Folding Paper Swans, Modeling Lives: The Ritual of Filipina Eldercare in Israel

Abstract

This article examines the practices of folding paper swans by Filipina migrants employed as live-in caregivers for elderly, dying patients in Israel. These practices create a microsystem model of adjustment through precise, small-scale, and repetitive movements. This microsystem synchronizes a tripartite process: the swan’s process of construction, the patient’s process of decay, and the caregiver’s process of self-creation. In the short term, the microsystem is sustained, but in the long term, the microsystem contains within it the seeds of its own self-destruction, as the patient eventually dies, the caregiver is reassigned to another patient or deported, and the swans are gifted. Therefore, the swan folding expands both medical anthropology understanding of caregiving as a ritual and the phenomenology of global caregivers who use immediately accessible materials—paper and glue—as an imaginative tool for ordering their daily experiences as dislocated and marginalized workers.