The trade-off

The Trade Off

The OFW phenomenon has undeniably reaped economic benefits for Filipino families and  for the whole country. In 2017, OFW remittances reached an all-time high of $31.29 billion. That’s a lot of money. But at what cost?

The first and the biggest  casualty is personal relationships. When  OFWs and their  loved ones spend decades far apart  from each other, relationships tend to suffer. Stories of marital infidelities abound. Either the OFW or the husband or wife left behind succumb to the temptation of having a lover as loneliness seeps in. Marriages have been broken because of the distance.   Even if the couple have managed to stay faithful to each other, the long period of separation usually makes them drift away and turns them to strangers. Their union is reduced to an economic one. And the OFW’s role, in many cases,  is simply   that of a “ financier”.

Parent-children  relationship also suffer. Prolonged  parental absence in simple things like playing, doing homework or having a meal has cumulative negative effects. They  miss unexpected  teachable moments when a  parent can give a life lesson, and the child would most likely be receptive to it. OFWs also  miss milestones like birthdays, graduations and weddings.  The absentee parent tends to develop lasting guilt while the children may feel resentful.  In the end, when OFWs come home for good, they  realize that their children are now grown men and women who are too busy to spend time with them.

Ten, 20, 25 years apart. That is a huge loss. That is a long period of hard work, stress and  loneliness. That is a lot of missed moments with your  loved ones.  That is  a big piece in  the puzzle of life— and that piece is missing, and  can never be found again because it involves time. There will always be a part of you  that is unknown to your  family. For example, your friends and colleagues abroad, your boss, your routine, your bedroom. There is no one else  in your  family who have memories  of these things.  On the other hand, your family   will also  have a lot of memories that are unknown to you. Like the time your son  spent the whole night doing a science project, or the time your mother had an argument with a neighbor over a petty gossip. Simple things, you may say. But these simple things make up  a huge part of our lives.  

But what is probably most tragic is when someone dies.  Sometimes, the OFW comes home dead after long years abroad. Sometimes, it’s someone in the Philippines. A child, a mother, a spouse. OFWs and their families sacrificed  so many years dreaming of a time to be reunited —only to come to that. The surviving members spend the  rest of their lives in guilt and regret.

And what about the effect on the person’s  dignity? To be blunt about it, many of us are just modern slaves. So many low-level workers are subjected to physical and sexual abuse, humiliation, bullying and constant fear. These things have lasting impact on the person’s well-being.

So, once you decide to become an OFW, you have to be ready for the trade off. It’s your choice and so you have to accept the consequences of your decision. No amount of money will compensate for the long absence. What you can do is to manage  your finances efficiently so that you can go home sooner and do the things that are really  priceless.

Zero balance after vacation

It happens year after year after year.

An OFW comes home for a much-needed vacation.  The jubilation starts at the Arrival Area of the airport.  A jeepney-load of relatives and friends come to meet him.  After the hugs and “ welcome home” greetings, they go to the nearest mall.  They go to a restaurant, and ask the waiters to prepare a long table.  A hearty meal ensues. The bill comes, around  five thousand , and the OFW settles it. It’s okay up to this point.

Then, after the meal — the group is poised to go shopping. The OFW  brings out his wallet again, and starts giving out cash.  Five hundred here, a thousand there. Or two, three. And everyone is happy. The next day, he starts giving out the “ pasalubong” or gifts. Soap, perfume, corned beef,  cigarettes, chocolates, bags , shoes, shirts. The total cost of his pasalubong?  Probably not lower than P15,000. The shopping spree continues. The wife needs new clothes. The kids are making “ parinig”  about  the latest phones and fashion items. Go! Sky is the limit.

The OFW  is then notified  that his barkadas and kumpares have organized a “reunion”, a drinking spree actually.  He has to go. Magtatampo kasi. They dine and drink. Tagay dito, tagay doon. The OFW pays,  of course. He’s lucky if his kumpares share one lechon manok as pulutan.  And then, more giveaways—his watch, his shoes. The next days and weeks are full of frolic. Baguio, Boracay, Vigan. Outing here and there. It’s making up for lost time. Paminsan-minsan lang naman.

Then, “ requests” start coming. It’s someone’s  wedding, christening or  birthday.  They ask the OFW to chip in. Then,  a niece or nephew is short of budget for tuition fee, and their parents are borrowing money from the OFW. And yes, someone is  giving birth. They need assistance too. The OFW has to help, or else, “ madamot” siya.

