Recently, I came across the Gini Index. The report showed South Africa as the worst ranked country in the world, at 62.5. A measure of zero would be impossible, not even in a Marxian utopia as it requires everyone in that society to earn the same income. A coefficient of 100 on the other hand means one resident in that country earns all the income, and everyone else works as slaves. I was immediately curious about how equal America was in “The Land of the Free” where everyone is created equal and all men are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights such as the right to life, liberty and to be yourself. The right to refuse vaccinations and not wear masks are more modern rights won by the Americans. The U.S. came in at No. 30, with a Gini index of 45.0, just a point and a half better than their current nemesis, communist China. Somewhat unexpectedly, as I assumed the communists would be a lot more equal with their reward system. The Philippines performed as badly as both these countries, at about 48.0. This was a surprise to me, for I expected that country to rank much more badly. I was in Manila in 1981 not long after the Marcos era saw the lifting of martial law. A few months after my visit, Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated upon his return at the International Airport of Manila after a long exile. As a young man then, I was shocked by the extremities of what serious economic inequality and abject impoverishment can do to a society. The wealthy dead were housed in air-conditioned mausoleums whilst the impoverished living were eking out a miserable existence, begging and annoying tourists for pittance before returning to their cardboard shelters on the roadsides and medium strips of major avenues as the day became dark. On our first night there, The Mrs and I didn’t feel very safe, although it must be emphasised that we were never harmed or threatened as we walked past those people on our way back to the posh hotel after a sumptuous seafood dinner during which we were serenaded by a Spanish guitar trio. Countries that allow the unequal and unfair abuse of their masses are tinderboxes for civil unrest. It is no wonder we watched the end of Marcos rule on TV after “people power” used yellow ribbons to topple the kleptomaniac who brought his nation into economic despair. It is also no wonder that today we see street riots, looting and violence on the streets of America as normal occurrences as in Hong Kong who are ranked loftily at No.4. Egalitarian countries are mostly European with scores of below 30. Such nations do not witness civil unrest, food insecurity or political upheaval. People who are fairly governed and treated equally do not have the need to start a rebellion.
The average Filipino’s annual income is 1/20th that of an American who earns USD67,427. The starkness can be better explained if we say an average Filipino needs to work 20 days to earn as much as an American who works one day and rests for the next nineteen. This is not the case for Ammie Lanoy. She has worked seven days a week for most of her adult life. Hers is a life that is much more challenging than that of the average worker in her country. I have never met Ammie yet somehow, her story has captured my attention. Her story deserves to be told, for it is about the gutsy and admirable qualities of a woman’s determination to provide hope against all odds and ultimately, win reprieve from abject poverty for her family. A magical genie, that is how I see her. Early life with her loving parents was as safe and comfortable like that of a genie’s in an oriental bottle, but once she fell in love with the man who would become her master, her role became those of a genie who was summoned to obey her master’s commands. To be fair, I think she performed incredible feats to rescue her family from the tyranny of poverty and hopelessness, not to satisfy the whims and wishes of her husband. Once out of the comfort of her parents’ home, she has not stopped working. She has not stopped giving. Ammie was born on October 31, 1963, at Union, Dapa, Surigao del Norte. The 8th and youngest in her family, she finished her grade school at Union Elementary School and High School at San Nicolas School. She dropped out of the Bachelor of Science degree after one semester at the Mindanao State University. A common reason that bedevils most Asians – the tuition fees and living expenses were simply unaffordable for the family. After she dropped out of uni, she washed dishes in a school canteen in Manila to help her parents make ends meet. Eventually, she became the assistant cook of that school canteen and life appeared promising at last. She was able to save up enough money to buy a small plot of land at their local village (barangay). There, she met Elenito P. Lanoy who would become her lover and later, father of their two children. Somehow for those who lead tough lives, they would go on to meet bad luck or bad people. In her case, Ammie’s husband turned out to be an alcoholic. Drunks are often unemployed and for many, their circumstances worsen as the brutality and harshness of a hard life take hold. They usually become unemployable and their resultant anger at the world typically makes them violent and unpredictable. What does a woman do when her husband is unemployed? She compensates for his incapacity, bad luck or laziness. She works and works, and works some more. Even when she was heavily pregnant with child. Even immediately after child-birth. What does a mother do when the father of her children is a violent drunk? She takes the beatings instead and she makes sure they are not within his striking distance, even if it means they sleep outside their house on the verandah. When Gladys, their first-born turned 7, they uprooted from Manila and returned to Siargao Island. Life improved somewhat, the drunkard became a fisherman and Ammie by then confident of her cooking skills, prepared viands and sold them to every house in their barangay. If you peer hard, you’ll still see the millions of her footprints she made on that dirt path. A road that turns soggy and muddy when the rains come, it is as uninviting during the dry season, as it throws dust and fine grains of sand into travellers’ eyes. A viand could be a meat, seafood or a vegetable dish that is served with white rice. She carried the heavy load of viands with both hands as she walked the many kilometres every day, selling her food that she had toiled for much of every morning preparing and cooking. Her daily journey began at the school because many of the teachers were her customers but it was always necessary for her to traverse the whole barangay and not return home until mid-afternoon for her viands to be all sold. Her viands made her a reputation as a very good cook and eventually, she became the food caterer for local weddings, birthdays and festivals. To both their children, Ammie is their sole parent. The drunk by definition is stupid to let himself drink to a stupor. Gladys today works as my virtual personal assistant/office administrator. It still amazes me that she can be on the other side of the world yet work together with her colleagues who are based here in Adelaide. According to Gladys, her mother survived everything for them. Hurricanes, earthquakes and beatings, I suspect. Everything. Ammie even pawned her house and land, for their education. I am so glad for Ammie that they both graduated from college. Money well spent! Today, the sun finally shines on Ammie. Gladys has managed to buy back her mother’s house and land from the pawn-shop. Last week, she got an interest-free loan with no repayment obligations from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. Gladys borrowed the money for a good cause. She gave the money to her mother. It represents to her a “God-sent” opportunity to win her financial independence. The investment is worth it. It finally gives Ammie the realisation of her dream to run a small business from the dilapidated hut she owns by the side of their house. It has been wonderfully refurbished into a delicatessen, a delightful story. Today, I see it has been transformed into a convenience store in their barangay from which she can sell her delicious viands, and miscellaneous grain and rice for the villagers. The Coronavirus had threatened their community with food insecurity. This was another urgent reason to set up the convenience store. The good news keeps coming. I learned that Ammie’s husband has successfully kicked his addiction to alcohol. Ammie never abandoned him, her steely determination to keep her family together despite the many reasons to walk away is further testament to her great capacity to love and give. Ammie, a real genie. An inspiration to those who would have given up long ago.