To leave and live
It was after my college graduation that I started planning on working abroad. As a simple person content to work near home, it was not, should I say, part of my to-do list. What pushed me to take risks and follow the path to uncertainty was the willingness to help my parents. I knew it was not my responsibility, but this was one of my dreams: to pay their debts.
I hated facing debt collectors (when nobody else was home except me and my sister, who happens to be a shrinking violet) asking: “Where is your mother? Does she give you money for the monthly debt collection? When will she pay? What about your father? Where is he? Can I talk to him?” One certain “pay day”—when I heard the familiar voices of the debt collectors behind our old wooden door calling out, “Is there anybody home?”—I just stayed in bed, stared at the ceiling, and froze, to avoid making a sound.
But how did we incur those huge debts? Everything started when my parents borrowed thousands of pesos from a lending firm to be used for my brother’s expenses preparatory to his working abroad. After he flew to Saudi Arabia to work there, he never sent money home for the monthly debt payment. His reason? His employer was not paying him. I don’t know if I should still believe him; he has lied to my parents many times.
I knew that my father, who worked in a pineapple field, could not afford the monthly debt payment, especially because I still had two younger brothers in high school at that time. Thus, we came to borrow money from my parents’ relatives and friends, with most of them imposing interest on the loans, so we could meet the monthly debt payment demanded by the lending firm. We had to stop the lending firm from sending us flurries of text messages and “missed calls” every month, which caused my parents much worry, especially my mother who always got sick due to severe stress.
But, alarmed and frightened by the huge interest rate that we also had to pay every month, I decided after two years to take on the challenge, leave my job (where I was receiving a 4-digit monthly salary, with 13-percent tax deduction), and live in a foreign land to work for higher pay.
Stories of overseas Filipino workers molested by other nationals and/or exploited, maltreated and abused by their employers did not make me change my mind. The die was cast. What was firmly in my mind at that time was to find a good job and pay the debts with which my parents had been burdened for years.
However, my first month overseas turned out to be a real can of worms. It was the most difficult month in my entire life, and it still pains me to remember what I went through just to survive… and live.
It was my first time to walk the streets amid a sandstorm to take my chance at walk-in interviews (which I apparently flunked, failing as I did to get subsequent offer letters). It was my first time to go along with other job-seekers from other countries just to make sure that I would not be alone if ever I got lost, or fainted due to hunger and thirst. It was my first time to get off a taxi in the middle of nowhere—I was trying to get to an urgent job interview—because the driver was trying to harass me. It was my first time to suffer such extreme financial constraints that I could not even afford to buy bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste, or deodorant. And worst, it was my first time to experience being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: I had to find a job within a month because I was on a one-month tourist visa.
I constantly grappled with questions: What if I could not find a job within a month? What should I do next? Should I fly home, show up at my parents’ house, and apologize for the expenses my trip entailed, for which we also borrowed money from my parents’ close friend? I was convinced that what I had done was much too risky, especially on my part. I was afraid that my situation might take me to the psychiatric hospital, or even to the cemetery (I told myself that I could no longer handle the situation and had begun to toy with negative thoughts of ending the terrible nightmare). I could not exactly describe what I felt then, but one thing was for sure: I was emotionally, mentally and physically tired.
But two days before my tourist visa was to expire, I received a call from a manager who then scheduled an interview. I was trembling when I picked the phone because I knew that it would be my last chance to save myself. Then, right after our conversation, I paused for a while and breathed as deeply as I could. The feeling was unexplainable. I laughed. I cried. I jumped. I danced. I sang. Yes! I got a job! At last!
Well, it is not the high-paying job that I expected and wished for, but the pay is sufficient to pay my parents’ debts (for two years, I think). And I am free now of almost one month of mental torture and emotional and physical aches.
After all the challenges I encountered as I gripped the knife’s edge, I have realized that I should not give up trying until the battle is finished. I have realized that I should not give up fighting because at the end of every storm there is a new beginning. I have realized that I should never give up because life is full of surprises and unexpected events, and that I should not stop believing that there is hope with Him.
I can now start building my dream of helping my parents. It might take tons of patience and sacrifices to achieve it, but I chose this path because I know that it will lead to the chance to repay them for all the hardships they endured to raise and educate me. And I am praying that, in God’s perfect time, I will be going home, debt-free, and saying: Yes. It was worth leaving and living.
Engelbert R. Milagrosa, 24, was born in Bukidnon. He now works as a marketing officer in an architectural firm in the United Arab Emirates.
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