And these extra expenses are incurred on top of the real necessities like medical check up and medicine for aging parents , house repairs and school expenses.

The trip to the ATM is endless. The bank account is bleeding. He then resorts to his credit card. The OFW starts to lose his mind.

To make the tragic story short, after a month of vacation, the OFW goes back abroad tired, stressed and broke.“ Zero balance” in his bank account. May utang pa. He promises himself  “ Next year, magse-save na talaga ako.” But it does not happen.  It never happens.

A year of savings gone in a month.

It is a vicious cycle. Every year. For twenty years or more.

This has to stop.

OFWs  and their families should be able to look beyond short-term  comfort. Those in the Philippines  should take the initiative to spend less in order to save more and invest more. Most OFWs feel guilty  for being away for so long, and they make the mistake of buying  material things to cover up their absence. Their families should assure them that it’s okay to have  simpler and  cheaper  family activities and purchases.

As for the OFW, stop wasting your money because of “pakikisama” or  “pasikat”. Stop buying pasalubong  for everyone. Stop giving treats. Learn to say NO.  Let  them criticize you. Let them feel bad about you. Cut the ties that bind you to toxic and materialistic  people.  You don’t need them.

This vicious cycle condemns the OFW to decades of life abroad. Eventually, he retires with nothing. After all those years, zero balance.

Don’t  let it happen to you.

We leave because of love

That iconic  confrontation scene from the movie “Anak” (Child)  captures it all.  The rebellious, resentful  daughter Karla (played by Claudine Barreto) says that she never asked  for the things that her OFW mother,Josie, ( played by Vilma Santos) has given her. It was the mother who insisted on giving those things.  Josie’s tearful reply was “Dahil mahal ko kayo.” (Because I love you.) And that, kabayan,  sums up the reason why we leave. Because of love.

By some cruel twist of fate, we were born in a Third World country where  decades of government incompetence and  corruption, and corporate greed have condemned millions of Filipinos to a life of poverty. For many of us, the only way out is literally to go out.

We leave the Philippines because we want a better life  for the people we love, even if it means spending years away from them. We want to spare them the hardships that we went through: the scrimping, the scraping of the pot, the promissory notes at the school cashier, the overdue  bills, the humiliation of borrowing money again and again.

We want to give them the things  we never had. We want them to see places  we never saw. We want them to reach dreams that were unreachable   for us.

How about the pain that the separation will cause? We believe, and we know, that  emotional suffering is more bearable  than an empty pocket. Children can survive without a mother, but they cannot survive without food, medical care, electricity and potable water. They can  survive without a father, but they cannot survive in a rotten house  when a typhoon is  battering  the country.  And the future will be hard  for people who did not finish  their education. Economic survival is more important than  physical togetherness. We believe, or hope, that  emotional wounds will heal someday.

Love is the reason we leave.

Love  is also  the reason  overseas work  is bearable.

It is this love that gives a domestic worker the  strength  to do backbreaking 16-hour household chores. It is this love that gives an engineer  a breath of fresh air in gigantic oil rigs.   It is this love that gives a seaman the fortitude to sail across  unfathomable oceans and seas. It is this love that gives a caregiver the stomach  to wipe the shitty ass of  an old, grumpy man.

 It is a love that endures loneliness, hardships, insults and harassment.

 It is a love that lets go. It is a love that leaves. It is a love that returns. Always.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is plane-1.jpg

Waiting for perfection

A lot of talented people remain unnoticed and unknown. They live and then, they die with regrets. They are buried with their dreams that never came to fruition.  Their mistake? Aiming for perfection before taking action.

Would-have-been great writers have remained unpublished because of excessive editing and revising.  Inspiring poems and stories have remained unread in notebooks and laptops because their own authors never stopped finding faults.

Would-have-been great painters never had art exhibits because they are never happy with their work. How many still lifes were never finished and left to rot in basements because the painter wasted hours upon hours blending the colors?

 Would-have-been great composers never finished a song because of endless reworking of lyrics and melody. Soul-moving songs have faded on music sheets without being heard by the masses because the composer was criticizing every bar.

Would-have-been-great singers and actors never made it on stage or the silver screen because they rehearsed too long and missed the audition. How many Grammys and Oscars went to less talented people because someone waited too long to develop the perfect pitch or the perfect act?

Would-have-been great athletes never got a medal because they wanted to be Olympic-material before trying out for a school team. How many world records would have been shattered had these self-doubting powerhouses mustered enough courage early on?

