It’s that time of the year again, the conclusion of a full month of motherly love, regular family gatherings, and catching up on stories. I dread stepping onto the NAIA pavement for it means saying goodbye once again. We wouldn’t see each other for another year. Year after year, for four years now, I pray to the heavens to provide me with all the strength in the world in stifling my tears. I didn’t want her to see me cry for it would make her even sadder. And that fact alone would even be more heartbreaking for me. With a heavy heart, I just gave her a smack on the lips, managed a smile and said the customary, “Ingat ka.”
Nanay first tried her luck abroad in 1993 but she lasted for only two months. I was in fifth grade then. My father was a teacher and she was a nurse at a local district hospital. I wouldn’t say we had much back then but having no siblings, my parents could provide me with adequate necessities as well as send me to a private school. But similar to any doting mother, Nanay wanted to give us more — a house of our own so we wouldn’t have to rent, better clothes, more toys for me, probably a family car, and so on. I didn’t hear of her plan of going abroad until about a week before her flight. I was intentionally kept out of the loop because they knew I couldn’t be persuaded to letting her go.
She was slated to work as a nurse in a hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a two-year contract. Even at such a young age, I’ve already had my reservations about the country. From my history classes, I knew it was a land where women didn’t have any rights. Add to that the huge cultural differences between Arabs and Filipinos. I didn’t want her to go and endure such a sacrifice. No amount of prodding and bribing could ever make me say yes, not even the prospect of having all the toys that I want. What with the terrifying news about abuses on OFWs frequently broadcasted on national television. I thought it will be the longest two years of my life. She consoled me by saying, “Isipin mo na lang, anak, magbabakasyon ako.”
On the days before her flight, I tried to act as normally as I can. I went on with my usual activities — studying, playing and seeing my cousins. However, no matter how much I try to ignore it, I can still feel the constant lump in my throat and the clandestine cries at night, which are becoming more frequent as the dreaded day drew nearer.
I clearly remember that day when we accompanied her to NAIA. She was scheduled to fly at 5:30 p.m. The sky was gray and it was drizzling a bit, which further heightened the gloom I was feeling. At such an early age, I remember telling myself to put up a brave face. I didn’t want to cry so that Nanay wouldn’t be bothered by any sad thoughts while she was away.
Unfortunately, come departure time, the tears that I was gallantly trying to hold welled up as if they were flowing from an open dam. It was misery multiplied three times. Amidst sobs, we said our goodbyes, kissed and hugged tightly.
While in Riyadh, she would make frequent long-distance calls but she was always crying. She was having a hard time adjusting to Middle Eastern culture. Nanay missed us a lot. We were likewise exchanging letters almost weekly, but this cannot compensate for the sadness and longing we were feeling. Clichéd as it may sound but no amount of money could ever make up for the years that a mother and child are separated. So after just two months, she decided to go back home. We had debts to pay but we decided to worry about that later. My parents said they could manage to pay these off in a few years if they both continue working. Luckily, Nanay just took a leave from the hospital she was working for so she was able to go back. It was somehow fortunate that we are just a small family but for other OFWs, this is not the case. They have to bear the anguish of being away from their loved ones because they are left with no other option in supporting their families financially.
Life went on for us. We soon moved to a new house, I finished high school, went to college and obtained a degree. I was already working for a year when Nanay told me about her plans of going back abroad. Nothing much has changed; I still protested and tried various arguments but to no avail. I asked her if we were hard up. She said no, but she wanted to earn more so that she could retire early. We still didn’t have much, but at least expenses were a bit more manageable as we were all working.
Nanay explained that the prospect of waiting for retirement is not so bright since the hospital she was working for does not offer a very competitive package. Whereas if she went abroad, she could easily save up and stop working before she reaches sixty. Plus, Nanay added that she wanted to fulfill her dream of working overseas. She wanted growth and was seeking to prove to herself that she has become a stronger person. She is more worried about the future. She didn’t want to retire penniless.
The only consolation that I got is that she’s going to work in Madrid, Spain. At least Spain somehow has a cultural connection with the Philippines as the latter was once a colony. It boasts of beautiful architecture and scenic sites plus it is predominantly Catholic. The thought that she is working in such a lovely country gave me some solace.
So in June of 2006, after 13 years, we were back on the same road. I thought the years would make a difference and douse the old emotions but I was wrong. I still felt miserable. I tried doing my best to hide my feelings by initiating small talks. I reckon it will take our minds off the impending sadness that comes with goodbyes. I was mistaken. We were all mature enough to realize that we were just trying to trick ourselves.
At last, we’ve arrived at the NAIA departure area. Each minute seemed so fast. I was secretly wishing for possible delays. None came. Then it was time to go. I mustered all my power in suppressing my cracking voice. I tried smiling like I was the happiest guy in the world. I gave Nanay a kiss on the lips, the way I used to do as a kid whenever she went off to work. “Ingat, Nay,” I said in a deceptively strong voice. She was crying when she went inside the airport. “I’ll see you next year,” I whispered in my head and murmured a prayer.
It’s never really easy saying goodbye, but at least I was successful this time in fighting back the tears.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ivan Carlo Jose, 28, is an assistant manager at a commercial bank in Quezon City.