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Dear kabayan, schoolmates and friends :
NOT to be morbid about it, but I’m in the dying days of my current work permit (WP).
It’s been a great gig the last two years, and of course I’d like nothing else but to continue work, but I’ve been too lucky the past 24 months (29, counting training and waiting time) and a sudden negative decision from Immigration NZ would frankly be part of the law of averages.
In short, I’ve been too lucky (masyadong sinuswerti) and the odds aren’t my friend this time.
It’s way too easy to declare, (allegedly) indolent locals and industrious WP holders notwithstanding, is INZ in touch with reality at all? Don’t the training, experience and credentials earned by guest workers count, arrayed against the unskilled, inexperienced and (most importantly) unwilling locals who don’t even bother applying for tradesmen jobs?
But it would be, as the Poms say, “bad form” to cry and whine.
I will not dishonor the memory of those more qualifed and less fortunate than I am, Filipinos who have dared and died in the NZ labor marketplace, those who sold the carabao and mortgaged the last piece of arable land in order to pay processing, visa fees and travel expenses to try their luck in the First World Never-Never Land. They deserve more than that.
My most poignant memory is walking to the lunch bar one day at the Albany Industrial Park, North Shore City early 2008. I discerned two figures coming my direction on the sidewalk, which turned out to be a male and female Asian in office attire. Strangely familiar were not only their height and complexion (similar to mine) but the office attire that channeled Makati and Ortigas Centre, short sleeves and necktie versus smart vestida and sensible pumps.
It only took half a second to realize that they were compatriots and countrymen, kabayan who were looking for jobs in the area. Quick hellos and kumustas were exchanged, mixed with the unmistakeable warmth of Pinoy wayfarers crossing paths.
It likewise didn’t take long for their voices to break.
Kuya, ilang linggo na rin kaming naghahanap ng trabaho rito sa Auckland, malapit na maubos ipon namin. Ayaw pa naming bumalik sa Pinas pero mukhang yun na lang ang natitirang option kapag alang swerte.
I couldn’t bear to tell them that I myself was nearly at the end of my rope, using up the remaining few weeks of my tenure before my WP employer would close down for good. From there, I would be looking for a job myself, awkwardly skilled and poorly placed in the job market for suitable PR (permanent-resident) hopefuls like me.
So like the dutiful plastic Pinoy cheerleader that I was, I told them to keep your chin up, kaya nyo yan, keep hunting for that job, and stop counting down till WTR (work-to-residence) Doomsday.
I forget their names, and honestly I’m unaware of their fate. For all I know they might’ve gotten engaged to good jobs, achieved permanent residence status (PR) by the skin of their teeth, and are now living the Kinoy dream, kudos to them. But I wouldn’t bet on it. If they went home and started from scratch anew, it wouldn’t be news to most of us.
And that’s the defining bittersweet memory I have, among a few others, of New Zealand.
** ** ** ** **
But on to happier topics. The silver lining in my dark cloud is that for this and the next generation of Kiwi + Pinoys or Kinoys, the latter will have their cake and eat it too. Families will be better housed, children will be better fed and educated, and overall quality of life improved.
No small feat is the recent UNDP (UN Development Program) report ranking New Zealand third in terms of quality of life, ahead of all first world countries except Norway and Australia. At the same time, money will be sent back home to send relatives to school, improve houses and communities in the countryside, and hopefully infuse our economy with physical and human resources reinforced and enhanced by the wealth and technology of a First World dynamo.
All this will happen whatever my lot as an accidental migrant. But my sojourn here would not have been as memorable without the effort and compassion of a few countrymen, who I must mention as a simple gesture of sincere thanks:
Steve and April Dods : I’m not sure if they’re in Auckland still, but the Dodses gave me their first job offer, without which I couldn’t have secured my first work permit, and absent which I couldn’t have stayed in NZ. They didn’t ask too many questions, gave me my first break, and for that I will always be grateful.
Efren and Butchie Pascual – Against their better judgment and common sense, the Pascuals helped me up when I was down and out, and didn’t expect anything in return. With one vacancy in their roster, they could’ve chosen more qualified and experienced Kiwis to staff their store, and yet they chose me, only because I was a kabayan who needed a break. It will not be forgotten.
Jerome and Lady Jalbuena – Another couple that smiled upon a complete stranger and gave him shelter, as well as encouragement from despair. Again, they had no reason to open their doors for me, share their dinner table or offer me the hospitality of their home. But logic and good sense will always be at odds with kindness, altruism, and an indefinable instinct to pull up the fallen. May you always be blessed, as you blessed me.
Norman Latosa, Bong Fiel and the Pinoy Basketball sa Auckland Family – My happiest days in Auckland were spent as a scorer, timekeeper and unlikely participant in the over- 35 tournament; I played like a kid and forgot I was overseas. All because of the magic of basketball, thanks to you.
The Downer (and Chorus) family of Pinoy linemen, installers and troubleshooters – The best way I can describe them would be genuine Pinoy Good Samaritans. They are part of the 60-strong batch of recruits from all over the Philippines flung via the four winds to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. My second month in Windy Wellington , the Downers (in name only) spotted me and took me in without batting an eyelash and treated me like one of their own. I became an Ilocano, Kapampangan, Ilonggo and Bisaya as well as a Tagalog well-versed in the traits of all because of you. Mabuhay !
AKLnzPINOYS & upalumninz and other community e-groups – Ka Uro, Jinkee Say, comrades in the same groups and the Maroon stalwarts of the State U community, you have done more than your share to promote camaraderie among the Pinoy community in your respective circles. Thank you for allowing me a forum with which to vent and destress myself. You may have helped kabayan more than you will ever know.
The Bautistas, Agustins and Montenegros of Johnsonville and Newlands – In true Pinoy fashion, we had a soft landing in Wellington courtesy of a trio of cousins (and their families), notably Eric and Hope Bautista, Tom and Ineng Agustin and Ricky and Maya Montenegro. They extended to us every comfort and courtesy and gave us a genuine impression of how Filipinos treat kin and loved ones abroad. Maraming salamat po.
George Bautista – I would never have been able to conceive staying here beyond a short visit if it hadn’t been for my brother George, to whom I owe the fruits of generosity, pearls of wise counsel, hugs of tough love, and utterances of unconditional support. No greater compliment can I pay him than to say that he made everything possible, and the debt of gratitude can never be repaid. Maraming salamat, kapatid.
So many more people to thank, so many kindnesses to remember. If I have momentarily forgotten you, sincerest apologies and I will make up for it (if there is a) next time.
** ** ** **
In closing, I note today that it is again one of those perfect, cloudless days in Wellington worthy of a Hobbit shoot or an Avatar inspired tableau. There is not a trace of the howling storm last night, responsible for a million windstrewn leaves all about.
If one were to choose how to spend one’s last days in New Zealand, this would certainly be ideal. For after the whirlwind of uncertainty and struggle, one hopes that the accidental migrant in me will regain the sunshine of a better life in Aotearoa.
Thanks for reading kabayan, and goodbye for now !