In the Philippines, the Yaya is not a sisterhood and it doesn't have divine secrets. The yaya is the equivalent of the nanny in the English world or the au pair to the French. However, the Filipino yaya has the distinction of becoming so attached to the child in her care that she more often than not becomes part of the family and tends to grow old with them. I use the pronoun "she" for the yaya is almost always a female, just as the driver is almost always a male (in fact, I've never met a male yaya). The "driver" in this case does not only drive for the family, he fulfills all the "manly" needs of the household such as gardening and home repairs.
The yaya is different from the maid (also usually a female), who usually cooks, cleans and takes care of other household chores. Just as there can be multiple yayas and maids in the household (some families have one for each child), there can also be multiple male help. Aside from the driver, the family sometimes employs a "boy", a connotation which, although often indeed a young boy, really refers to a male help that does miscellaneous things around the house and run errands. Yes, the Philippines is about the only third world country I know that employs an army of people to help around the house. In our family, there was a time when our help outnumbered us that they joked that they would throw us out of the house! [Yup, they were that
comfortable with us.]
The yaya starts out by taking care of a baby in the family. If she does a good job and works well with the family, she is usually retained even though the child has grown. Growing up, I had a total of 3 yayas - Yaya Ann, who took care of me when I was a baby, Yaya Lucy [Yaya Ann's sister] who took care of me when I was a toddler until I was in my teens, and Yaya Cita, who kind of took over from there, although she has been with the family since I was born as well, in other capacities.
I am very, very
, attached to these yayas. Growing up my favorite has been Yaya Ann because she was the fun, cooky one. She left us when I was small to look for greener pastures (read: foreign employment), but she would visit often and would always have some toy or chocolates for me. She taught me how to bake and would tell me stories about her interesting "amos". When she got older she came back to us and became part of our family again.
Yaya Lucy probably had the biggest influence on me. I was attached to her hip, and, as sad as this may sound, I often preferred her company over my parents'. One afternoon, arriving home from school, I found my mom and Yaya Lucy around the dining table talking. I absent-mindedly kissed Yaya Lucy instead of my mom. When we realized what happened, we all laughed, but I can't help wonder later on if I hurt my mom with that innocent mistake. Once, Yaya Lucy and my dad had a big argument over something serious, prompting my dad to ask her to leave. I remember not leaving Yaya Lucy's side for days, crying the whole time, so she won't leave me. Yaya Lucy's daughter, Elma, also lived with us and became my big sister. When I went back to the Philippines for my dad's burial, Elma was instrumental in keeping our family sane.
And then there's Yaya Cita. Although she was never formally my nanny, she took care of me longer than anyone else did. Even while Yaya Lucy was still around, Yaya Cita took over my care. She stayed in my room until I was in my late teens, and since she was younger than the two, I was very comfortable with her. She has come to know me better than anyone else did. Over the years, she has become more than a yaya to me, she has become my dearest friend. Last January, I cannot describe my joy in seeing her after eight years of being away. She still lives with my mom in our house in the Philippines, but she mostly just takes care of her dog and cats.
I owe a lot of who I am now to my three yayas. I am so blessed to have known these three beautiful, wonderful women who truly loved me and dedicated part of their life to me. I can never repay them but I continually try to give back this blessing to them.
Happy birthday, Yaya Cita!