 This is not to advocate taking bold actions without preparation. Planning is necessary. Practicing a skill is very important. Revising is indispensable. Definitely, you have to invest time on this process. But at some point, you have to take the plunge. The world will not wait for you and your life is short. Imposing perfection on yourself is self-defeating. You will never be perfect. Nobody is. Your work will never be perfect. Nothing is.  You will likely face defeat, rejection and ridicule when you try to show the world what you’ve got. But those are a part of the journey to greatness.  Just keep on going.

Therefore, go ahead.

Write that story and publish it.

Paint that sunset and show it to the world.

Compose that song and find someone to sing it.

Barge into that audition and act with all your heart.

Register in that marathon and run with all your might.

Solilokiya ni Haring Oedipus

Isang adaptation ni Marily Sasota Gayeta

Bugtong. Ang buhay ay isang malaking bugtong.

Nasagot ko ang bugtong !

Nasagot ko nga ba ?   

Sinabi sa Delphi ,

“ Mapapatay mo ang iyong ama ! ”

“ Mapapangasawa mo ang iyong ina! ”

Sa narinig ,  ako’y  nagitla 

Sapagkat ang  hula   sa Olympus   nagmumula.

Ako’y   tumalilis

Upang  ang propesiya  ay  maiwasan  .

“ Hindi ‘yan mangyayari  !

Ako ang gagawa ng aking kapalaran!

At hindi ang mga diyos sa kalangitan.

Ako’y  naglakbay , patungo sa kawalan

At sa mga nag- krus na daan

Nagkaroon ng sagupaan 

Isang pulutong ang  aking  nagapi

Kasama na ang hambog nilang  hari.

Isang halimaw ang sumunod  na hinarap  

Kalahating lion ,  kalahating ibon

Isang halimaw na nagtatanong

Winawakasan ang buhay  ng taong  di makatugon .

 “  Aling nilalang ang sa umaga’y apat ang paa ,

Sa hapon naman ay dalawa

At sa gabi  ay  tatlo ? ”

Ako ,  si  Oedipus , ay nagwika

“ Ano pa nga ba , kundi  ‘tao! ‘ ”

Isang  tugon  , isang maikling tugon na nagpalaya

Sa Thebes mula sa  madugong  tanikala .

Bugtong ng halimaw  ay  aking  nasagot

Ngunit bugtong ng buhay ko’y  mas masalimuot.

Balong reyna ang Thebes , aking  pinakasalan

At pinamunuan  ang kanyang kaharian  .

Nagmahalan ng tapat , nagkasupling ng apat.

Kaligayahan ay  walang pagsulingan.

Malagim na propesiya , akin  nang kinalimutan.

 Ngunit , ano ito ?

Panibagong  salot !

Nangamamatay : taniman , hayop 

at sanggol sa sinapupunan .

Kaharian ko’y  muling natakot

Salot ay hindi raw mapapawi

Hanggat walang katarungan

Sa pagkamatay ng unang  hari.

Kanyang labi’y natagpuan

Sa krus na daan.

Ang bulag na si Tereisias

Ako’y pinararatangan !

Ikaw , Haring Oedipus , ang sanhi ng kamalasan !

Bulag na lapastangan !

Iyan ba’y  iyong mapatutunayan?

Hinalughog ang nakaraan .

Binalikan ang kasaysayan .

Umalingawngaw ang mga tanong

Ang kalansay na nakabaon , ngayo’y muling nagbangon.

Unti-unti, lumantad ang  malagim na katotohanan

Ako’y  ampon lamang ng mga magulang na aking  tinakasan !

Ngunit ang aking  dugo at laman , Thebes ang pinag-ugatan.

Si Haring Laius ang aking  ama  ! At ako ang pumatay sa kanya !

Si Reyna  Jocasta ang aking  ina ! At napangasawa ko siya !

At nagka-anak kami  ng apat . Mga kaawa-awang supling !

Anak ? o Kapatid ?

Kapatid ? o Anak ?

Ahh ! Tinakasan ko ang  hula

Para lamang lalong mapalapit sa  aking tadhana ?

Iniwan ang bayang kinalakihan

Tinalikuran ang ama’t inang kinagisnan

Para lamang mapatay ang ama

at pakasalan ang inang  pinagmulan?

Bakit kumaiwas-iwas man ako ,

Hindi nabago  ang itinakdang buhay ko ?  

Sa  Olympus ba ay may palabunutan

Kung sinong tao ang bibiyayaan 

At kung sino ang pagkakaitan ?

