gaano ka ka-grateful sa essential workers mo, NZ?

one morning I woke up to a brave new world.

every worker who had worked through the pandemic, who risked her or her life with infection, treating and healing those who were already sick, or fed those who couldn’t feed themselves, kept the factories running, servers humming and fields irrigated, those who kept the generators running at full capacity so people would stay comfy at home, watching Netflix and homeschooling their children, every person who worked while most people didn’t… all these persons, so-called essential workers were rewarded with permanent residency.

Of course, the dream didn’t last. I woke up that morning to a dream, a dream that will never happen in New Zealand.

You would think New Zealand would have reason to do so though. New Zealand, miraculously, has done better than 99% of the world in weathering the covid19 pandemic that has infected nearly 200 million globally and has caused more than 2 million deaths.

Because of closing the borders early, contract tracing and political will, NZ has kept the infections to a minimum, and life in New Zealand is nearly normal. But essential workers have also pulled their weight and done their share. “Essential workers” are loosely defined as anyone who performs a task to keep the health and economy going, and without which life couldn’t go on.

in some cases, these workers received special recognition bonuses from their companies, who incidentally did very well during the lockdown. some didn’t. But I’m talking about what government should do because of the sacrifices these people did.

Canada chose to give their essential workers permanent residency, and that’s not a dream. It’s reality.

I don’t see it happening in New Zealand, because, well because gratitude just isn’t the same everywhere. New Zealand usually does the right thing and it’s heart is in the right place, but based on history and expectations based on past behavior, it just won’t do the same.

Nothing much to say here further, but to those in power in New Zealand, all we have to say is: hint, hint.

lahi sa lahi – gut feelings re other migrant races

[thank you first for taking the time to visit here Precious Reader, we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing you for some time, hope the feeling is mutual! ]

THE STRONGEST memory/s we have of work-related abuse in New Zealand, sadly, is race-related as well. We’ve told you this more than once in this space Precious Reader, but for our collective benefit we’ll repeat it right here and right now.

The first, we actually saw a boss/supervisor slap his counter person across the back of her head, the latter making a mistake on her till / cash register. Adding to the shock was the worker ignored the slap, choosing to concentrate on her work. This was around ten years ago but we know my memory’s not playing tricks with us, as we were with wife Mahal, and she saw the exact same thing. This was between 2010 and 2012

The second is hearsay and not our personal knowledge but there’s no reason to doubt it: our former flatmate for lack of a more accurate term was kinutusan (flicked with an open hand across the back of the head) by his supermarket supervisor, for nothing more than a very minor mistake. Flatmate wanted to quit right there but thought about his responsibilities and restrained himself. Looking back, walking out would’ve sent an effective message. This was before 2008.

In both incidents, not that it matters too much, the offender was from the same migrant race.

***** ***** *****

Nothing against other migrants, there are always good eggs and bad eggs, and one bad apple shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch. But it’s human nature to generalize and judge people according to nationality. The act of one defines the acts of all, and this is entirely subjective we know, but that’s the way it is.

Is it racist when we try to generalize how a race or group of people is expected to behave, based on our experience and how we’ve been treated? Here’s an idea: we’ll describe the most impactful that we’ve noticed for every race, without mentioning who it is. Ultimately knowing which countries they’re from, we leave to you my friend:

This group of people are decent enough when talking and working with you, but make no mistake: they’re only in it for two reasons: to learn whatever business they’re employed in, and to further their own interests. they may or may not admit it, but they’re happy to start and finish their tour of duty with no friends whatsoever, its no issue to them. but you’ll notice one thing though: every single aspect of the business of the employer (not just the job), from supply, production, delivery and marketing, they will know about it. and the day they finish working with you is the day they start their own business.

***** ***** *****

This second group of people will never say it out loud, but they think they’re better than everyone, especially on the technical side of things. They think feelings, attitudes and relationships are not part of the productivity equation, and pay attention to those things only in the abstract. because in their own country the divide between races is a problem that remains unsolved, they think that race issues and divisions should remain hanging in other countries, even in the country/s they migrate to, including this one. Sad, but we’ve found many of this group, feeling and acting the same way.

