Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Young Blood

Wheel of fate

In 2012 I took a big leap of faith to explore opportunities in the land Down Under. Coming from a society where people are lured by the “American dream,” I was only vaguely familiar with Australia, its culture, and what future it offers. Nevertheless, I took the flight of almost 9 hours to Perth.

I conditioned myself that it would be tough, judging from the horror stories I had heard concerning overseas Filipino workers. True enough, the first four months were hardly a fairy tale. Jobs in engineering were elusive as most companies required local experience — a typical chicken-or-egg situation. But I couldn’t afford to just sit and wait as I needed to at least fund my daily needs, so I considered jobs unrelated to my field.

I had to experience a 180-degree turn at the start. I could not be choosy about jobs to apply for. I even considered odd jobs, like being a crew member in fast-food chains, malls and grocery stores. I had to also beg from one food stall to another, asking that I be taken in.

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Providentially, I was absorbed by Subway as a supervisor and sandwich artist (that fancy title simply meant preparing and serving sandwiches). I juggled this job with another at Nando’s, where I worked as a kitchen hand. The struggle came mainly from the responsibilities and working conditions.

At Subway I had to manage my time well, which was really a great challenge. Preparation and serving had to be as swiftly as possible, else the queue would snake around the store. I also had to be doubly patient when dealing with demanding and inconsiderate customers, and even a colleague who was a hard nut to crack. Working with double responsibilities, I had to do all the work ranging from preparing, serving, mopping the floor and cleaning the toilet to accounting of sales. After closing the store at past 9 p.m., I had to rush to the station in order to catch the last train and bus. I still vividly remember one time when I missed the bus and had to walk home crying, for an hour, in the wintry night.

Equally challenging and arduous was my experience at Nando’s. The working environment was more fast-paced than at Subway. It became normal to see order slips piling up in front of me and to hear customers complaining about their orders. Like at Subway, I frequently left the store wet, with the bonus of oil and the smoky smell from the grill.

I came to a point when I couldn’t help but yield to self-pity. From being a licensed engineer with a comfortable job in the Philippines, there I was, serving customers and cleaning the store and the toilet. But after four months my fate changed: A university in Melbourne offered me a PhD scholarship. Suddenly, I found myself again sitting in an office and working in a laboratory. Again there was a 180-degree turn.

But after that turn, I was never the same again. What I experienced on the “other side” taught me valuable life lessons which transformed me to the core.

Looking back, I can now attest to the wisdom of that Filipino adage on life being a wheel of fate: “Ang buhay ay gulong ng palad.” In a country where poverty is a consistent concern, one hears songs and watches movies that center on life’s ups and downs. Take the radio drama series “Gulong ng Palad.” The opening song with the same title perfectly captures the hearts of the poor with its lyrics. The song uplifts the spirit of its listeners — that suffering will end because life is like a wheel of fate — sometimes you’re below, sometimes you’re on top. The song is also an assurance that there is a God who sees our miseries.

This optimistic perspective on suffering, and life in general, is in the Filipino culture. Perhaps one can link the resiliency of Filipinos to this life mantra. For instance, many people worldwide were shocked by the devastation brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” to the people of Leyte, but they were equally stunned by the resiliency of the survivors. One cannot survive if there is no hope that grief would someday turn to jubilation.

Pondering on my experience in Perth and the imagery of “Gulong ng Palad,” I have realized that there is more to the cycle of ups and downs. After reaching rock bottom, the way I relate to others is no longer the same. I learned how to appreciate restaurant staffs and to be patient whenever there is a delay in service because I have experienced how difficult it is to work in such an environment. I now admire OFWs more, especially those who need to swallow their pride just to earn a living for the family they left at home.

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Sometimes, life’s blows are just too much to bear that you can compare yourself to a punctured tire. But like what the song says, God sees our miseries. God is the driver of our life. When the pain is too much to accept, the “Driver” will surely get off the car and will do something so we can continue our journey. God always suits the solution to each one of us. Sometimes, He would use only a sealant or a patch to cover a leak. Or there would be an instance when He would replace the wheel with a new one. In my experience, the scholarship was His way of helping me keep going.

Throughout my journey in Perth, I never felt alone. I cannot think how I would have been able to survive if it were not for my college friend and her family, who hosted me during my stay there. They treated me as part of their family, and each one helped me in every possible way. How can I also forget the Filipino community that welcomed me and made me feel at home? All of them made me realize that I was not alone in my journey. Some of them were the “other wheels by my side” who rolled with me. Some were the “rear wheels” who backed me during tough times. Like in a car, we all needed each other in order to move forward and reach our respective destinations.

My trying times and successes in Australia taught me to hope when faced with problems. Life is a cycle of ups and downs, yet there is more to the pains and joys that it brings. We roll like a wheel in order to learn how to be human—a person relying on a caring Higher Being who is the “Driver,” and a person relating with other people, the “other wheels,” in this journey called life.

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Jamie Joseph Q. Castillo, 28, is a chemical engineer.

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