The silent language of modern heroes
When my cousin left for Malaysia to work there, I envied him because he got the best opportunity to better the situation of his family. When he came back three years later, I envied him again because he got all the things I knew I could never have with my current job in the Philippines.
Because I envied him, I decided to work overseas. I then understood why my cousin exuded a jubilant face with a smile carved deep on it to portray his victorious journey overseas, but never verbalized how he felt during those days he was away from his family.
The summer of 2016 brought a warm enthusiasm in me as I waved goodbye to my family and boarded the plane for a nine-hour journey to a better life — or so I thought. The first things I had to adjust to upon getting off the plane were the scorching 50-degree temperature; new, stricter laws; and the culture that I was not accustomed to. It was like forcing myself into putting on something I never wanted to, because I had no other choice.
It only sank in days later that working abroad meant living away from my parents. I had to wake up early in the morning to prepare my breakfast, which used to be done by my mother. Likewise, after work, I had to think of what I would have for dinner, which was usually served by my mother. On weekends, I would go shopping to the nearby supermarket and do the laundry while cooking and doing some paperwork at the same time. Literally, I had to depend on no one but myself.
During the first three months, the greatest foe of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) is homesickness. This may sound like a cliché, but it is so overwhelming when you experience it yourself.
Attributing homesickness to mere loneliness is an understatement. It can affect a person emotionally, physically and mentally. Thinking of the children you used to play with or send to school, the spouse you had shared every day of your life with, the parents you had always depended and counted on, the siblings and close friends you grew up with, and the things that you used to enjoy with freedom would bring tears to your eyes without you noticing it.
If you can’t endure the feeling and fail to take control of your emotions, homesickness will eat you up from the inside, affecting your physical and mental health.
Many OFWs go through this phase, and I am no exception. Even though video calling has made communication much easier, nothing can replace the feeling of being with your loved ones. In my case, I was blessed to be working with a lot of Filipinos, and was able to keep myself busy with other extra activities at work. In this way, I managed to overcome homesickness and go on with life.
In my years of working overseas, I have heard of and met fellow OFWs who were reluctant to disclose their real situation, especially to their families back in the Philippines. Thousands of them have not received their salary for six months — some even for a year or more — because their companies have gone bankrupt and left them empty-handed; however, they choose to stay in the foreign country, hoping to receive a fraction of the amount due them even if it means barely surviving on rations provided by Filipino communities.
A friend lost his mother in an accident, and another one to a terminal illness, without being able to bid their loved ones goodbye and tell them how much they loved them. Another friend had a son who stopped schooling and engaged in vices and, worse, illegal drugs. He blamed himself for being away from his son, when he could have guided him and stayed with him when he was needed the most.
A domestic helper ran away from her employer because she was molested and treated inhumanely. A friend lost all his money because his wife squandered all his savings; he felt as though all the years he had spent working abroad had been wasted.
A woman I came across had to go around the marketplace selling Filipino delicacies to get by each day. And some friends of mine are unfairly treated at work, while the salaries of some have been delayed.
I had heard of and watched all these stories in the news before. However, experiencing it firsthand made me realize the degree of sacrificial heroism among OFWs, all because they want to give their loved ones a better future — one that they believe they cannot achieve in our homeland. And they do this with a constant smile on their faces to conceal the gloomy side of the story. In all these stories of adversity, there is one thing I have noticed: OFWs remain strong and optimistic, even if there is no reason to.
When I returned home for a short vacation, I did the very same thing my cousin did — I put on a jubilant, smiling face, but likewise, I never verbalized how I felt during those days I was away from my family.
On the other hand, I did not envy him anymore; rather, I now admire and respect him for inspiring me to understand that sacrificial love is the silent language of today’s modern heroes.
Mabuhay ang mga bagong bayani!
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Apolinar T. Malabayabas, 26, works in an international school in the Middle East.
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