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Once upon time, there was a woman who came from a far away country in SE Asia to work for a Saudi Arabian family who relocated to Paris during the late 1980s. Let’s call this woman Maria and her employers, the Abdullah family. The Abdullahs are wealthy tycoons who never travel without domestic help. Maria was their help.
Maria came with the hope of a better life for herself and the potential to earn more money for her family back home. With this in mind, she woke up each morning faced with a long list of chores to fulfil and not enough hours in the day to do them all. She was exhausted. However, Maria plodded on with her job because she had no way of leaving. She was financially dependent on the Abdullahs who kept her in their apartment every day, without even a day of rest which all employees are entitled to.
One day, a stroke of courage surged through Maria. She knew that she had to escape the prison that has now become her workplace and home or face the prospect of ill health and death from exhaustion. With nothing but the clothes on her back, Maria ran away. She hid herself in a little subterranean hole by a Parisian sidewalk for days until hunger gripped her, forcing her to grab at the legs of a passerby. Her saviour was an American journalist on a work assignment in the City of Light. She gave Maria the equivalent of 20€ and set her on the right path. The year was 1989.
Industrious and determined, Maria soon found work by asking personally anyone on the streets if they might need domestic help. She had young mouths to feed back home and they depended on her.
Maria is one of the many domestic helpers from the Philippines. Many of them are sans papiers because they are afraid of tempting fate by legalising their status in France; there might be a chance that their applications will be rejected and they would be sent home. That is because many have saved, begged, borrowed and paid the equivalent of 10,000€ for a passage to Europe, a passage that consists of one month’s tourist visa, in the hope of finding work. They will be required to work hard for 2 – 3 years, toiling daily, in order to repay their debt. Some of them hold down a series of at least 5 jobs, working in rotation for several families. For what is their purpose, you ask kawan kawan.
For the love of their children.
This is only a simplified answer, of course but still the most important. Underlying this is the bigger picture – a backstory of colonization, war, bartering between colonial masters, the Spaniards and the Americans, over a landmass that is home to 85 million indigenous people, and later on during independence, a series of corrupt politicians, leaving behind a nation of people who had to seek labour abroad to ensure that their families had enough food on the table. This was what brought Maria firstly to Saudi Arabia, then to France.
Maria has been in Paris for 21 years, working and saving hard, sending the majority of the Euros she earns back to the Philippines. For that, she sees to the education and welfare of her children and grandchildren. Kawan kawan, Maria hasn’t had a vacation in 21 years, she has not set foot on the soil of her homeland in 21 years.
But all that is going to change. Maria is going home. However, unfortunately for her, this respite has come too late. Maria is going home to die. She has a tumour that is eating away at her brain. The French medical team working on her has signed her death warrant and has kindly advised her son, the only family she has here in Paris, to send her to a hospice or back to her homeland.
At her hospital bed, Maria sits smiling. Maria is always smiling, thankful for small blessings and joyful of life itself. But today is one of the rare days when she is cognizant and recognises her visitors. Maria thinks she is going home on vacation and she can’t wait. She can’t wait to smell the dew that collects on each blade of grass in the morning in humid Philippines. She longs for the local flavours her homeland brings.
As I watch the longganisas popping in my frying pan, I think of Maria. I think of how happy she will be to taste this native sausage again, with scrambled eggs and garlic rice.
These sausages are native to the Philippines, made from indigenous spices, adapted from recipes left behind by their Spanish masters. Longganisa’s ancestor is the chorizo. In the Philippines, these chorizo related sausages are usually eaten accompanied by rice, fried with garlic, rice so fragrant and extraordinarily Filipino. Eggs are quickly scrambled to add to the meal. I was told that this trio: Longganisa, scrambled eggs and garlic rice makes a perfect Filipino breakfast. This is Filipino fry-up, kawan kawan! If only all fry-ups could be this delicious.
There are many varieties of longganisas in the Philippines, some more garlicky than others, some sweeter whilst others sour. The meat is almost always stuffed in a casing.
Longganisas can be made at home too, just follow the recipe below. I tweaked this reciped that comes from Filipino chef, Kristine Subido’s kitchen.
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
8-1/4 pounds ground pork
4-1/4 pounds coarsely ground pork back fat (streaky bacon)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. (You can also add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce to the mixture to give it an extra oomph.)
Form into patties or logs. Pan-fry in a nonstick skillet, with a little oil if needed, until browned on both sides. Makes about 12 pounds.
As I bite into my longganisa, I say a prayer for this dear soul, Maria. I often think that when one has so little in this world and yet have so much to smile about, then one really does appreciate the small blessings in life. Maria is going home, and she is thankful and happy that after 21 years, she can see the rest of her family again.
** I buy my longganisas at the Philippine supermarket on rue Boissiére, Paris 16. Ask for the ones with casings.