During a recent vacation to the Philippines, I experienced the feeling of deciding a man’s fate. Not so much his fate, but more deciding his life and death. I’ll elaborate in a minute, but that was basically it; at the time, whether this man lived or died rested upon my decision to give money or not. In the end, I didn’t give money based on the fact I judged his past behavior, and also because I wouldn’t get the money back.
I’m sure there are a thousand bleeding-heart people out there who will instantly call me an asshole, i.e. how dare I judge a man’s life, that I should have just handed the money over “no questions asked” since I could afford it. Perhaps it IS wrong for me to judge a man’s life, but it isn’t wrong for me to judge whether I want to lend him money or not; banks and insurance companies do it every day
Anyway, here’s the story.
I have a Filipina girlfriend who lives in the Philippines and attends nursing school. I visit every 4-6 months, spending a few weeks at the house I rent for her and her 12 year-old son. Because it’s so cheap (around $200 a month), we have a larger house than they really need, just to be comfortable. I also employ a maid for them, as they are both in school all day, and we need someone to watch the house, walk the dogs, wash and iron the clothes, and prepare meals.
As far as maid jobs go, it’s pretty easy with a lot of down time. The maid also happens to be the sister-in-law of my girlfriend - her brother’s wife. She is a little younger than my girlfriend (33), for this story we'll call her Lucy, and we all like her. Her kids and my girlfriend’s son are all friends and get along great. (The maid’s family live on a farm several hours away; she took the position for the money, even if it means being away from her family most of the week, as she goes home on Friday afternoons and returns on Mondays. She also admitted she liked being away from the farm for awhile, and the hard life there, as they are poor and live in a bamboo house with no running water.
Well, I was there on a visit recently, and was told by my girlfriend that Lucy had to go home that evening as her father was in the hospital. I didn’t think much about it, as it seems in the Philippines some family member is always in the hospital or planning on it.
A few days later my girlfriend pulled me aside and told me what I knew was coming; Lucy’s father had stomach cancer, as well as a few other issues, and had already been sent to a few different hospitals because, as he was told, “There is nothing we can do”. He was currently in a hospital nearby where she managed to find a doctor who was willing to perform a surgery, or at least to see what he could do. I tensed up a bit, as being an American in the Philippines; I knew the predictable, expected request for money for an operation was coming.
I also discovered Lucy was upset about the whole thing, because a month before her father had complained of stomach pain and how he couldn’t eat, Lucy decided not to take him to a hospital, but instead to a local witch-doctor who cast some sort of spell on the “evil spirit” inside his stomach. Afterward, he admitting to feeling better, and they all thought he was cured. Lucy was so proud of herself, telling us all about how she saved money by going to the witch doctor and not the “rip-off” hospital. I tried to make her feel better that this all occurred just a month before, and I doubt that if he had gone to the hospital, they would have been able to do anything different.
Now, before we get into what I did, I want to talk about the things I do and have done in the Philippines, because, like I mentioned, I know this story makes me look like a heartless asshole. One of the first things I did when I met my girlfriend was to hire a lawyer and surveyor to map and divide up the land of my girlfriend’s parents, making sure all the children have a title deed. This was a couple thousand dollars, and I haven’t asked for a dime of it. Her father had already died, and the mother died just a year after the titles were transferred, so it was a great relief for everyone to have it done and out of the way.
I’ve spent thousands having wells dug on the land, and pumps installed so that the family no longer needs to carry water up from the river. I’ve spent thousands building a large cement pig sty (with 15 holding pens) for them to start a business of raising and selling pigs (before me, they had nothing and no way of conducting business other than selling coconuts off the land). Again, I’ve not asked for a dime back from this, it is purely a charitable act to help them take care of themselves and better their lives.
I’ve bought tools, and even a water-buffalo or two at their request so they could better cultivate their land; just this year I spent close to $1,000 on 5,000 mahogany seedlings to be planted on unused land as an investment. I’ve made micro-loans to her family; I gave Lucy $1,100 (interest free) to buy a plot of land with many mango trees on it, the condition being they will pay it back in 3 to 4 years, as they sell the mangos, all interest-free and to be paid back as they can afford it.