Paano ba tinutukoy   ng mga diyos

Kung sino ang magiging maligaya

At kung sino ang magdurusa?  

Ako si Oedipus , masdan nyo !

Binulag ko ang sarili ko !

Sa mula’t mula nama’y  bulag ako 

Sa katotohanan ng buhay ko.

Ako’y matalino .

Bugtong ng halimaw  ay  nasagot ko.

Ngunit  sa bugtong ng buhay ko

Nananatiling  mangmang ako.

Ako si Haring Oedipus

‘Yan ang  kasaysayan  ng aking  pakikidigma

Laban sa  tao ,halimaw , at tadhana.

Tinalo ko ang tao.

Tinalo ko ang halimaw.

Tinalo ako ng tadhana.

War is a great teacher

By Marily Sasota Gayeta

Arab Spring. Libyan civil war. NATO airstrikes. Deadly tribal clashes. How does a Filipino expat teach in such a backdrop?

Burdened by  mounting financial woes, I packed up my bags and flew to Libya on October 18, 2009. I was assigned to teach at the College of Arts ( Kuliya A-Dab, in Arabic) in Sebha City, about 640 kilometers from the capital Tripoli. My first year in this North African country  was actually better than I expected. Libyans  are wonderful people. Friendly, hospitable, passionate. Amid the beige-colored terrain, authentic shawarma and  the welcoming locals, I felt at home.  I taught various English subjects to college kids. As a reward,  my comatose bank account started showing some signs of life.

 But then, war came. February 17, 2011 to be exact.  It was a domino effect of the  Arab Spring that started in Tunisia. Authoritarian leaders, well-entrenched in the corridors of power, fell one by one.  Libya was seething in conflict.

Things changed drastically for me and my students.            

           With most foreign teachers gone, many classes had been left teacher-less.  I, with some other teachers, stayed to salvage whatever could be salvaged in the semester. Connected to our students by mobile phones, we would alert each other whenever there was a gunfight or a bombing. When the fighting subsided, teachers would cautiously go back to the college and teach whoever was there. And a handful would always be there.

            As a college teacher, I knew the sentiments of the Libyan youth. I could feel the simmering tension. Classes were polarized by opposing  political beliefs. Friendships had been severed.  Teachers were aware of the raw nerves and cooled down arguments right away before they turned nasty. Or deadly. In a place where guns are as ubiquitous as the sand, the last thing  we wanted   were  heated, emotional  debates.     

            War  dramatically  changed  my students’ lives.  I had witnessed how carefree teenagers became  socially involved  citizens. I had seen how weak  girls turned  into  tough orphans. Before my eyes, timid boys  transformed into fearless warriors, brandishing armalites and guns. Empty  classroom seats, which—before the war I dismissed as bouts of illness or laziness, now worried me no end .  Has  Khalid  gone to the battlefieldOr  has  Mariam  been  caught in thecross-fire?  These young men and women  were a  part of  my decision to stay. A teacher cannot NOT LOVE  her students even if they are not related  by race and religion. They always form a special bond and  hard times make that  bond stronger. Even  now, after almost a decade, my heart still aches  for the boys who went to war and never came back.         

     Sometime in May of 2011, I was conducting an exam in Transformational Generative Grammar ( TGG ). It was a class of about 25 and majority were  teenage girls. About ten minutes into the exam, a gun fight erupted about five kilometers away. We could hear the distant, muffled shots.  After a few more minutes, the shots got louder.  We realized that it was a running gunbattle and it was moving towards us. I made a decision: “ Okay, let’s stop this exam and continue on another day. Let’s all go home. Call your fathers and brothers to fetch you.” But  nobody moved. Not even one student looked away from her paper. I repeated myself, louder: “ Let’s go home. It’s okay not to finish the exam. Call your fathers and brothers.”

   Again, nobody moved, as if they heard nothing. My students all stubbornly continued with the exam. The gun battle was still  raging  on,  and it was getting fiercer and closer. The glass panels of our windows started clattering and  I was worried they would  shatter anytime. The ground beneath our feet trembled. The air reeked with  smoke and gunpowder. A girl looked up to me and flashed a naughty smile: “ You will die with us.”  I gave off a nervous laugh: “ So be it.”  For almost an hour, the class ignored  impending injury and death.

    They only left after completely finishing the test. These young, pampered  Libyan girls — with veiled  heads and henna-tattooed hands — answered each question with laser-like focus and composure. I watched them in awe. It was a privilege of a lifetime to witness such courage.  It was, and still is,  my proudest moment as a teacher.

