Giving massages (and I mean legit massage, none of the rub and tug stuff) is a huge industry in touristy areas, with probably one hundred women and men lined at stations along the beach. They wear colorful uniforms, sort of like a baggy nurse’s fits, and if you want one, they can either take you behind a curtained off little bamboo structure or on a big comfortable table right on the beach.
Since I’ve been living here, I pass them at least three or four times a day. I feel sort of bad for them. They’re out there in the hot sun, sometimes 12 hours a day, and only make money on commission when they give a massage – not a regular wage. In a good week they may massage 5-6 tourists and make $50. In a bad week they stand out there 60 hours but don’t eat. So they ask every single person who walks by and try to joke around and smile with them. There are always some girls in the back who are shy, or maybe not as pretty, and they just sit there and I don’t see how they ever get clients. It all seems so desperate to me – sort of sad – but I remind myself that these girls have great jobs compared to most. Of course they never appear down at all, in fact they’re always laughing and smiling and have genuinely sunny attitudes, like most Filipino people.
Anyway, I’m not on a budget where I can splurge on things like massages so I have to decline every day, but always say hi and try to make conversation. At first I used to joke, “I’ll get a massage tomorrow, I promise. Tomorrow!” And then when the next day came they’d call me on it, “Sir, sir! You said tomorrow!”
“Exactly, I said ‘tomorrow,’ but it’s today, not tomorrow. So I promise tomorrow.” They knew I was kidding the whole time and it made them laugh. Pretty soon they would yell out a cheerily “Tomorrrrowww!” in unison when they saw me coming up the path. Like the island dweller Friday before me, my new name was Tomorrow.
Today at noon was particularly hot, even for an island in the tropics. I wiped sweat off my brow with the little white towel I carry, just on the walk to the beachside bar, Nigi Nigi Noo Noos, where I planned on getting breakfast and working on my laptop. I passed the massage girls and the three I’m friendliest with yelled “Tomorrow!” and said hi, grabbed my arm to start massaging it, and laughed and danced. They knew I wasn’t a buyer, but were just genuinely friendly. What sweethearts. The other shy girls sat back, too shy to even say hi.
I noticed a little ice cream kiosk down the path.
“Hey, do you guys want ice cream?” They looked at each other, stunned, like someone had just offered them a Cadillac. “Really. Do you like ice cream? It’s hot out today.”
“Yes, yes, of course! The three girls sang in chorus.
“Ok, how many should I get?”
“Three is fine,” they said. But I looked behind them, at the other 8 girls (and 1 guy) who had overheard the whole thing. They didn’t ask for ice cream, they didn’t even look disappointed they weren’t included, but how sad would it be if the shy ones, or the ones who weren’t as pretty, had to sit there and watch their friends eat ice cream?
“Ok, how many of you are there total?” They counted them up and there were 12. The guy selling jet ski rentals tried to sneak in but the girls kicked him out. They cheered again when I said “okay” and walked up the path to the kiosk. I ordered 12 large vanilla ice cream cones dipped in chocolate. One by one the exasperated worker handed them to me, as people behind me in line grunted in frustration. One of the massage girls ran the cones back to the other girls as they came out, delivering them before they melted. When she came back I noticed she had something in her ear. What was that - a hearing aid? No, it was... a coin. I asked her about it and she blushed and took the 10 Peso coin out of her ear.
When we got back to the massage girls, I took a photo of them eating their ice creams. They thanked me about 100 times, to which I said “Walang anuman,” (you’re welcome) and walked on.
It wasn’t much at all – we’re talking about a dozen 25 Peso ice cream cones. I didn’t donate grand sums of money or perform some heroic actions to build a school in a war-torn country or sacrifice a year to work for the Peace Corp. But that’s the whole point – sometimes the smallest gestures can be just as important, if they actively demonstrate the desire to treat others like human beings. Every day we can all do these small things without worrying about scheduling free time, how much money we have in the bank, or trying to save the world all at once. Hold the door for an old lady, give a tired mom your seat on the bus, pay for the person’s coffee behind you in line who looks like they’re having a tough day, or just look someone in the eyes and say hello and smile at them.
People don’t expect you to solve their problems or “give” them a better life. They just want to you to stop and say “I see you, brother,” or “I see you, sister,” with humility and service in your heart, especially those in back that aren’t normally noticed. There is no scale to those acts of humanity – all joy is grand. A lifetime of small deeds recognizing people as human beings is not a life wasted. Giving to charity and getting involved in big ways is amazing, too, but first, just treat someone as a human being. That is, perhaps, the biggest honor you could bestow.
Enjoy your ice cream, sisters, and salamat po (thanks) for being my friends. Tomorrow was finally today.