You Can Never Go Home Again

( originally written 12th December 2009 ) 

Star Wars costumes seem to be a perennial favorite among the natives

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :
ONE rainy afternoon in smoku,* our favorite packing guy (among mill people, millers and packers get along better than with their own kind) snorted at the paper.  It wasn’t a dismissive snort, but one that was more in disbelief or incredulity. 
An anecdote in a front page feature on unemployment talked about how discouraging job hunts were, mentioning that for one job position alone, as much as 100 hopefuls were lined up applying.
Things were never this bad, I can’t imagine a hundred people fighting for one slot, mate.
He was more incredulous when I told him it was nothing surprising back home to fight for one job among hundreds, in a work force that grows by tens of thousands every year. There are only so many gigs going round for an ever-increasing labor market, making it an overwhelmingly buyer’s market, so only the very best get considered for the plum posts.
That’s why back home, it’s SOP to enter an employer’s lobby, fight your way towards the receptionist, fill up an application ASAP, and wait the obligatory 2-3 hours before any appointment is set.  One hundred vying for a job? Par for the course, although incomprehensible to quite a few Kiwis for whom a five to ten minute wait at a stoplight is a considered a traffic jam, and who only two to three years ago changed jobs at a whim, a well-loved tradition here.
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Don’t have all the facts, but another work mate lamented a news article accusing this country of being host to one of the “most polluted rivers in the developed world”; and a cursory look at the news photo showed the river waters to be a dark bluish green, definitely not bereft of the verdant hue redolent of aquatic, freshwater life.
In so many words, we told him, could you contemplate a river ever-present in your life, but one that’s been dead since before you were born? Could you ever imagine a river so dead that you could never expect anything living in it? And lastly, how to describe a river that every moment that you behold it smells, of rotten egg, sulfur, and effluents that will destroy any vibrant organism it touches?  Well, if one could do any of these, one would indeed begin to understand that a polluted river in this country is not such a bad thing, and two, that polluted in the THIRD world is in a totally different universe.  No one deny it, Anak ng Pasig po tayong lahat.
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Lastly, still another colleague recently bewailed the fact that so many compatriots of his, as much of 20% of the total workforce, have crossed the Tasman Strait to find a better life in Australia.   In his  convoluted worldview, life in our temporary adopted land had fallen to such new lows that people here couldn’t wait to get out and work anywhere else, US, Canada, UK, anywhere except here.  Indeed, how horrid was it that low wages, high taxes, and having to compete with migrants for precious jobs had combined to make continued existence here such a chore, our colleague lamented.
Hearing his tirade, we immediately brought our proud Pinoy passport the next day, whereupon we asked him to read a ubiquitous rubber stamp on the Limitations page.  In both plain English and Arabic script, he read “Not Valid for Travel to Iraq”. And to his plainly clueless eyes, we patiently explained what it meant.
Do you know that most of our countrymen are so desperate for work that they will work anywhere overseas?  Yes, even in the most dangerous places on earth, you will see people lining up in employment agencies across Manila, literally waiting night and day for a placement in such places. 
Life is still not that hopeless back home, but the allure of working for the almighty dollar (or pound, dirham, Euro, fill in the blanks na lang) is so dizzyingly sweet and romantic, dramatically changing family fortunes in so short a time, that Filipinos are willing to do anything and risk life and limb if the prospects of a less deprived life are improved.
And this is why our hapless government, to save us from ourselves, has to legally restrain us from working in Iraq. 
Kind of makes you look at life here in perspective no? we told our pañero.  All of a sudden, he realized, life here ain’t that bad.
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So would it be too much of an exaggeration to say that bottom line, we are the whipping boys and rag dolls of the world whenever we allow ourselves to be conscripted into voluntary servitude across developed lands?  In oil-rich Iraq, we toil at the peril of suicide attacks, smart bombs (that purportedly avoid “soft” targets but kill civilians anyway) and friendly fire; in Lebanon, Pinay domestics are pushed over azoteas whenever their masters are in foul moods; pregnant Pinays can be found all over UAE jailed for adultery; their rapists are usually employers who escaped prosecution, but the rapees aren’t so lucky.
Don’t even get us started over Sarah Balabagan, Delia Maga and Flor Contemplacion.
Re the first topic above, while it’s true that the recession and economic chaos has affected everyone from Warren Buffett to the rice paddy farmer in Indochina, our perennial Third World resilience carries us across most hardships, equips us to brace ourselves against most of life’s tsunamis.  Indeed, what has happened in the last 24 months, recession-wise, that most of us haven’t experienced throughout a good part of our 3rd world existence ?
Said it recently, but it is quite apropos to most of our situations, Christmas or no: Kapag maigsi ang kumot, matutong bumaluktot.
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The sad implication in all these, kabatch and kabayan, is that after finding out how much better off you are overseas, and how bad it will continue to be back in the motherland, the home you cherished in your memories and hope to return to someday has in fact ceased to exist.
You can never, in your heart and mind, go back home again.
Thanks for your time !
* Smoku – Breaktime in Kiwi talk.

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