Family Affair / The Camba and Gonzales families
* The cast: Myrna Camba (53) and her daughter Aandrea (7.5); Mila Gonzales (39) and her son Jeril (7).
* The story: Myrna and Mila, migrant workers from the Philippines, are mothers of Israeli-born children, but their residence permits in Israel have expired, so they are therefore candidates for deportation. The two chose to be photographed, each for her own reasons, in the home of their good friend Tina, also a Filipina.
* Reasons: Myrna, because her apartment is so small and crowded there is no room for a photo to be taken; Mila, because the woman with whom she shares her apartment is afraid of the immigration police.
* Place of meeting: The two-room apartment of Tina (a neighbor) is located just off a busy street in south Tel Aviv, which is home to various garages for mopeds and taxis. Tina lives here with Ivy, her four-year-old daughter, and has a fan, a DVD player, a kitchen and a bathroom. She is not home; we are told she is out doing errands. She has left Ivy with Myrna and Mila, and her friends Aandrea, Jeril and Kiki – the latter a frisky puppy.
* Midday: From the scorching-hot yard we enter via a porch and walk into in a yellow-painted room with three white plastic chairs. On the floor, children are watching a Japanese animation film on the DVD, next to the fan, which provides a barely perceptible breeze. Refreshments are served on a small Formica coffee table: Myrna and Mila offer bourekas and water to invigorate the soul. We get them organized for the portrait. Myrna leads a tour of her home, located in the yard. We follow.
* The tour: A narrow orange door, just wide enough for one person to pass through if he holds his breath, leads into a crowded kitchen. We look around and enter the “sleeping wing.” The room is filled with parcels. Myrna explains that she will send all the items she has packed (clothes, blankets, kitchen utensils) “by cargo” to her family in the Philippines. “It’s a shame to throw it out,” she says.
* Her family: Parents, four grown daughters (from a previous marriage) and four grandchildren.
* Livelihoods: Myrna, who has been in Israel for 13 years, works as a cleaner and a caregiver in Tel Aviv: Twice a week she cleans houses in Ramat Aviv, and three times a week she looks after an aged couple in the Hadar Yosef neighborhood, which includes cooking for them. She earns NIS 40 an hour (at both jobs), and the elderly couple also pays part of her medical insurance (“Elite Insurance from the Menorah company”). She commutes by bus (“about an hour”), leaving around 8 A.M. (after taking Aandrea to school) and returning between 5 and 6 P.M. Before going home she picks up Aandrea from the babysitter (a Filipina married to an Israeli), who takes care of her after school for NIS 400 a month.
* A month: Myrna lives on NIS 3,000 and sends the rest home to her parents and daughters (“When I get old they will look after me”). With this sum, she pays rent (NIS 1,000), buys food (NIS 1,000), pays the babysitter and buys “everything I need.” She buys clothes, for example, in the area of the old Central Bus Station, and sometimes takes Aandrea to the amusement park. She is “definitely satisfied” with her life here, she says.
* Immigration police: “I’m not afraid.” If the police show up, she will accept her fate. Aandrea hears this and says (in Hebrew) that she objects to leaving Israel.
* Aandrea: Is starting second grade at Bialik School on Levinsky Street in Tel Aviv (“the Bialik Rogozin campus”), which has a large enrollment of migrant workers’ children. Last year she attended an after-school science program, but is undecided whether to continue this year. Says she does not want to go to the Philippines (“I was born here and I have a school and girlfriends”). Walks to school with her mother in the morning (15 minutes), and likes Yael, her teacher. Lunch is provided by a volunteer food program, subsidized by private organizations, and for which Myrna pays NIS 240 a year. Summer camp? Aandrea doesn’t know what that is really, but she did go with her class to visit the Children’s Channel studio, with the help of Rotem Ilan (a volunteer in the Children of Israel organization).
* Plans: “I will be a doctor in Israel.”
* Mila’s livelihood: Cleans homes – twice a week in Ramat Aviv, three times a week in upscale Herzliya Pituah, one day on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. Like Myrna, she makes NIS 40 an hour, gets to work and back by bus and shared taxi, starting at 9 A.M. and returning home by 6 P.M. Her employers treat her well, she says. Occasionally she takes Jeril with her to Herzliya so he can play on the computer a little. She attends services in the Protestant church on Neve Sha’anan Street every Friday and says she is not afraid of deportation, but adds that it would be a shame for Jeril (“It will not be easy for him – in Israel he has a future”).
