The plight of the OFW is a common theme of novels authored by Filipinos. Having an OFW relative – or at least knowing someone who does – is something that probably all of us have in common.
In Joanne Ramos's debut novel, The Farm, the life of an OFW is reimagined in a setting that borders on dystopia – a place where their only tool is their womb and their only job is to deliver a healthy baby for clients who have the money but don't have the time.
It's not as bad as it seems.
Golden Oaks, managed by Chinese businesswoman Mae Yu, provides their hosts (surrogates) with a beautiful place to live in, healthy and organic food, nutritionists and fitness trainers, on top of their salary and big bonuses. That's why Ate Evelyn, a long-time Filipina nanny to some of the rich American and Filipino families in the US, urges her cousin Jane, a young Fil-Am single mom, to grab this wonderful opportunity.
Jane recently separated from her American husband Billy, after she found out he was having an affair. She takes her only months-old baby Amalia with her to live with her cousin, Ate, and fellow OFWs in a cramped apartment in New York. Unlike Ate, Jane isn't working as a nanny. She couldn't bear to be away from Amalia. Instead, she has a job in a retirement home that doesn't pay much.
When Ate fells ill and can no longer work for her employers, the Carters, she urges Jane to take her place. There, she could earn more and faster than she ever would in the retirement home. The Carters would be paying her double – a perk that Ate has earned for her reputation as an excellent nanny, famous for her effective sleep routine for babies.
But it turns out Jane isn't as good a nanny as Ate and is fired by the Carters after a short stint. Jobless and with an infant in tow, Jane is left with no choice but to take on Ate's offer to try the job at Golden Oaks.
The application was a grueling process – Jane had to undergo a series of extensive tests and interviews. But once she was in, the reward was quick. She was able to move Ate and Amalia into their own apartment where they could live comfortably while Jane was away.
When Jane arrives at Golden Oaks, she is set on just doing her job and keeping her eye on the prize – the delivery bonus that will change her and Amalia's life.
The place was exactly as it was promised – beautiful surroundings, an abundance of healthy food, massage services – everything a pregnant woman might need and more. Since the hosts carry million dollars worth of babies in their bellies, they can't move as freely. They're constantly monitored through a band attached to their wrists, their phone calls and messages are all recorded, and they can't go out or receive visitors unless Mae and their clients say so.
So, when the loneliness from being away from Amalia and the pressures from her fellow disgruntled hosts gets to her, Jane does things she wasn't supposed to do. It compromises her job and her coveted bonus – all so she could see her child again.
Ramos, who herself belongs to an immigrant family in the US, paints a picture of many OFWs and Filipino immigrants today. Can I sacrifice this time away from my children in exchange for money? Some can while some, like Jane, just can't.
And while Golden Oaks and its extreme practices may be fictional, it couldn't be far from the truth. Most OFWs who, like Ate Evelyn, work as nannies, caregivers, maids, and helpers are at the mercy of their employers. Like Jane, they're not always free to do as they please and what's worse, they often don't have proper living conditions and big bonuses (or even a regular salary) to look forward to.
Considering the lengths that OFWs would go to for their families, The Farm will make you wonder, if Golden Oaks existed, how many Janes would there be? – Rappler.com
(‘The Farm’ is available in Fully Booked and other leading bookstores. The copy reviewed was provided by Fully Booked.)