***** ***** *****

We save the best for last, and this last class of people we fear you’ll guess correctly with a lot less clues: they’re known the world over as clever and smart, but that STILL isn’t enough for them, they never fail to take the opportunity to let others know they’re super-intelligent and because “super-intelligent” is for any reality too much, their credibility sometimes gets challenged. probably as a result of their too-high regard for their mental powers, they sometimes get accused of being lazy and know-it-alls. And at least half the time, they are.

Before you accuse us of typecasting and prejudging groups of people based on limited experience, we can only say: it’s done all the time. For different reasons, including instinct, intuition, and survival. We do it, they do it, everyone does it. It isn’t even a question of right or wrong, good or bad, correct or incorrect. the better questions is: after believing how people behave based on race, will we all, migrants or not migrants, still get along?

Thank you for reading, mabuhay!

[ btw, we can’t tell you based on your final guesses whether you guessed right kabayan, but just looking at your eyes and your reactions, you probably are 🙂 ]

ang nakakubling kalbaryo ng nangangarap maPR sa NZ (the hidden hardship of permanent resident aspirants in NZ)

[This post is in Taglish. Where helpful, I follow a paragraph with a rough translation. I don’t own the copyright to these photos, thanks and acknowledgment to the owners! Congrats to the NZPH Goodheart Foundation for the Filipino Migrant News Hero of the Year award, represented by Lani Larsen, Alicat Lozano, Edgar Rondon Calapati, Cora Laquindanum Sitchon and all the members of the Foundation. Mabuhay kayo! last na po: please support our podcast episode by clicking on the link, apologies for the imperfect default Taglish accent!]

MATAGAL KO NANG KILALA SI ROY (hindi nya tunay na pangalan). di ko alam kung sino sa amin ang nauna sa New Zealand, pero alam kong lampas 10 taon na sya rito, tulad ko.

(I’ve known Roy (not his real name) a long time. I don’t know who among us got to New Zealand first, but I do know that like me, he’s been here around 10 years or so.)

Like myself, Roy has also reached out for the supreme prize in migrating to NZ: permanent residency, as have thousands of temporary visa holders from all over. But the last two years have not been kind to work, visit and student visa holders, and of the nearly 89,000 successful visa holders last year (lowest in 10 years), very few will go on to become permanent residents.

it’s not for lack of trying. my friend Roy has worked in many different jobs, in different industries. All of his employers have had workers who’ve gone on to become permanent residents, but not in recent years. Additional requirements have made it too hard to make the final move before applying, and Roy has gone oh-so-close before his hopes were dashed. In other cases, he hurdled the additional requirements, but sadly didn’t earn enough to be invited to apply.

hindi ko naman sinasabing napagiwanan sya ng panahon, pero pahirap nang pahirap ang pag-apply nya sa NZ bilang work visa holder at permanent resident. Twing akala nyang nasasapol na nya mga requirements pangPR (permanent resident) bigla na lang itong babaguhin ng walang pasintabi (at kung meron man, napakaigsi ng palugit na binibigay).

(I’m not saying Roy’s been left behind by the times, but it’s getting harder and harder to apply in NZ as a work visa holder and permanent resident or PR. Every time he thinks he’s hurdled the PR requirements, the latter will suddenly be upgraded or leveled up, with very little or no notice at all.)

All his years in New Zealand, Roy has learned a lot and gained experience in becoming a professional migrant, but unfortunately for him and many others in his situation, practice doesn’t make perfect. Despite the encouraging invitation on the Immigration New Zealand website to “work and live (permanently) in New Zealand,” unless you have lotto level luck and have enough funds to adjust to changing rules, you can’t stay in the game. Why is this so?

IT’S NOT POLICY. or maybe it used to be policy, but not anymore. Until recently, whichever Government was in power, there was bound to be an anti-immigration shadow as long as Winston Peters was in Parliament. He never failed to use the migrant bogeyman (panakot) taking away jobs and wealth from Kiwis. But now Winston is gone (for good) and the eternal truth remains: New Zealand will always need migrant labor. So policy is not the problem.

IT’S NOT REQUIREMENTS. yes, Immigration New Zealand (the government agency tasked with screening and accepting all applicants for NZ visas) continues to raise wage requirements, based on the national median wage. Yes, INZ continues to insist on all sorts of tests to prove that New Zealanders aren’t available for jobs that nobody else (except migrants) wants. And yes, INZ continues to add language and other requirements (like IELTS) just to see how desperate we are before giving up.

But the labor market (supply and demand for skilled labor) pays as much as the market can bear, and as long as kabayan will provide skilled and profitable labor, we will be paid decently. Ultimately, migrants take jobs Kiwis aren’t willing to take, and IELTS and Pearson tests, though hard, are not impossible to pass.

THE UNEXPECTED REASON. A couple of years back, the government launched a cost-cutting and reorganization project for Immigration New Zealand, with disastrous results, Offices closed in Mumbai, Shanghai and lately Manila have not helped ease the traffic jam of visa applications. Seems that instead of coping with greater job demands caused by the Christchurch rebuild, Kaikoura rebuild and the economic growth experienced in NZ, Immigration NZ chose to shrink and reduce operations.

The result? Even before the covid pandemic, there has been a backlog of 30,000 PR applications, and you can just imagine how much this number will rise after Immigration NZ lifts the one year suspension of applications.

Imagine in your wildest dreams the greatest number of visa / case officers an agency like INZ will allow to handle this backlog of applications. Fifty? 75? 100? OK, 150? (this last number seems unlikely considering so many other functions of the agency). This means, best case scenario, each case officer handling 200 cases, each case requiring hundreds of man-hours and at least a couple of years of processing and deliberation.

And that’s not even considering the floodgate of new cases that are just itching to be submitted when (hopefully not if) the suspension lifts. At this rate, when can we expect to have the doors opened for us?

Ito po yung unexpected result of too much of a good thing. New Zealand is such a desirable place to live and work in, but is New Zealand ready for all of us?

[PS. Please pray for the permanent resident application of Roy and his family. They deserve it. Mabuhay po tayong lahat!]

1 munting alaala ng ating Christchurch 11

Lalaine Agatep.  Mary Louise Ann Amantillo.  Emmabelle Anoba.  Valquin Bensurto.  Ivy Jane Cabunilas.  John Kristoffer Chua.  Jewel Francisco.  Jessie-Lloyd Redoble and Ezra Mae Medalle. Rhea Mae Sumalpong.  Erica Avir Reyes Nora. Gone but still in our hearts.

WE WERE probably very lucky to meet an acquaintance who was (is) a cousin of our Christchurch 11, the 11 kabayan who perished during the February 22nd 2011 Christchurch earthquake, whose 10th anniversary was celebrated yesterday.

I’m sorry to forget if they were in the Garden City for an IELTS review (International English Language Testing System) or for a bridging course to applying their nursing credentials in New Zealand. (11 out of the 11 were Philippine registered nurses or RNs)

But what happened was the day of the earthquake was also the first day of their course. And because most of them had also arrived straight from either the Philippines or from Auckland, they went straight from the airport to the school they were training in, stopping over at their lodgings to just drop their luggage and personal stuff.

We knew this because the cousin was contacted by the police not long after the earthquake, where the bad news was broken to her, and the personal property, as listed next of kin, was surrendered to her.

As the items included valuables, they had to be itemized, and my acquaintance recounted to me her amazement: the luggage was unpacked, and included, in American dollars, all the cash they would need the whole time they were to be in Christchurch.

They had no time between their last journey and their first day in school, but wanted to do as well as they could , especially with the reputation of Filipino nurses as the best in the world. So they couldn’t afford to miss even one day, and went straight to school.

And into eternity.

Mabuhay kayo, Christchurch 11!

pagtapos ng dilim, ang nakabubulag na naliwanag (after dark, the brilliant dawn): being a new OFW dad in NZ

[ sorry we haven’t kept in touch kabayan, Mahal just gave birth last week. It’s been a crazy 8 days and counting. Thanks for keeping us company part of the ride. that’s Baby Dumpling by the way, seconds after birth. thanks for reading! ]

A MILLION THINGS are going through our mind right now, so we’ll try to sift things and tell you what we’re feeling.

It still feels like the first time, every time. We’ve been a father thrice before, but each time feels special. We won’t say this is the best ever, but we have to say at this stage that being a dad 25 years after the last time is indeed very special.

The best way to share our experience with you Precious Reader would be to try to compare our experiences as a new dad in New Zealand and how we remember it back in the Philippines. Ito ang pinaka-meaningful na paraan para ma-share ko mga karanasan ko:

If you want the realistic indicator of how well (or badly) a country treats its citizens, experience its health care. New Zealand’s health care to all citizens, permanent residents and work visa holders of at least two years isn’t the best in the world, but it spares no expense in two areas that we know of : in life-threatening illness, and in pregnancy and/or maternal care.

Wife Mahal was admitted to hospital for 8 days, underwent an urgent caesarian section, received full courses of painkillers and antibiotics, and our Baby Dumpling received diapers, formula, and pediatrician and testing services. As did Mahal from her obstetrician, diabetes doctor, dietician and of course midwife.

All these services were regular, on time, and most importantly, free.

Like we said earlier, hindi perpekto ang serbisyong pangkalusugan ng New Zealand. Pero sa panahon ng gipitan at pinakamatinding pangangailangan, hindi sya nagkukulang.

[translation : health care services in New Zealand aren’t perfect, but when you need it most, it’s there for you. ]

Sa Pilipinas naman, mayroon ding public health services kung may budget ang inyong local government, o kung may health insurance ka. Pero di ito garantiya na makakamtan mo ang serbisyong kailangan mo.

[translation : In the Philippines, public health services are available if your local government budget allows, or if you have health insurance. But even then, this is no guarantee that you’ll enjoy the services you need. ]

Like the Philippines, health care isn’t perfect. but any flaws or imperfections are made up for it by the passion and skill of its health care professionals. Mahal’s labor extended into past midnight, from the original day, and the midwife attending to her had to finish her shift.

But the midwife following told her firmly : I’m not going to leave you until you give birth, no matter what. And indeed, she stayed with Mahal through an unexpected caesarian section, helped her understand the consequences like low grade infection brought by the extended labor, the wearing off of the meds, and the recovery she would have to undergo.

All the while the midwife matched Mahal’s dedication and resilience. She never complained or talked about how long the process was taking (well over 20 hours by the time Mahal was brought out of recovery room), and stayed with Mahal until she was sure others had taken over for her. If Mahal was the heroine of the day, her midwife was a strong sidekick.

When you enjoy the services of good nurses, midwives and doctors as well as allied health professionals, it stands out anywhere.

Batang ama or matandang ama, becoming a parent is inspiring at any age. When we became a parent at age 23, we didn’t know a single thing about being a dad. It was trial and error most of the time, but the mistakes were survivable (I hope).

Thirty-two years and three kids later, we’re a dad again, and also an OFW. we’re more inspired than ever, trying to carve out a life in a new city, with new skills, new industry and new employer. The outlook is good, the vision is clear, but everything is made more worthwhile by Baby Dumpling, our nickname for the little one.

She has a bright future here, and in a way, because she is going to spend her life as an ethnic Filipina and New Zealander, with her (hopefully) intelligence, adaptability and gratitude for living in a generous host country, she will give it back and pay it forward, with our blessing.

It’s all about you now Baby Dumpling.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

Unions call for residency for migrant workers – Radio New Zealand article

There may be as much as one-third of all Pinoys staying in New Zealand working as Work Visa holders. Are they any different from all of us in wanting a better life free from uncertainty, tyranny and want? (Story and picture courtesy of Radio New Zealand , thanks!)

Unions call for residency for migrant workers | RNZ News

salaysay ng huling araw sa trabaho (anatomy of my last day at work)

[the first working day of the year is also my last day of work, after 13 years. This is how it ended. thanks for reading! ]


***** ***** *****

One day only three weeks ago, my team (Mahal and I) decided we needed a different path in our migration journey. On our current path, Wayz / Google Maps was giving us correct directions, but we weren’t getting anywhere, and without a doubt the job I was holding was a dead end.

The job had been good to me, had fed my team, and just as importantly, kept me in New Zealand. But I needed more. And also, time was running out. If I didn’t move soon, opportunity would slip away.

We didn’t need a long discussion, and before the end of the day, the decision was reached. However and wherever our migrant journey would continue, we didn’t know. But one thing was for sure: it wouldn’t be through this job. We would have to chart a path elsewhere.

***** ***** *****

But where were we? Ah yes. My last day. For me, it couldn’t arrive soon enough as I craved the change, the transition into a new phase of our journey.

But when it did arrive, no one was more unprepared than me.

