I am using the word 'exile' in a broad, loose, and general way here: anyone who has to leave the home country in order to live.
The problem with being an intellectual who goes on exile is the problem rooted in social privilege.
In intellectual work, there is more of a brain here than the use of brawn.
You are an intellectual, you rely on book knowledge and education, on training and experience, and that dreadful of all things dreadful in many societies, the developed ones included: name recall, economic capital based on that name recall, the compadrazgo system--or just that aberration we call 'connection'.
You have your named etched in the history of victors and oppressors and powerholders of a country, you are made even if you cannot spell your name.
Like some sons of senators and presidents and other political warlords who probably cannot sing the National Anthem.
In a society that values intellectual work more than those works that make use of physical strength, you get some perks--and more, the pelf--when you can dangle the MD, LlB, or the honorific 'attorney', 'engineer', 'architect', 'doctor' to all and sundry.
When you go on exile, you cannot bring the built-in social privileges.
You have to leave all of them behind, except, of course, if you are nurse or a physical therapist and you want to sratch out a life lived in fantasy by working on two jobs, by putting in sixteen hours a day, by forgetting the meaning of quality time for youself in order to have that monthly amount to pay off amortization for a mansion in the suburbs, a good car, and a family in the Philippines that has grown dependent on you for remittance and the perks of having a 'kapamilya pram abrud'.
At the time that I fetched a friend from her Valencia work in California, I got to handshake with an anesthesiologist from the Visayas, an experienced, mature, medical doctor who probably is better than some of those smart-alecks in downtown Los Angeles.
The anesthesiologist was to replace my friend as caregiver.
My friend worked for about two months in that ritzy part of California where all you hear was silence. All around you were mountains and mountain tops and mountain sides. There is good energy in this place and if one were a writer, this could have been some kind of a place for retreat where you can think thoughts about your thoughts.
The lady who was replacing my friend had bearing. Regal and poised to a fault, her hair coiffed.
You can see the way she carried herself that she probably had not washed nor ironed her doctor's uniform in her lifetime, not a single day. In the Philippines, and during her time (well, not anymore!), you could have an army of servants who were willing to pamper you and attend to your whim when you have posted that 'Doctor of Medicine' marker on your home's walls fronting the main street of the town for everybody to see.
Kumusta po kayo, I said, offering my hand. I smiled my sweetest.
Eto, ayos naman ako, she said, accepting my hand.
Maiiwan kayo dito, sabi ko. Mag-enjoy kayo.
Oo, salamat. I will.
And so we left after the ritual of goodbye and picture-taking for posterity.
On the road, we were silent, Linda and I.
I sped towards I-5 South.
Hay, the friend told me, heaving a deep, deep, deep sigh.
So how do you feel? I asked, my eyes on the overwhelming freeway with all the speeding cars and trucks. And the glaring late morning sun.
I felt relieved, she said. I cannot understand, but I feel I have been liberated.
Did you feel imprisoned?
Certainly. It is not the people, mind you. The circumstances. My mind cannot go figure why I have to do this. There is resistance, and it is this pull that keeps me from enjoying what I should be enjoying.
You are a writer, I told her. You see things differently. You feel things differently. You are more sensitive that anyone around.
I guess so, she said, her voice vibrant but there was a tace of sadness and hollowness in the way she pronounced her words. That lady who replaced me is one of the better doctors in her city in the Visayas. But look at her. She cannot practice here. So the only thing she can do is work as caregiver. Imagine America so damn lucky: our medical doctors are this country's caregivers while the poor in our country have never seen a doctor in their lifetime.
A, the University of the Philippines mindset in this friend. I looked at her, her eyes misty. I did not say a word. I pedaled the gas so we can run faster.
This is the work that awaits some exiles, I told myself. I never told her that but kept the information to myself. She will edit my book anyway, and she will find out more. And perhaps worse.
And the friend had not seen it all.
A. S. Agcaoili
June 1, 2006