thinking of OFW & kabayan in less friendly or less christmasy places these holidays


[ Note : Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng inyong mga bati!  Please allow me to return the greetings soon!  Now, onward to the last few days of 2013! Thanks to Jollibee and YouTube for allowing me to repost!  Woohoohoo! ]

IT’S GREAT to be an OFW or migrant in (1) a country that knows how to treat its guest workers, and (2) a country that is (or used to be) Christian-oriented, because that usually means weary workers, including guest workers, have a Christmas break to look forward to.

But that’s in the ideal world. Often, you don’t choose the country you work in, it chooses you. And you would be quite fortunate to work in a country that is both (1) and (2) in the previous paragraph, because in reality it may only have (1). Sometimes, it has neither. And such absence you feel most acutely if one, you’re in specific situations, OR two, if it’s the festive season.

If you get pregnant in many parts of the Middle East to a man you aren’t married to, you are in very real danger of finding yourself in prison, having broken the laws of the Koran, which is often also the code of criminal statutes of the realm, as well as the latter’s holy book.

If your permit to work has expired, or worse, if you never legally applied for it in many parts of Europe, then not only your means of livelihood, but your right to liberty and travel will be imperilled, and you will be overstressed so as to affect your work (as if you weren’t already stressed in the first place).

If you are a nanny or caregiver in Hongkong, Taiwan or Singapore, God help you if something bad happens to your ward, whether it’s your fault or not. There have been too many examples of things gone awry and our yayas, helpers and sitters swinging helplessly on the wrong end of the dodgy scales of Justice those places, weighted of course against our OFW kabayan.

Back to the Middle East, unless you are willing to risk your work status and liberty, or you are totally confident in dodging the authorities, you never ever expose your Christian faith, or drink a drop of alcohol, two practices that would be entirely acceptable elsewhere but not for our working countrymen there, a place that ironically cannot function without our hard-working, stoic and forever-adapting Pinoy OFWs.

Though I’m still in the middle of my migrant journey in New Zealand, I’ve been quite lucky. My employer and managers are quite supportive of my employment, despite the fact that many locals and New Zealanders are unemployed. New Zealand’s respect for workers’ rights and interests is world-class, and workers who qualify are encouraged to seek permanent resident status.

I wish I could say the same for our kabayan in the rest of the working world. Our stalwart OFWs and migrants face a broad range of negatives from minor border inconveniences just because of the wrong skin color (it’s common to see our compatriots questioned beyond the usual how long are you staying in the First World?), to constant harrassment of Pinay OFWs often suspected of sidelining as prostitutes (is it our fault if we are slim and pretty?), to neurotic employers who refuse to release passports (believe it or not, holding our passports during our duration of employment is SOP), to oppressive labor and criminal laws that occasionally result in tragic consequences for the poor Filipino worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (convenient scapegoat, holder of the proverbial empty bag and having our taciturn-ness equated to submissiveness are our usual roles).

And because we tend to avoid complaining, we’re often the last man (person) standing when no one else is left to volunteer for work that no one would rather do. Juan! Because I know you won’t refuse me, I hereby volunteer you for the one-man skeleton shift Christmas and New Year’s Day! Thank you in advance! How often have you seen, heard or read about this scenario? Often enough to know that our kabayan’s inevitable answer will be thank you for your trust in me, sir/mam. And thanks for the extra overtime… (don’t mention it, snicker snicker).

*** *** ***

If there were a giant, traditional and all-encompassing national noche buena (and throw in the New Year’s Eve dinner for good measure) the surefire consequence would be the well-loved and auspicious practice to simultaneously hold a family reunion, where every member is included, in spirit if not in person, from the matriarch/patriarch to the tiniest, most junior toddler in the family.

Anyone absent would be thought of fondly, remembered and prayed for, and of course the priority would be relatives abroad, in the farthest reaches of the world, working like it was any other regular working day, particularly in countries that don’t think too much of Christmas and the birthday of the Redeemer.

Our symbolic national noche buena behooves us to think of our working-class heroes and migrants abroad, not all of whom may have a happy Christmas, what with holiday shifts, adverse weather, extended hours and lonely / one-man working conditions sometimes befouling the holiday mood.

Surrounded by the laughter of loved ones, the glitter of gifts, and the buzz of vintage wine or San Miguel Beer, let’s spare a thought for the sacrifice of our kabayan, who must work like it’s a dreary Monday, who will work because there are no others available, and who love their work because it gives them sustenance, dignity, and a future for their families, not necessarily in that order.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

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