 I bid goodbye to this beautiful country on August 12, 2012. My stint as an expat teacher in Libya was both inspiring and heartbreaking, challenging and transformative.War is ugly but it taught me beautiful things: courage, resilience, humility, compassion and survival.  Indeed, war is a great teacher. And  the lessons stay with you for a lifetime.


Mother and Son: A Story

           Let me tell you a story. A true story of a mother and her son , her only child. This happened  about twenty years ago. She  was  a Filipina who belonged to the lower stratum of society . Life was hard . As a single parent, she tried  to make both ends  meet  for  her son , her mother and herself. With her limited schooling,  she could only do menial jobs . And no matter how hard she tried, there was never enough  food on the table—let alone sufficient clothes on their backs  and vitamins which her baby needed.  Every time she imagined the future , she saw only a  bleak life for her son. Probably , she could send him up to elementary school in a public institution . But nothing more than that. And what life would he have with just an elementary school diploma  in his hand ? The same sorry life as hers ?

            She mustered  her courage and  made  a very difficult decision . She accepted a job overseas as a household helper. Kissing her son good- bye , she made a silent promise of escape from their wretched  existence .  The mother  left as a migrant worker  in the  mid-1970s .  ( Nowadays , she’d be called an OFW. )  That time , her son was just a baby , about a year old. She left him in the care of her mother. In Saudi Arabia, she worked her hand to the bones , doing household chores for almost 18 hours a day. She scrubbed floors , washed the laundry , brushed toilet bowls  and took care of her employers’ children . The poor woman  was always exhausted at the end of the day . At night , as she laid her worn out body on her bed , she would press  her baby’s picture close to her heart and  dream of the day when she could hold him again.

This drudgery  went on for a decade . She was not able to go home for a vacation during those ten years. Not even once .  She was  a  victim of illegal recruiters and  had no legal documents in Saudi Arabia. Thus , it was very easy  for her employers to abuse her   and deprive her of her rights.  

           Because there  was  no internet and cell phone at that time , she rarely got the chance to communicate with her mother and  her growing son . Anyway , at last , after a decade ,  someone offered  to help her  get out of Saudi Arabia . She  also got a job  offer   for a  caregiver in Israel.  Without hesitation , she accepted the job . So , from Saudi Arabia —she went straight to Israel  where she  worked  for about seven years .  There , she took care of elderly people —- fed them, gave them their medicines , bathed them  and  washed  their laundry soiled with urine and feces .  She did for them what their own children  could not do.

              As before , she sent almost  all of her   salary  to her family in the Philippines. For some reasons again , she was not able to go home for a vacation during those years. Most likely ,  she  had legal problems  again  and  did not know what to do . Or maybe , she  took advantage of every opportunity to earn money—thus , opting not to have a vacation . Maybe  she thought , the  faster she earned  money , the sooner she could go home  for good. 

            Meanwhile , her son had grown into a young man. Because the son was just a baby when the mother left , he had no memory of seeing her face to face . He only knew  his mother’s face through  old , faded pictures . While in Israel , the mother was able to communicate with her family from time to time , by phone. Eventually , they were able to exchange a few pictures— and this only intensified their hunger  and  hope  to see each other again.   This was the  late 1980s  and early 1990s.

                One day ,  this woman  was  in a bus on her way  to work . It turned out , terrorists  had planted  a  bomb in that bus. It exploded and  killed almost all of the passengers—including this Filipina. She died instantly . Her body sustained gaping wounds and her face — with the flesh severely torn —   had become unrecognizable . Her body was shipped back to the Philippines in a metal casket which  was welded to prevent  anyone from opening it .  Israeli and Filipino authorities decided it was best to seal the casket so that no one else could see  the mangled body  and face of the  poor woman . Outside Israel —the gore  , they correctly decided , should be  concealed  within  the four corners of the coffin.

            So , finally, after seventeen years, this Filipina  went back  home. At long last, mother  and son were  reunited , with the mother in a sealed casket. All those years , the young man longed to see  and to touch  the face of the  woman who brought him to this world.  But now , he could only touch  the cold metal coffin that hid her cadaver .  And all those years in foreign lands  , the mother cried herself to sleep, yearning to cuddle her son . But up the  end of her life , she was denied that chance.

               Could   life  be crueler than this ?  

          Maybe , somewhere … in a  world better than this   …in another lifetime not decayed by violence  ,   they would meet again . The mother  singing  a lullaby and  the son falling  asleep in her arms…

%d bloggers like this: