The house that Ena built

The house that Ena built
Enalin Santiago, 45, with the feast her two brothers prepared for the writer's visit. A whole pig was bought for the meal, which they enjoyed in the house that Ena built from her salary working as a maid in Singapore since 2003.

The red tin roof was barely four months old when we first glimpsed it as our van strained past the potholes on the village path.

It had replaced the old roof, blown away by Typhoon Haiyan which devastated several provinces in the Philippines last November and left thousands dead.

But the concrete house it rested on, one of the few still standing after the havoc wreaked by the typhoon known locally as Yolanda, represents something that is also more secure: my family's relationship with our maid.

Enalin Santiago, 45, has been working for my family since 2003.

She has been giving her family money to improve their house each time she returns home, about once every year or two.

On her most recent trip home, I decided to join her for a brief visit to meet her family. Ena, as we call her, has been with my family from the time I was 13.

She does the cooking and cleaning at our apartment for my parents, my brother and me.

Nobody in our family had ever visited the Philippines with her.

Last year, as she told me about the destruction Yolanda wrought on her village, and subsequently the recovery, it was the first time I had begun to imagine what life might be like for her family back home. I knew I wanted to meet them, and to my surprise, she too had the same idea.

Ena asked my grandmother along, having told her family all about the wonderful woman who dispenses advice and kindness.

And even though she has known my boyfriend for only two years, she welcomed him too.

From Changi Airport, there is a direct flight to Iloilo City. Then, it is a three-hour journey by road past an eclectic mix of malls and shophouses in the city, then bamboo huts interspersed with concrete houses - a stark sign of who has "made it" and who has not.

In the town of Sara, the route turns off onto a dirt path leading to Ena's village, where almost everyone is a farmer.

On that hot afternoon, we pulled up next to her tomato patch.

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