Notes from a “patriot”: OFW blues

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“You should work abroad, you’ll never achieve anything if you just stay here in the Philippines.”

I’ve heard this repeatedly throughout my life. With several family members working outside of the country, it was sort of established before I even graduated college that I was set to leave and make a living for myself somewhere far from home.

I consider myself a patriot, so those words used to annoy the hell out of me. Even with the lack of job opportunities, shitty government and tons of socio-economic problems in the Philippines, it was still home.

The author snapped this photo of the Sharjah Municipality Main office from the car window.
The author snapped this photo of the Sharjah Municipality Main office from the car window.

I’ve never set foot outside the country before, I was a small girl from a small town, and at 22 years old I became an Overseas Filipino Worker in the Middle East.

An “OFW”.

My mother is an OFW, so are my aunts, and other relatives whose names I can’t remember most of the time. I’ve heard that acronym so many times in my life, but to actually call myself one sounds weird to the ears.

When I left for the United Arab Emirates, I was leaving family, friends and basically my whole life behind. This means stepping out of my comfort zone, and as sad as it felt at first, it also signalled growth.

The busy streets of Dubai, taken after the author attended an expo and concert at The World Trade Centre.
The busy streets of Dubai, taken after the author attended an expo and concert at The World Trade Centre.

I am here to make something out of myself.
When I get lonely, I tell myself that.
I am here to grow as a person and to further my career. I graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Communication, and I really wanted to find a job under that field. Because as it pains us to admit, Bacolod just didn’t have enough job opportunities for people like me.

I was very lucky to find a job that I actually like, to work under a boss I admire and learn a lot from. I’m now working under the marketing team of a beautiful dessert shop in the emirate. I handle most communications, the instagram account with 59.4K followers, creating and posting daily content. If there are events in the shop, I oversee them as well. But my favorite part of the job is taking photographs. I never really dabbled much into food photography and my skills were a bit rusty so that meant spending hours on research and practicing a lot. But I love developing my craft. It makes me feel like I’m constantly improving myself and that makes the job worth it.

Living outside of your own country means discovering a new culture, ultimately broadening your perspective on life in general. There was so much stark contrast to the life I grew up in.

With the Philippines being a Christian nation and the UAE being a Muslim one, my previous thought of caution turned into awe. I am amazed by the culture of tolerance. And it isn’t the passive-aggressive type (nor the one that PH has for the LBGT Community eyerolls) but is actually one built on respect. And with the UAE being home to about 200 different Nationalities, this is essential for harmonious living. Respect others and be respected in return; fair enough.

Exhibits and attendees of the Xposure International Photography Festival.
Exhibits and attendees of the Xposure International Photography Festival.

New place also means new sights.

I used to live in Sugartown (Negros Occidental) where there were plenty of greens around. Now, I live in the desert. And although it is a very urban and highly-developed place, there’s still the abundance of sand (and my skin is still getting used to the dry weather). But I have to say, some of my favorite things about this place has got to be the architecture.

Home to the tallest building in the world, The Burj Khalifa, the UAE loves its innovative designs — towering skyscrapers, sleek, contemporary buildings, the ones that could pass as literal art. They are eye candies that seem to pop up one after the other. And there’s something about the traditional designs and their arabesque features that I love to look at. Little tiny patterns, dome roofs that reminds me everyday that I am in a whole new world different from the one I grew up in.

People back home always think that you’re well off when you work abroad but this isn’t always true. As rich as the country I’m living in is, the cost of living is also high. This is especially true for real estate. I’m lucky to live in a spacious place with my mom in a villa in the suburban area. But for others, especially those housed under work accommodations, this means eight or more people crammed in single bedroom apartment. Yes, tight spaces. Living out is not an option for them because the high rent is money to send to family back home.

I listen to their stories often. Sacrificing comforts and wants to save up as much as possible to provide for loved ones. You see them talking to their children, parents and siblings over the phone and you feel their longing. It tugs the heart strings.

It’s not an easy decision to leave home and the life you know behind. I still think and miss people from my hometown on most days.

But we’re all sacrificing for something. Simply wanting better lives for those we left and for ourselves.

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