Living and Working Abroad

Christmas is a time for family, for going home, and meeting old balikbayan friends. The other day, we got to meet with an old balikbayan friend from abroad who brought with him the obligatory chocolates, vitamins, soap, and others. After the excitement, we sat down over some cold buko juice, and he described his hardships in a foreign land as a Filipino caregiver.

This got me into thinking on the plight of some of my friends, classmates, office mates, and family members working abroad. I sometimes wonder at the sacrifices of a family whose father or mother has to go abroad to earn a decent living.

I have known close relatives who went abroad out of poverty for so many years that their children barely know them anymore. They have missed those very important moments when their children are still in their formative years. What a great sacrifice it must be – to be living alone, lonely in a foreign land with no one to turn to except for casual acquaintances.

Personally,  I’ve also known of a friend working abroad, who for some reason was not able to attend his own wife’s funeral (died of a kidney disease). Although he has sent money for all the necessary expenses, but what a guilty feeling he must have endured, and agonized with. He just rationalized by saying that it was what he and the kids agreed (by phone) for the good of all. Of course, he was able to visit his wife’s grave a few months later when he went home.

Below, I copied in toto a blog of Nina Simon (a winner in this years Pinay Expats/Overseas Workers Blog Awards, or PEBA Awards) which tells also of the sacrifices of the relatives that took care of the children left behind. This I think is one dimension of the tragedy of this Filipino diaspora.

So here’s the blog of Nina Simon:

“My Mom’s Quasi-orphanage by Niña Simon

My Mom’s Quasi-orphanage by Niña Simon
published July 19, 2010 9:40 PM

My mother has never been out of the country.

She has never been on an airplane.

But she has been a surrogate mother to so many children of OFWs that it seems her burden has been heavier than those who have left their kids.

My Tita Loida is a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She left her young daughters in my mother’s care.

My Tito Pako is in Italy. He met his wife, a Bulaceña in Italy. They have two kids. My mother constantly checks on their children who are in Bulacan.

My Tita Clemen is in Dubai. My uncle died while she was away. She left her two sons in my mother’s care.

Batangueños are known for being extremely clannish. This is true for most Filipinos here and abroad. In the beginning, poverty was the reason why people left the country. Now, they can’t seem to find a reason to come back. I fear that some of them have forgotten why they left in the first place.

People like my mother bridge the gap between those who are left behind and those who are in another land.

For the longest time I have heard about and seen relatives leave Batangas, Isabela, and Laguna to try their luck in earning more money for their families. In the beginning it was the men. They braved the desert, the haughty Europeans, and the discrimination that came with doing manual labor. This was considered the right thing to do for men since they needed to be the provider for their families. People perceived that the fathers were doing their paternal duty in leaving their wives and kids in the Philippines.

Then came waves and waves of mothers leaving their toddlers. I suddenly had two female cousins living in our house most of the time. People didn’t like this new trend. Fathers that were left behind could barely function with work and housework in their hands. Somehow it was the woman’s fault if the family didn’t survive this change. She ruined everything for leaving them behind.Even if their husbands were the ones who didn’t keep his vows, somehow people chewed out the woman instead of the man. “He was lonely”, they would say. I couldn’t help but shake my head when I heard that.

My mom raised us alongside my “adoptive” sisters. I often hear her roll call for the people who needed to be at our table for meals and it often included the girls. If that wasn’t the case, she would check up on them to make sure that they had eaten. When their father went home later and later into the night, they had to sleep over at our house from time to time.

They grew up with toys, pictures of their mother in Hongkong, and my mother’s constant nagging. I think she took it personally when the eldest girl ended up repeating her mother’s situation, having a child while she was still young. She felt like she failed to raise her well. In our family, the welfare of the daughters, their mistakes, and their triumphs are perceived to be based on the alpha female in their lives. I saw how hard it was for my mother that she had not done a good enough job in instilling traditional values into my cousin’s heads. As her eldest daughter, I had to suffer the nagging and the suspicious looks. I think I managed to dodge it jokingly, enough to ease her fears.

My mother’s youngest brother had been conned by a trusted family friend before his wife managed to get a chance to go to Qatar. While she was there, my uncle died in his sleep.We would later find out that he had a legitimate job offer in Canada. She went home for the funeral but had to go back abroad so she could earn enough for their two sons’ education. Once again, after the blow that hit her when my cousin got pregnant, my mother was a surrogate mother again.

Because my cousin’s were in the same bed as their dad when he died, the kids didn’t want to sleep in their old room. My younger cousin who couldn’t sleep unless he had his hand on his dad’s ear clung to my mom more, to my little sister’s chagrin. They slept in our second floor room with my father, mother and sister. It was a good thing that by that time I was in Makati, my younger brother was in Diliman, and the youngest son was in Los Baños. When we all go home from our separate locations one had to take dibs on a bed or end up sleeping on the couch. The legitimate kids ended up feeling like we were the guests in our own home. But I didn’t care, at least not all that much, because my mom told me, “Who else would take care of them?”

My mom doesn’t mind disciplining, feeding, and loving my cousins. What I have seen as an adult that I missed when I was still a kid, was that my mom hated it when the parents thought that she was not giving their kids the money that they sent over. My mother had a mantra, “Never spend other people’s money.” Both my parents believed that so much that their bosses trusted them with money matters completely. I started realizing that my mother was slowly becoming the victim in the situation. She didn’t want to look like the enemy, but there was a time that she had to tell the boys the awful truth. Their mother, my aunt, had found someone new, she didn’t have a job and there was no money coming in.

I don’t know how hard it is to be far from my homeland. I have heard my friends, my relatives and former lovers talk about how difficult it is to be in a place where there is nothing else that they can do but work, eat, and sleep. I am an advocate that they are heroes in their own right. But let’s not forget that there are those who decided that they can work here, care for the young here and fill in the gaps here in the Philippines.

I believe both deserve our gratitude.”


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