It’s been a week since I got back from my trip home. This last trip had opened my eyes to many things and had been cathartic to some effect.
I was welcomed by pollution and great heat when I stepped off the airport. I had waited for more than half an hour for my brother to pick me up. And when he did, we were met with traffic on the highway. I had returned and the reality of my homeland hit me like a violent storm.
But as the storm subsides, so did my expected bewilderment. I had come home and I had felt happy being there. No amount of traffic ever stopped me from going to one of my lunches or my dinners or any parties for that matter. I was content with riding the overflowing, often sardine-like-packed, metro rail to get to my appointments.
No amount of heat or the lack of hot running water prevented me from taking my daily bath. I was home and I was among my friends once again. I had missed my friends. I had missed the often cyclical discussions that touched on politics, economics, and whatever topic that presented itself.
I went home to the province of my mother to celebrate my grandfather’s 80th birthday. No less than the whole town showed up for the Grand Family Reunion. Life is simple in the barrio, but Ligao has now become a city in the province of Albay. I still don’t get why the residents laugh every time they say “Ligao City.” Perhaps, it’s because it doesn’t look like a city yet bereft of the standard fast food chains brought on by the “big city” phenomenon. There were no McDonald’s or Jollibees in sight. There was, however, a great Christmas tree which rose some 30 meters and twinkled with its light-ridden body in the town, sorry, city hall. I was told that same tree was featured in a national daily.
There was abundance in food and there were many relatives to meet. But time was short. It was a whirlwind event. I came out only with a picture of the famous Mayon Volcano when it actually showed itself, cloudless and majestic.
As I spent the rest of my holiday in Manila, I began to wonder at the general festive mood of the people. I have been living abroad for almost half of my life, going home once or twice and staying only a few years. I have never seen such a happy place such as the Philippines. No where else have I seen where people strive so much to be happy in the many faces of adversity. Even in the face of death or ultimate survival, a Filipino manages to smile and make a joke of his/her situation.
Most Filipinos go abroad in search of the greener pasture that the tropical islands cannot provide for them. But even when financial insolvency is in the offing, a Filipino manages to survive with the little or no money he has. It is called, “diskarte.” I don’t know the exact translation but it means “dealing with a situation in the best possible way and to make it to your advantage.” There are about 80 million Filipinos that survive each day.
I worked in government before. During lunchtime, I find one of our clerks offering me insurance, a cemetery plot and milkfish. Filipinos are multi-taskers as well as great businessmen. There is a great skill for survival. She is also paying for a low-cost government housing that results in a salary not even the equivalent of $10 as take home pay. She’s raising an adopted son on top of that. Yet, she survives. I am amazed that she is not willing to give up given her circumstances. I am always inspired to hear her story.
I admire so many Filipinos which have taken their plight and grabbed it by the horns and made a real life, and livable at that, for themselves.
I realized that I had been so happy living there before but that I had always been afraid to stay for fear that I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t possess the qualities that would make each Filipino great – success-driven, extreme industriousness and passion for living and pursuing what one wants. I had been afraid to go out and look for a private sector job because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I took a government job because it had been in my line of work and it offered me the greatest training in relation to my college degree. I am a journalist and I became an information officer. The pay was low but it gave me great exposure and an inside look on how it is to be in the press corps and as a media practitioner. But the people were not too great. Inherent in government are the bureaucratic stereotypes, the hierarchical considerations, the power struggle, etc. It’s also present everywhere but just more pronounced in government.
It had given me a lot and had given me good experiences. But I wanted more money. I wanted to be able to buy the things I wanted (note: not what I necessarily needed). So, I thought I’d go abroad in search of the greener pasture. But I was only met by unhappiness and discontent. I met mostly cold people who didn’t care. But I was blessed to have met some nice ones too.
I don’t know why I keep leaving the country but this time I am looking forward to going home for good. I want to live as a Filipino in the Philippines.
I want to see what life has in store for me there and to see how I can fare. These are wants but I hope that God will show the way to meet what I need. Discernment is always key.
The more I leave the Philippines, the stronger the drive to stay in the country. I hope that each Filipino will realize how wonderfully blessed we are to be a citizen of this country and to do our best to make it a livable place.