* Jeril: Like Aandrea, has just begun second grade at Bialik School. Last year he attended an English enrichment program after school (on Matalon Street). He’s still undecided about whether he will be a doctor or a policeman when he grows up, or whether he will be in Israel or the Philippines. Neither Aandrea nor Jeril speak Tagalog, the most widely spoken of the Philippine languages, but they both understand it a little.
* Mila’s bio: Born 1970 in a village near Salcedo, a city in the northern Philippines, youngest of three children. Her father is a farmer, growing rice and tobacco (“and raising some cattle, too”), in addition to being a Protestant clergyman; her mother ran a grocery store until her retirement. Recalls her childhood as happy, first heard about Israel at Sunday church services. Completed high school in Salcedo, then attended a school for nurses but did not get certification. Instead, she decided to work for a year in Singapore, where the pay is good. In 1995 she married Albert, the bodyguard of a sardine factory owner, but at the end of the year found herself alone.. He went to Israel and she stayed behind to give birth to their daughter, Rubiemel. Four months later she left the child with her mother and flew to Tel Aviv, where she has been ever since. She last saw Rubiemel 13 years ago.
* Longings: “We end up with the reality we choose,” Mila says, “and I know she is in good hands.” Belief in God helps, she adds. If she could do it all over again, she would again come to Israel (“It is easy to make a living here”). As a pious Christian, she believes that the Israelis are “blessed” and that she is also “blessed” for living among them. Her husband Albert was deported in 2007 and upon returning to the Philippines was able to buy a plot of land, a tractor and an apartment in Manila. Mila is certain that he is faithful to her and that one day (“b’ezrat hashem” – “with God’s help” – she says), she will return to him and they will live together happily.
* Daily routine: Mila gets up at 7 A.M., brushes her teeth, has a cup of unsweetened coffee (Turkish or instant), makes soup with noodles for Jeril’s breakfast (“Maybe he won’t eat well at lunchtime”), takes him to school and then goes to work. Jeril has lunch in school; Mila does without. They have a serious meal (rice, chicken, beef, fish) together at around 8 P.M. Mila says she is not much of a cook. After the meal she straightens up “the mess” and afterward sometimes goes with Jeril to Mesila (a center that assists the foreign community, run by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality). She gets to sleep by midnight. The heat does not really bother her (“We have good air in our place”), but she sleeps fitfully.
* Myrna’s bio: She was born in 1955, in Pilar on the island of Sorsogon, the eldest of eight children in a Catholic family. Her father, now retired, was a farmer who grew rice; her mother was a housewife (“We also had a pig”). She attended elementary school in the village; high school in the city of Albay on Luzon, the largest of the Philippine islands, where she lived in a rented room from the age of 16, coming home on weekends. She enrolled in agriculture studies at Albay University, but dropped out (after two years) and moved with her family to the city of Pampanga under pressure of the NPA (New People’s Army) militia, which was opposed to the rule of then-president Ferdinand Marcos. She met Carlos in 1975 and had four children with him, marrying him in a church ceremony 15 years later (1990) and getting a divorce shortly afterward because “he wasn’t exactly faithful.” She left her children with her parents when she went to Israel (1996). She too is certain she did the right thing. “I am very happy here,” she says. Met Aandrea’s father in Tel Aviv; they later split up. He returned to the Philippines in 2003 and is in touch only with his daughter.
* Daily routine: Myrna gets up at 4 A.M. (“I always did that, even in the Philippines”), makes noodle soup for Aandrea, cooks rice and schnitzel for the evening and takes a shower. Wakes Aandrea at 6 A.M. and has a cup of coffee (“mud” or instant) without sugar. They leave for school at 6:30, after which Myrna goes to work. At 8 P.M. they have a meal of rice, chicken or beef and vegetables, after which they watch movies together on the Children’s Channel. Aandrea goes to sleep at 9, Myrna at midnight, for four hours.
* Deportation threat: This does not bother her. Says Myrna: “Even if I am deported, I will go on thinking good things about Israel.”
* Dreams: “For us to be legal and be able to visit our families in the Philippines and return to Israel.”
* Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Mila – “10, of course!” Jeril, too. Myrna and Aandrea – 10.