“I met Toni when he worked for Nokia in the Philippines. I was the manager of an Irish pub and restaurant and the Nokia employees used to come in for lunch. One night there were a bunch of them. They came from a party and I didn’t have enough staff so I had to take the orders from each of them.
I went over and took their names with their orders and one of them said “my name is Toni”. I laughed and asked “is it spelled T-O-N-I?” – because in the Philippines “Toni” is a girl’s name. To my surprise he replied “you’re the first one to get it right” and from that moment we chatted every time he came.
Now he’s my husband.
We lived together in the Philippines for two years before we came to Finland. We’d planned to come here just for six months to see how it was because I didn’t really know why I should leave the Philippines. I had a really good job.
I gave birth the twenty-second of July 2003 to my first child, my daughter, in Helsinki. We lived in Kerava at the time. It was really difficult. When you give birth in the Philippines everybody comes round and brings you food, cleans your house – it’s that kind of culture. But here I was alone.
Toni was great, he was there for me the whole time. And he snuck in food for me from the Chinese restaurant around the corner. I was not supposed to eat that in the hospital.
Unfortunately for me I didn’t have my mum with me in Finland. I missed her, I didn’t know anyone and I had just given birth. I had one friend whom I met in the Philippines before I came here; married to a Finn. They lived in Turku and she came to visit me for a week to help out. Cooking the rice and stuff like that. So now whenever there is a new Filipino coming here, you know, pregnant, we try to make it like that. Not all at the same time, but at least we bring some food.
I went crazy for six months after the birth. I said “I have to go home”, I was crying every night and the baby was crying every night and Toni was in school. Toni bought me a ticket home for six months and we were supposed to come back for my daughter’s first birthday.
When I first came to Finland I thought, what can I do here apart from translating? I can cook. So I started to cook and feed my neighbours and then the orders started coming. People were ordering cakes or specialities from the Philippines. I thought “this is kind of lucrative, why not?” So I started to cater.
In the Philippines you have to learn how to cook, that’s just how it is. I have been cooking since I was nine years old. My talent has grown during the last twenty years. Sometimes I don’t see the wow factor in the food I make. For me it’s just normal. I just serve it and people say ‘wow’ about it.
My first catering job was for Heikki Salo, the singer of Miljoonasade. His wife is good friends with my neighbour, they are both theatre directors. So when their eldest was graduating from lukio they asked me to make food for 100 people in their house. They are the loveliest couple, the whole family is. Even after that they would call me and ask me to make 100 spring rolls.
Cooking brings me joy. It might seem weird, but I just read an article that said that cooking for someone else gives you benefits. It doesn’t matter what I cook or bake as long as someone eats it. My daughter is my inspiration. She asks me to cook things out of this world. She is a thinker.
There is a quite big Filipino community here in Tampere. If you go to the Catholic Church on a Sunday, you’ll find them there. I try to go regularly. It’s important to have the Filipino community here even if this is now my home; I’m a Finnish citizen. It’s the feeling of talking in your own language. It’s a sense of where I belong. I can express myself and be who I am. It’s a culture thing with the Filipinos here in Tampere.
I miss home all the time, I’m very close to my parents. My dad died in 2015. It was lucky that when my dad died I went home. We had those seven days. We were just talking and then we found ourselves lying on the bed and talking about death. He told me, “If I die, don’t come home. We have seen each other enough. You don’t have to fly here to see me, my dead body. You don’t have to do that.”
He knew it was near. Three days later he died. I don’t know how I was there, I didn’t even have any plans to go home. It was my friend, she told me she was going home and she asked me to join. I didn’t have any money to go. We were in church and she gave me 50 euros and said she would ask other people in the church to give some too. People started to give me 50 euro notes. I went home on the money they gave me in the church and saw my dad for the final time. Nowadays I call my mum whenever I miss her. I ask her if she has been dating. It’s our joke.
When I came back to Finland I had a party, karaoke and sauna, to say thank you. I didn’t celebrate that my dad was dead, I was celebrating to say thank you to the people who helped. We will go to the Philippines with my daughter now. She is excited to see the culture and see why I’m still in contact with all these people. To see where I come from. She doesn’t hear stories here and her dad doesn’t have those kind of relationships, it’s Finland you know.
I think hopes and wishes in life are for people who are not content, who are missing something. I have everything in life I could ever hope for. And now, when I go to the Philippines Toni will even rebuild my kitchen. And I didn’t even ask for that. He just wanted to do it. This is everything already, I can’t wish for anything more.”