I told my work teammates one by one, as I didn’t like the attention it would generate. You see, most of the team (almost including me) are “lifers.” The job isn’t for everyone, but as soon as one gets used to the job, the routine and the permanence of the work (we manufacture a product everyone needs), the worker tends to stick to the job, the years fly by, and before you know it, you’ve been doing the same thing twenty years.

I liked my job, but not that much.

***** ***** *****

Whether because I didn’t tell him first, or the fact that his roster turned to rubbish even before the year started, my line manager was even less pleased. He let me know that it was the worst timing for me, that I missed out on benefits by resigning blah blah blah but I had a feeling he was more than a little annoyed. But in the end he realized I was doing it to avoid being left with no options; that I was leaving while I could still do something. Which wasn’t a lot.

To the rest of the gang, it wasn’t just a hi-hello-goodbye situation either. Typical of being Pinoy (I’m the only Pinoy for miles and miles around), I got along with everyone, wasn’t always the best worker but at least I could pretend to be the most cheerful guy, even in sometimes a sarcastic way. Cheerfulness, when no one else is cheerful, can be infectious, and quite a few times I got remembered that way. Whether or not I meant it, I almost always showed I was grateful to have a job in New Zealand.

If I hadn’t made it obvious yet, it was becoming a painful experience leaving a job I’d grown to love.

***** ***** *****

Back to my last day. As we were starting the machines up for the morning shift run, I did everything the usual way. Checked for blocks or leakages, made sure the system was clear before introducing the raw material, and made sure the machinery on start up was smooth and clear on the top floors before giving the all-clear to the shift manager below.

As I did my usual tests and checks, I started to realize that I would be doing my routine chores the last time. The boring test and inspection suddenly looked odd to me. Was I actually doing this for the last time? and so on and so forth. Was I passing this corridor of filters and air locks just one more time before calling it a day? Was the view on top of the factory, of other factories and the eternal sea, a view I was never going to enjoy again? At least, as a worker here? Yes, yes and yes.

I maintained my cheerful facade our first breaktime. Met Manpreet in the lunch room, our assistant plant engineer.

Happy New Year he greeted me, forgetting it was my last day.

Happy Diwali man!

It’s not freaking Diwali he said, before realizing I was just making fun of him.

Respectfully of course.

***** ***** *****

I didn’t ask for a lunch but it was given to me anyway. Thirteen years working for your employer will earn you that at least. The line manager made the jokes just snarky enough to make us laugh but still good-naturedly enough to recognize the time I’d put in the company.

I started to make an impromptu speech but stopped before I got too emotional. The ones I spoke to knew the real reason I was leaving, but most of the others just thought I needed a change of scenery. I left it at that.

The rest of the shift I was just going through the motions, but I was just doing enough so I ‘d survive the shift. I didn’t want an inglorious finish to an otherwise unevenful day, which in a way reflected my stay with my employer: nothing flashy, but usually dependable.

I met the afternoon shift guys who missed my lunch, because of course they weren’t in yet. I became a little more emotional with them because we had around 10 minutes to sum up 10-plus years of working together.

I walked out of work clutching my lunchbox, and the workboots that I was allowed to take with me. That afternoon, I felt that I’d worked longer than the 13 years I worked there, and was taking more than the memories that would stay with me forever.

Part of me would always be in that factory.

***** ***** *****

But wait. I still had the rest of my working life to map out the final leg of my migrant journey.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

payo & mungkahi sa sarili (bilang OFW/migrante) ngayong 2021 (advice for myself as an OFW / migrant this 2021)

WE’RE NOT A YOUNG PERSON ANYMORE. We’ve been around the block twice, worked in many different jobs back home in the Philippines, and worked as an OFW in our long and winding migrant journey. Yes, we’ve earned our wrinkles and kalyo deservedly.

But we continue to make the same mistakes, make the same old reactions, fail to take advantage of the same opportunities as a visitor / outsider / new member of the family here in our adopted land. Whether because we stick to our stereotypes of ourselves (ayaw ng gulo, ayaw ng confrontation, sobrang makisama), or because we don’t want to leave our comfort zone, we fail to become the best versions of ourselves, and become a self-fulfillment of what others think of us: Pinoy lang yan, kaya hanggang dyan na lang sya. Kulang yan sa ambisyon kasi. And other silly limits that we impose on ourselves.

With this in mind, we make suggestions to our 2020 self, from our present 2021 version, a little older, a little wiser, and hoping our counterpart from 12 months ago can learn from our mistakes, our failures to act, and our lack of vision to make ourselves and the world a better place:

Be a better dad. This is probably the most important thing we can do for ourselves and the ones we love. We have had kids in our distant past, but we weren’t the best inspirational enabling and educating types, which we now know to be the best kind of father there is. this is especially true when we are in the migrant setting: we show to our kids that we can be good fathers and head of the family in a different environment, away from the Philippines, and adjusting to situations that change every day.

Most especially, we’re going to be a dad again after 25 years. The energy level won’t be the same as before, we are more mature now, more appreciative of the moment, and more patient with having the baby. As everyone has told me, just enjoy everything about being a dad again, especially while being in New Zealand, which is one of the best places to be in considering everything.

Do more for my Pinoy community. While we’re not exactly admirers of other migrant communities (no need to be specific) we do notice something about them (there are only two Asian communities larger than the Pinoy community, we don’t need to tell you which): they have very strong community organizations. They’re very well organized, very closely interact with the actual members, and very well-funded.

Maybe we can’t measure up to them in terms of logistics and cash, but we can match them in terms of energy and commitment. Hindi ba sikat tayo sa spirit ng bayanihan? If our ancestors and relatives especially in the provinces could do it, we in New Zealand certainly can. We know we are already doing it in the smaller communities outside the major urban centers, we just need to sustain it, be more sensitive to the needs and situations of our kabayan, and act upon that sensitivity.

Do more for New Zealand. There’s a reason why our adopted country New Zealand is in the Happiness Index’s 10 happiest countries in the world. Good government, healthy environment, and where if you work hard, you will have a decent life sums it up. But also, New Zealanders are generally happy people, ready to help a stranger, and you get hi’s and hellos from people you’ve never met, every day.

But it didn’t get to be there by accident, and it won’t stay that way forever. People who live here have to work on it, keep building on successes, and look out for each other as friends, neighbors and people who live in the same country. We as Pinoys and kabayan are no exception. We need to do our share to continue making this place a good place to live in.

and lastly…

Be aware and know all about the law and law changes concerning immigration. Many, many kabayan here still await the dawn of the day when they receive the sweetest gift of permanent residency. To do this, they need to deserve it, to earn it, and prepare themselves for it.

On the other side of the coin, you cannot fully fault New Zealand for making it harder to become a New Zealander. Each year brings a bigger population, which means more mouths to feed, and to meet the challenge more wealth must be created, the greatest tool being more jobs. And these jobs should rightly be filled by existing New Zealanders first.

But the immigration policy of New Zealand through the years remains: if you are hardworking, law-abiding and have something to contribute to the New Zealand economy, you are welcome to stay within limits and ultimately will have a fighting chance to stay permanently. It will be a long journey for those who haven’t gotten there, but for many, it’s not the destination, but how you got there. All the more rewarding diba?

***** ***** *****

If I do all the above, it won’t cure all my problems as a migrant in New Zealand, but it’s a good start.

A good start for the new year.

Thanks for reading, isang maasensong 2021 sa lahat!

kung bakit puno ng meaning ang kapaskuhan para sa mga OFW

[ From my family to yours, merry Christmas Precious Reader! ]

THE PICTURES SAY IT ALL. Ang pinakahugot or emotional na pics para sa mga OFW at mga lumalakbay na Pinoy twing kapaskuhan (Christmastime), bukod sa mga mag-anak (families) na tumitipon-tipon sa Noche Buena at mga reunion na ten-years-in-the-making, ay ang nag-iisang (solitary) OFW sa gitna ng mga nagdidiwang, nag-iisa at may hawak na celpon, nagpupumilit na makisama sa cell site coverage at ingay ng selebrasyon.

Di sya marinig ng kausap nya, at wala syang kasalo sa Christmas. hanggang tingin na lang sya sa mga pamilyang nagcecelebrate at sa mga magandang tanawing nagpapalungkot lang lalo.

After all, Christmas is a time of celebration. It’s the one time of the year when people are allowed to stop work, be happy for happiness’ sake, get drunk (without driving) and go to sleep without a care in the world.

***** ***** *****

But for the Filipino (as well as many other races of course) no celebration is complete without some sort of family, which can be in the form of colleagues, friends and relatives. Since everyone else has gone to their family, the OFW is left with other OFWs, or worse, alone.

[ This year has been made worse by the pandemic, which has left families separated and isolated indefinitely. Parents and kids have not seen each other for months, siblings do not know what’s going on with each other, and grandparents and seniors are cruelly isolated in nursing homes. ]

The reason why Christmas celebrations are so family-oriented especially to the OFW is simple: Christmas is all about family, and family is one of the main reasons, if not the main reason why the OFW became an OFW.

Now, memories magnify emotions. The first communion, the first kiss, the stink and smell of the fish market, all bring back specific memories that bring back the strongest emotion associated with that memory. And what could be more memorable and memory inducing than your best Christmases ever?

Bringing those two previous thoughts / paragraphs together. Families are very very important to the OFW, and Christmas reminds the OFW of his family. In a very big way. If the OFW is with his family for the holidays, well and good.

But as is usually the case, Christmas season finds the OFW apart from his family, and what should be a very happy time of the year becomes a not so happy time.

***** ***** *****

But these sad memories in themselves also serve a different purpose. They form a group of memories that build character and make the struggle all the more worthwhile, something to look back on when the OFW is finally reunited with his / her family, this time for good.

For whatever reason, Christmas is always treasured by the OFW.

thanks for reading, be safe this Christmas and mabuhay!

ang misis kong maganda, ang misis kong masipag : ang misis kong OFW

FOR A SPOUSE OR PARTNER of a work visa holder in New Zealand 11 years ago, Mahal (that’s how I and everyone else calls her) hit the ground running . She did have a work visa, but neither I nor she herself expected to start work immediately, she wasn’t expected to.

But she was asked by a kabayan (who’s now a good friend) if she didn’t mind giving other people manicures and pedicures, and that’s how she got her first job in New Zealand, less than one week after she landed in Wellington, unexpectedly: as a “nail technician,” the first in her collection of many trades (professions).

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Not only that. Soon after, she started work in another (part-time) job, to augment her new-found income. The cleaning lady who cleaned our office asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to help her clean houses and offices three times a week. The cleaning lady offered a competitive wage and would bring Mahal to and from work. Without hesitation, Mahal accepted, and in less than a month was earning close to what I was earning, on a per hour basis.

The cleaning lady liked her so much, she gave her more hours after the first week and, more importantly, taught Mahal to drive. This, she said, would encourage her to buy her own car and get around faster. Before long, I would start seeing Mahal drive the cleaning lady’s car, first as a practice driver, then as a regular driver. She learned to drive before me.

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Thing really started picking up when she chanced upon the local jewelry / moneychanger where she remitted her newfound income back home. (This was before widespread online remittances became popular). Always light on her feet and quick with numbers and figures, Mahal found herself on the short list of final interviewees and bested a few experienced retail veterans (and Kiwi grads) for the job selling jewelry and handling money.

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All the while, she never forgot to cook three meals for this lucky OFW, prepare my daily baon, do the lion(ess)’s share of the household chores and plan and prepare the week’s budget, which she did from the day she arrived in New Zealand (I got here two years ahead of her)

In typical Pinoy fashion, she always underestimated her skills and ability to grow and improve with every passing day in whatever job she did. But because she wasn’t afraid to learn, ask the right questions, and help out as a member of the work team, she became a reliable and productive worker for every employer she worked for.

This became clear when she was asked to train her co-workers every time a new branch or position opened, and became the unofficial “2IC” (second-in-charge) whenever the manager was unavailable. Kiwi, Indian, Islander or fellow kabayan, Mahal always got along, and never sacrificed her work ethic and quality of work while staying positive and keeping team spirit alive. She never planned for it, but was always popular with both her peers and the employer.

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And the surest sign of her popularity with the customer? Not only Filipinos but a rainbow of races, gender and trades looked for her whenever she was on leave or was on a break. Transactions peaked during the days she was on full shift and she had so many regulars, people always passed by just to ask when “the Filipina lady” was on.

Through it all, four jobs and numerous part-time gigs, Mahal took time off only to come home to the Philippines, never taking unscheduled leave and always filling in for others.

Without realizing it, Mahal had taken over in our marriage. She had become the model OFW. And without a doubt, I’m the proudest second-placer.

mabuhay ka Mahal, happy birthday!