she dated again. This time Pineda said she turned to one of the priest friends at St Joseph’s for advice, and was told to just concentrate on raising her kids.

She complied, and now says it was one of the best decisions she has ever made.

After a rough first contract in Hong Kong during which she said she was paid only $700, about half the prescribed monthly salary then, Pineda looked for a new employer. Her luck turned when she was hired by a kindly French couple.

At a time when calling long distance cost a lot of money, Pineda said her French employer let her use their telephone to keep in touch with her children regularly, without charge. Her employers also took her along with them when they’d go to France on extended vacation. But after 10 years, the family had to move back to their home country and Pineda had to look for another employer.

Pineda still remembers the time 16 years ago when was interviewed by the Irish man who would become her next employer. She recalled with a smile that she was the 30-odd applicant to be called, not so much for an interview, but for an oral test and a practicum. She was made to demonstrate her table setting skills and ability to craft a menu for a dinner party, both of which she passed handily because she took pains to learn them on her own while working for her previous employers.

The contract with her Irish-Filipino employers was to be renewed seven more times, with  Pineda going along with them and their beloved pet dogs, as they moved from one lavish house to another over the years. With the advent of social media, she took to posting the culinary creations she served to her employers and their guests, not to brag or whine, but to take delight in what she managed to whip up each time.

But it was not just cooking she did with passion, but every chore that came with the job. She shared that one of her last “bilins” to her employer Harry, was to make sure his next help would iron his shirts thoroughly from the inside and just skim them off on the outside so they don’t lose their sheen. She also proudly proclaimed that she does a lot of hand-washing because it helps keep the shape and color of clothes.

“See this shirt that I am wearing? I bought it years ago for just $10, pero mukha pa ring bago,” she said, obviously pleased with herself.

It is another trait that endears Pineda to many. Despite the opulent lifestyle she was exposed to in the last 26 years of her stay in Hong Kong, Pineda remained the simple Ilonggo woman she was when she first arrived. She dressed as simply and as frugally as before, and never took on the ostentatious airs of many of her peers who thrive on reflected luxury from their employers.

This mindset helped her focus on what she worked abroad for: provide for the basic needs of her children, and save enough for the inevitable return home.

She also had the foresight to put money in an insurance plan that by the time she was ready to cash in on her investment before returning home, she managed to collect a tidy sum that surprised even her employer.

“I told Harry that part of my medical bills was paid for by this insurance; yung kulang lang yung sinisingil ko sa kanya,” said Pineda.

Loans, which blight many an OFW’s life in Hong Kong, was not in her radar, as she made sure she always had something set aside for emergencies. Spending much of her time in church also helped her stay on the straight and narrow, Pineda said.

She did manage to stray far enough, though, to join two related organizations, the cancer support group Buhay Ka, and Filcomsin, made up of many of her long-time friends in the community.

Pineda could have gone further afield, and become the community leader who could rightfully lecture to her fellow migrant workers on how to make the most of their stay abroad. But she did not, preferring instead to leave as quietly as she had lived in Hong Kong for three decades.

For Pineda, there was simply no reason to veer off the path that kept her fulfilled – and more importantly, happy.

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