Looking forward to ‘Erly’ mornings

Have you ever noticed how some people’s names seem to really fit their characters? Many times, I have heard people sayi: Raminta is such a calm person. In Lithuanian my name can refer to a girl who is calm (or has become that way because she is always being calmed down). Actually, my close friends and family often find themselves forcingme to calm down and release myself from sad, melancholic thoughts.

But this isn‘t about me. This article is about Erly. Erly, whom you might call our housekeeper, comes to our house once a week and makes sure everything shines with impeccable cleanliness.

Meeting Erly wasn’t exactly a coincidence.. After I got tired of doing Deck’s job and him still taking our money for his imaginary work, I decided to look for a more reliable housekeeper. It didn’t take long at all before we were put in touch with the thirty-seven-year-old Filipina. We struck a deal and she agreed to become our helper. Actually, Erly is so cheerful and full of energy that you would never guess she’s 10 years older than me.

When I first met her right outside our gate, she looked so tiny and fragile. I still remember how she timidly entered our house – the woman was really afraid of Paiko. I think, while standing on his two feet, Paiko would be taller than Erly for sure. I won‘t even start to talk about the physical differences between us… Once, I wanted to take a photo with her, just for the memories, and I soon realized why Robertas always calls me the Hulk here in the Philippines. 

Erly and me… I think the difference is more than obvious.

At first, Erly called me a ma’am, which surprised me. Here, when the other person is older, is someone who should be respected respect him, has a higher position or whatever, it is very typical to speak in that very polite way with them. Personally, I am afraid of that word – ma’am. At the time, all I could think about was how I was much younger than Erly, not to mention my lack of permanent work back then. I had to teach Erly to call me simply  Rami. It took around ten times to correct her before I could finally enjoy hearing just “Dear Rami”.

By this point, you’ve probably already asked yourself several times: So what’s so interesting about her name? Simply put, she has a distinct habit of always showing up a little bit early, which is exactly how she pronounces her name. During our first meeting, we agreed that 9 AM would be a perfect time for her to come at the house. But there was no really pressure – I told her she could actually come any time she would like to. Despite that, she always arrives well before 9.

Admittedly, there were a couple of times when Erly was around 5 minutes late. Construction workers had closed one road near our village, and she was forced to walk quite a distance. Erly came running in, all sweating and gasping for breath,  repeatedly apologizing for being late– and that was before I even realized that it was already past 9. I felt confusedand I didn’t know how to calm her down and assure that everything was totally fine. It’s not like I always stand at the door and keep track of how many milliseconds she’s late for that imaginary nine o’clock. To me, the agreement was that there was no exact time to come. Then, I realized that most likely her name obliges her to never be late, and I should admit I do like punctual people. In the Philippines, as I have already experienced firsthand, coming to an agreed location at the agreed time here is often just a distant dream.

But it’s not just her early appearances that pleasantly surprise me.. How much kindness, warmth, and empathy that woman has! For many people, or at least to me, that’s something to learn from her. Erly doesn’t make much money (once she even asked me to pay her in advance, since she didn’t have enough to pay her bills), but she’s still always ready to share the last thing she has with others. I remember coming home really tired once, Erly greeted me with a huge smile and surprised me with a home-made cupcake – she had attended some cooking course and wanted me to taste her first masterpiece. I was touched by her kind behavior: “Thank you, Erly, it is very nice and I love sweets, but it would be better to bring this cupcake home to your kids,” I told her. But Erly refused and assured me she had two more cupcakes in her purse and those were for her kids. That one was for me, so  without waiting, I ate it with pleasure. While I was chewing, I thought – why do people who have so much always seem to selfishly act like they don’t have nearly enough. And here, this person who has very little is more than happy wants to share everything she has with others.

I was touched by her kind behavior: “Thank you, Erly, it is very nice and I love sweets, but it would be better to bring this cupcake home to your kids,” I told her. But Erly refused and assured me she had two more cupcakes in her purse and those were for her kids.

And that seeming absence of greed extends to Erly’s dreams and aspirations as well.  Lately, I’ve started feeling like I’d already started living my dream and was at the point where I was looking for the next big thing to chase. On the same day she gave me that cupcake, however, Erly woke me up with a cold splash of reality. “I’d like to open my own bakery,” she told me with a smile on her face as she gazed wistfully out our window. She said she would make a variety of affordable cupcakes and delight children with the most delicious delicacies. I imagined Erly smiling as she stood behind a counter, her cupcakes proudly displayed. The only problem, of course, was that had no money for her dream. “Someday,” she continued hopefully. And I wished with all my heart that it would someday really come true – after all, she is not only a good person but also a very creative one!

When Taal volcano erupted 30 km from our house, an unimaginably thick layer of ash covered the house. Since I didn’t want the laundry to get dirty, I asked Erly to hang it up to dry indoors. I knew it would be difficult because there was a huge pile of laundry and very little space in the room I asked her to use. I wasn’t home at the time, so we were only talking using SMS. Erly assured me she would come up with something, and I believed her. After coming home, I was absolutely amazed, and I think her creativity back then is worth mentioning now. She found some colored rope, crisscrossed them throughout the room, and then dried our clothes neatly on them. The room reminded me of the colorful nests I used to make in my childhood, using various materials found in my grandma’s closet. And most importantly, everything dried perfectly that day!

And to really give you an idea about the kind of person she is, there’s another story about Erly I feel I need to share.  Once, Erly brought her daughter Princess Elena with her without warning me. Yes, her name is Princess and no, she wasn’t wearing frilly pink dress, glass slippers, or a golden circlet (Erly’s “royal family” didn’t end with her daughter either, since her son is named Prince Antonio). I was told that the purpose of Her Majesty’s  royal visit was to help her mother with the chores. I knew from Erly’s stories that the Princess was the pride and joy of their family. In school, she not only bested the boys during sports competitions, but also solved math problems significantly faster than any of her classmates.

Yes, her name is Princess and no, she wasn’t wearing frilly pink dress, glass slippers, or a golden circlet (Erly’s “royal family” didn’t end with her daughter either, since her son is named Prince Antonio).

When Erly first introduced her to me, Princess seemed hesitant to even peek out from behind her mother’s skirt. That shyness didn’t last too long, however. She soon learned how to make Paiko sit and ended up chasing him around the couch while Erly was taking care of the rooms. Princess had so much fun with Paiko that she didn’t notice  that five hours had gone by, and she completely forgot her promise to help her mom. In the end, I found Princess and Paiko sleeping in a corner – after all, I’m sure it took a whole lot of energy to run around for hours! Naturally, Erly had unenviable task of finally waking the Princess up anddraging her back home. The Princess stubbornly resisted at first, but was eventually convinced that it was time to leave. On their way out, she repeatedly told me she’d come visit again soon.

Lately, I’ve found that a part of me is always waiting for Erly and her little Princess. Whether it’s raining or sunny outside, no matter how much (or how little) she has in her pockets, our earnest helper always shares a little part of her dreams, her great mood, and her generosity with me. To me, Erly’s name evokes only the warmest of feelings. I consider myself truly fortunate to have met someone who is not just an early bird, but a kind and sincere one as well. 

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