THESE two opposing questions, I believe, are the most-asked by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), most especially the newly-arrived and the over-staying ones. Oftentimes, these questions lie suspended somewhere at the back of their minds, popping up anytime, yet, momentarily relieving them of other unnecessary thoughts.
What really goes on in OFWs’ mind or in their life in particular abroad with regard to the above situation? I will not go far this time as I would like to dissect my own thoughts and experiences, being an OFW myself. I strongly believe that my experiences, in general, hold true to the rest of the OFWs regardless of sex, workplace and kind of job. What a better way of stressing a point than by giving a true-to-life example, and a living one at that!
I remember asking the questions on the night I was to fly off to Kuwait. The date, to be exact, was November 11, 1987. It’s not that I didn’t ask the same questions (countless times, in fact) way before my initial departure. Of course, I was decided to go that day, although reluctantly, as I was leaving behind my two young sons, then aged four years 10 months and three years five months. The questions actually were triggered by an earlier knowledge of my status, and the two others leaving with me that night, as a worker leaving the Philippines for Kuwait. As per initial contract handed over by the recruiting agency manager to me right there at the POEA vicinity in Ortigas, my designation was a Nursing Aide with a salary of US$350 a month!
Should I go or should I stay? Please take a moment and imagine yourself in my shoes. What would have you decided?
I did decide of course to go that night. Why, you may ask. For one, the manager gave his word that the contract was only for POEA’s record and that it will be changed as soon as we reach Kuwait. Same goes with the salary, he added. Did he tell us the truth? Yes and no. The final contract I signed upon reaching Kuwait was as a Staff Nurse but the salary was the same! Except for a clause that it will be increased in three months’ time. Not too good an incentive for a first-timer though!
Every night for a full three months I cried myself to sleep. I was terribly and miserably missing my children! Oftentimes, I would wake up with a heavy heart, so heavy and suffocating I really believed I would die any moment!
Those two familiar questions of course never left my waking thoughts. They popped up every time I thought about my children, which, sad to say, were very often. Those times were really difficult as I was adjusting at the same time to two major changes in my life – that of leaving my family, friends and a good job behind and that of working in a totally new and different set-up, not to mention staying in a far away and unheard of country of Kuwait itself.
My heart would always tell me to go but my brain would want me to stay. It was like doing something which you would rather not do and in the process of fighting you feel so helpless you tend to think the more of leaving and going home for good. Then in the end, you do otherwise. You stay.
There was that time when I nearly walked out of my job and decided to go for good. It happened during one of those menial works of feeding-bottle-washing. I was assigned permanently in the Nursery then after three months of probation. Before the end of any duty period, one or two staff nurses would be assigned alternately to wash the bottles.
It was a very busy day and my legs were tired from standing and running to and fro. I was at the same time worried about my children, about their father and about the scarcity of letters coming from home. There I was standing in front of the sink with two dozens and more bottles to wash. Halfway through, I suddenly thought about my situation. Why am I here? Why am I washing feeding bottles when back in the Philippines I have a maid who washes my own children’s bottles? Why do I have to be shouted at by a bossy Indian head nurse when back in the Philippines I worked as head of an office with 11 staff members working at my beck and call? Why do I have to leave my children behind and suffer the pain and loneliness of being away from them? Why oh why? Countless questions yet all pointing to one very obvious answer – all for the need of a few hundred dollars! Or should I say all for the love of money!
But the painful truth is, I was not earning enough. What I earned then was barely coping up with the added expenses entailed from hiring of additional hands to look after my children for me. Not to mention my ex-husband’s caprices – alcohol, gambling, barkada (gang) and women!
That night, after a crying session with one sympathetic friend, I again decided to stay.
A lot more similar incidents followed after that and the same questions of “should I go?” or “should I stay?” kept floating in the air. Each time, the second prevailed.
Eleven years on, with my children doing well in their studies back home and with their total acceptance of my newfound life in Kuwait living blissfully with a loving and responsible husband, the same opposing questions still pop up every now and then.
Should I go? or Should I stay?
Well, I would guess that those other overseas Filipino workers, and even those who have become official residents of the countries they work at, one way or another, have asked themselves the same questions. I believe that there will always be in our Filipino hearts that something which makes us want to go home for good.
Yes, we all stay in our workplace abroad because we are momentarily gainfully employed, but once we retire, should we not go?
Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: September 14, 1999