A version of this was published in Rappler on 04/30/2014
My name is Didi, a Filipino expat based in the United States. And in my country, there are thousands…No, let me correct that. There are millions of other overseas Filipinos workers and migrants, who clap and even cheer when the captain announces that plane is approaching the Manila airport. The decibel levels of glee increase by a hundred fold, especially when the plane screeches, shakes, creaks and finally stops to complete the landing. I’m sure that, apart from clapping and cheering, they also restrain themselves from giving a standing ovation, averting a possibly disastrous reprimand from the seatbelt nazis, a.k.a. the flight attendants, especially ones who are not Filipino, ones who most probably won’t understand their uninhibited euphoria.
Maybe someone like you.
Like them, I have left the comforts of my country, my home to join my husband, start our life together and pursue greener pastures to help provider a better future for ourselves and our families back home. And because the Philippines is 8,316 miles across the Pacific Ocean from my current home of Dallas-Fort Worth, USA, the airplane fares do not come cheap. At best, a roudtrip plane ticket back home would cost $1,000 per person, but, at peak travel season, during the Christmas holidays, plane ticket costs shoot up to $2,500 per person. And I don’t know about you, maybe you are rolling in the dough or are pretty liberal about spending money, but, to me, that is a LOT of money.
Though there are days when family and friends beckons me and my husband to come home for a visit, I cannot. Considering the first world costs of living, adjusting to the four seasons which we have never prepared for; the work situation, which still does not include paid time off (i.e. paid vacation leaves); plus the state of our financial goals: paying off our real estate investment and building our savings; the homecoming to the Philippines is still indefinite. The last time I was home was in October 2012.
Do I miss home?
I indulge in one day, out of the 365 days of the year, to give myself a good cry because I do miss my family and friends back home. But the rest of the year, I stay strong, smile, count my blessings, work hard to make my current location a home and remember the very reason why I am abroad in the first place: my husband. I am more than blessed, privileged, to be with him in the same place, at the same time.
But not all Filipino expats are as blessed as I am. Enter Coca-cola Philippine’s OFW (i.e. Overseas Filipino Worker) video:
You may say that this video is a product of carefully crafted evil marketing people, who just want to sell more soda to the world. I won’t deny that it is. BUT these stories are true.
One story close to home, apart from mine, is my mama’s. She left us, my father and six children including my then 4-year old, 8-year old and 11-year old sisters, to take care of someone else’s children. She missed my youngest sister’s first day in the big school and other milestones because she was away. She was even lucky to have been away only for six months at a time, whilst others are away for years, or at worst, decades. There are parents, who have not gotten the chance to see their children grow up. There are children, whose roles have topsy-turvied, who have left to provide for their parents, siblings and even extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Okay, sometimes even the entire barrio (i.e. neighborhood). All in the name of providing them with a better life: ample food on the table, clothes on their backs, a house of they can call their own, a better education in private school (so just you know, the Philippines’ public education system is not up to par as we’d like it to be), eliminate debt that has haunted their family for years and maybe small luxuries here and there – a television set, a DVD player, a videoke (i.e. video + karaoke) machine, a mobile phone, a tablet or a computer.
While families back home enjoy all these life upgrades, at times, they almost oblivious to the challenges we face being aliens with only a piece of paper to show for to belong…or for some, even risking it having none. I spent moments, shaking to the core, inside my former employer’s kitchen pantry in hiding from the visiting labor authorities because I was legally not allowed to work (But FYI, I eventually got my work permit sorted a few weeks after that incident). I have been mistaken as a maid even though I hold a Master’s degree. We, Filipino expats, work so hard to assimilate into the local scene of the countries, where our fates are shaped, where we earn our keep, which is often, if not always, sent back home. At times, not leaving anything for ourselves…not leaving anything for travels around the world. Despite that, some have been mocked, called “brown monkeys” or, worse, even tortured, whilst keeping heads down, smiling still because this is what they are paid to do. This is the price we are paid for leaving our home country.
Yes, they may have not have had the same privilege as you to have been country hopping, making plane landings vacation buzz killers – a signal of the end of yet another trip or another tick in that long bucket list of yours, earning more than enough miles to credit you another trip in another exotic location, perhaps in my tropical corner of the world. I admit, having also been well-traveled, that I used to roll my eyes and scoff at the clapping and cheering. I thought “How O.A. (i.e. Overacting)! What was the fuss all about? It’s just a plane landing. Duh.” But as I’ve experienced what they did, I understood.
Though these people have not racked up the same air miles as you, they have travelled much in life, sacrificing their own well-being to nurse your sick back to health, to care for your elderly, to serve you at restaurants, to pamper you in hotels, to cook your food (President Obama’s food no less), to make sure you have the best mobile phone service, to babysit or teach your children, to help you drive sales of your products and services, and more; in order to provide better opportunities, a better future for their families back home. They clap because they are unbelievably happy to be home – safe and sound and, importantly, not dead – to have finally gotten the chance to kiss their wives, to hug their parents / grandparents, to hold their children close, and to actually see the fruits of their labor.