The biggest thing I’ve done for them is sending ten of my girlfriend’s nieces and nephews overseas at around a cost of $15,000 total, so far. For a Filipino to go overseas, they require medical exams, training, and paying exorbitant fees to “agencies” which arrange it all. They aren’t earning much, anywhere from $300 to $500 a month, but it’s better than what they were doing in the Philippines, which is nothing. Plus, they picked up some job experience and training, which will be helpful, as they didn’t have any before. Again, interest free, and to be paid back over a period of 2 to 3 years, after 6 months to get settled. They won’t find a better situation anywhere else. This isn’t even everything, as I’ve paid for funerals for the parents, birthday parties, toys for children, and wedding gifts, etc.
I’ll telling you all this so you get a better idea of who I really am, and not a cheap “kanu” because I refused to give Lucy money for an operation that could “possibly” have saved her father’s life. Yes, I refused to give them money for a man who was dying, and I’m cool with it.
My reasoning was this - I had been told there was nothing that could be done, and an operation would only extend his life for a few weeks, at best. They also said his quality of life would be poor, with a colostomy bag, pain, etc. All of this happened at the end of my vacation and I had met my limit on vacation spending. I had just bought a new refrigerator for the house, and just returned the rental car I’d had for two weeks, which cost me $1,200. Also, I had just given Lucy $1,100 to buy the land with the mango trees on it, so I was tapped. Most of the money I spent or gave away over there was an investment in something, such as the pig sty, or sending people overseas. I never just gave money away with the idea that it wouldn’t be paid back.
My girlfriend told me Lucy wanted around $2,000 for her father’s operation, and she also told me about Lucy’s father. I found myself forming a rather negative opinion of the guy, and I’ll admit it influenced my decision. He fathered 8 children, and pulled all of them out of school after 6th grade, including Lucy, so that they could work for the family. In certain cases this wouldn’t have been so bad, except he never did anything with the money except spend it on himself, as the family was always in poverty. He also was a heavy drinker and smoker, so I’m assuming that’s where a lot of the money went.
I was also told that he was unfaithful to his wife, having at least one girlfriend at the time of his admittance to the hospital. He never made any plans for his children, never set anything aside for them, despite having all 8 kids working.
So this is what it came down to. I weighed everything I knew and was told about the situation and the man. I was told that his problems were pretty far along, and there was little anyone could do. Since they don’t have any money, the family would have to borrow to pay for his medical care, putting them further and further in debt, continuing this endless cycle of poverty.
I formed an opinion that he wasn’t a good husband, nor was he a good father. It didn’t even sound like he was responsible - having eight children he couldn’t afford or send to school. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to spend money on him - money that wouldn’t be paid back. I started feeling guilty, as in “Who am I to judge this guy?” Could I afford it? Yes. Would it have hurt me to spend the money? No. Would I have even noticed the $2,000 deduction from my bank account? Not really.
But as any American living in a third world country can tell you with things like this, its non-stop - there’s always something. There’s always someone in the hospital, someone needs a funeral, someone had an accident, etc. Actually, now that I think about it, I just remembered that a month before all this happened, she had a family member beg for money because his wife had to have a C-section birth (and of course they didn’t have any money). The hospital would have performed the surgery, and no one would have died, but they would have had to borrow money, sign over titles, etc, until the bill was paid. I wasn’t happy about it, but I paid the bill and added their names to my growing list of people who owe me money.
But this was something different. The guy was old, he had incurable stomach cancer, and nothing was going to save his life. This operation would only extend his life for an undetermined amount of time, if it succeeded at all. The doctors didn’t even know what they’d find once they cut him open!
I’ll admit I’m not a very sentimental person, and sometimes I think I’m even anti-social in my behavior, but that might have to do with my being in the military for 10 years, and another 6 working with the military as a civilian in combat zones. Seeing the things that I’ve seen in Afghanistan, I’ve realized human life is cheap and in some places worthless. Suicide bombers, 12 year-old child brides beheaded because of accusations of “adultery”, couples stoned to death because of suspicions that they were going to run off together and get married, etc. Even in the Philippines you can hire two guys on a motorcycle to kill someone for $150. Even in the U.S. you read about people killing each other over trivial things like parking spaces, cutting in lines, etc. So, no - I’m not a sentimental guy and consider myself a realist.
In the end, I didn’t give the money. The maid went to some relatives that were working overseas to borrow it. (These same people didn’t pay me back for several months’ money they owe me because THEY had to borrow money to send to the maid!) The father had his operation and died about a month later. The whole time this was going on, the maid was crying, spent most of her time by her father’s bed, and in the end quit the job. We hired a new maid, unrelated to the family, and she is working out fine. Lucy is back on her farm, working with her husband. ###