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Young Blood

Home is an entire city

05:03 AM August 27, 2019

When I was in sixth grade, I received the news that after graduation, I was set to migrate to the Middle East with my younger sister to finally be with our parents. It had been a long time coming.

I was in first grade when my mother left to seek greener pastures. Raising two children studying in a private school was not cheap. The meager income of two regular employees of a private company was no longer enough.

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A year later, my father followed. My sister and I were left in the loving hands of our grandparents from my father’s side of the family.

On weekdays, our life was in Laguna, where my parents’ house was; on weekends, it was in Cavite, in my grandparents’ house.

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The life of overseas Filipino workers is not always as sweet and easy as those left behind might think. It took my father five
years to finally find a great job that allowed him to have the complete family over.

As an adolescent, I hated the idea of leaving my friends behind. I remember posting a status on Yahoo Messenger after my first day in my new school: “School SUCKED.” I was from an all-girls Catholic school, and my new school was a co-ed, nonsectarian, private school for Filipinos. I experienced a bit of culture shock in the beginning. After eight years of having been classmates with just girls, I was now attending classes with raucous, unruly boys who made green jokes and sexual innuendos every chance they got. Now, the only memory I have of my first year in Abu Dhabi was playing babysitter to our neighbor’s daughter. This is proof of how much that time did suck.

I remember ninth grade (third year high school in the Philippines) fondly. It was the year I met my two best friends. We all moved to a new school because our old school had problems with the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education. We were one class of transferees, seemingly like refugees, and we were in new territory. Finally, I felt I belonged somewhere. Come 10th grade (fourth year), we had formed a solid friendship. It was those shawarma trips to the Lebanese bakery, snacking on chicken lemon at the local refreshments store, buying sour punk and barbican at the nearest baqala (grocery), having 4-dirham garlic bread at Pizza Hut, taking free bus rides care of the Abu Dhabi public transportation that forged a friendship that would withstand time. Also, a lost guitar, fictional boys we crushed on, home-cooked meals at a friend’s house, heartbreaks over dream schools and boys that didn’t deserve the tears, and finally leaving Abu Dhabi for Manila together to study in the university.

In our household, we’ve changed houses a total of five times since my sister and I migrated. That’s just how it is in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East; nothing is ever constant. From an adolescent who cried on the plane going to the UAE, I grew to love the place to the point of calling it home, since, after six years without mom and five years without dad by my side, it made us a family again. After years of living in Laguna on weekdays and Cavite on weekends, we finally stayed put. Our family became a tight-knit group of four. We were all that we had in the Middle East, and we loved having each other’s backs. It took a lot of sacrifice for my parents to bring us there with them. Up to this day, nothing will come close to their sacrifices for our family.

High school was not the best four years of my life — but it was when I found my home, and it was when my family became a family again.

College finally came. I traded my peaceful, comfortable life in Abu Dhabi for an independent, exciting life in Manila. The idea of living alone in Manila never scared me. I had my high school friends who were going through the exact same thing. More than that, I still get to go home to Abu Dhabi during Christmas, semestral and summer breaks.

In college, I was constantly asked where I was from. It was a very straightforward question I always found difficult to answer.

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I lived in a condo in Adriatico in Ermita; our family’s house is in Sta. Rosa, Laguna; and I just came from Abu Dhabi, UAE. For the days I didn’t like to explain, I just simply answered Abu Dhabi. To which people would respond, “Is that in Dubai?” To which I would respond, “It’s beside Dubai. Dubai is not a country, United Arab Emirates is the country. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both in the UAE.”

For me, home is not a house with people in it; it is not a person; it is an entire city. Abu Dhabi is home. There are some days when home extends to a whole country. The United Arab Emirates is my home. I haven’t been home in a while. I can’t wait to go home.

* * *

Genry Criscel R. Consul is almost 23. A graduate of the University of the Philippines Manila, she attended the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health and is currently on her second gap year.

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