Saturday, December 5, 2009

That Fever of Loneliness Called Homesickness

“ET phone home, ET phone home!”

This line "E.T. phone home" was ranked 15th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes list. Perhaps not only because the 1982 science-fiction film “ET” was a blockbuster but also because everybody feels a feverish yearning for home that includes ET, the childlike alien who quoted this popular line.

A decade and a half back my wife and I were having a very special dinner at home. What made it special was not the dish we were enjoying that time. It was topic we were discussing. We both had decided that time that I would start working overseas. What was odd was that all the excitement we had that week fizzled out that dinner.

“Kaya ba natin?” she asked me as a tear flowing down her eye accentuated her concern.

I froze as I tried to find sense to my impending reply. Instead of a reassuring verbal response my eyes welled up in tears as well. Finally with a crackling voice I uttered “Kakayanin natin ito…” Then I looked at our barely 3-year-old son seated at a high chair between us playing with his food. His juvenile innocence only broke my heart more. It was hard to accept leaving a very young family all in pursuit of a better life. She would have to start living her life in the absence of a husband, a father, a friend as I would in her absence as well. As our minds began to get too preoccupied with the difficult challenges ahead, we prayed for our Heavenly Father’s guidance.

The day to exchange farewells inevitably came although my mental attitude was not ready yet. My wife and I had a tearful embrace. The next time to see each other again would wait for six months. I instantly felt a tinge of homesickness the very moment we unlock ourselves from each other’s arms. My feet were dragging my whole body as I walked to the entrance of the airport terminal. I felt that its facade suddenly turned into a detention prison. I had mixed emotions and I felt helpless. I realized that it was not anything like the movies where my own character would just decide not to leave, drop my luggage and go back to my wife’s waiting arms. Time was sucking me into another dimension of existence.

My plane bound to Hong Kong left without the last farewell phone calls, SMS, etc. The waving and flying kisses were our last gestures of goodbye. Owning cell phones at that time was still a privilege. All throughout the flight I was hypnotizing myself to start living an OFW life.

I met my new boss at the Hong Kong airport and went together to a hotel to spend one night. After freshening up, I decided to pay a visit to my brother who lives there and called him up. Within minutes he picked me up in my hotel and had some dinner at home. Later while having light conversation, I mentioned to them that I was beginning to feel homesickness. I even told them I was having a strange feel of guilt in my decision to accept an overseas job. They reassured me that everything would turn out fine and added that in due time my anxieties will just fade away. Furthermore, my brother said that Shanghai is beautiful, booming and exciting unlike the repressive cultural climate of Saudi Arabia which was his first overseas stint. I spent the next hours listening to his stories how Filipinos like him struggled living and working with very limited social freedom. He admitted he was just one of the fortunate few to leave Saudi for Hong Kong.

The whole thing finally sank in my mind. For a newbie OFW I was even luckier.

The next day, my boss helped me get a visa for China and flew to Shanghai hours later. For the next few years I kept abreast with my family only through mail and fortnightly long-distance phone calls. The feeling of isolation had always been so intense that going back home twice each year at Christmas time and summer season was ecstasy. Some felt even much more. I remember one British colleague who quit when the company charged him the huge amount of phone bills he incurred talking to his family for long hours daily.

Now the times have changed. Throughout the years technology stepped in making communication more accessible. Gone are the anxious waits for the mailed letters and expensive long-distance phone calls. The growing internet helped me stay with my family together while providing for their needs overseas. We learned that with love and trust the family spirit will always triumph over the bitter challenges of life.


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