I left to work as a teacher in the US 15 years ago. I would have to admit that leaving was hard, I was leaving all that was familiar to me behind. It was hard to say goodbye to family and friends, but at the same time, it was also easy because I was moving towards a big career opportunity. Half a year in was a moment I would describe as the “dust settling”. All the new-ness started to feel common and it no longer provided a sense of distraction, and when I looked back at what I had to leave behind, everyone had already moved on. A lot of people will probably say I was lucky to have found work here at age 25. I was single and opportunities abound, but people have no idea about what I had to trade upon coming here. Yes, life is more comfortable, but the comfort in company is lacking. I miss my family and friends that it hurts to look at old photos or read old messages or letters. There’s also that nagging voice that tells you that all this distance risks estrangement, so you go the extra mile to try and keep connected. You even shrug off having to pay an arm and a leg for overseas phone calls because there’s nothing like that joy you feel when you hear your loved one’s voices. Although there are other OFWs in your area who help ease the home-sickness, you know deep inside that it is not quite the same as the familiar company, the ones you had to left behind so that you can provide for them.
Today, even though I have grown accustomed to living in the US, there are still many moments that I catch myself thinking of going for a therapeutic stroll at SM after a hard day at work only to realize that the mall is no longer a jeepney ride away, or having that sudden strong craving for fishball, taho, balut, sago, or isaw, only to realize that I have to get in the car and drive to a Filipino store to buy it, if I’m lucky enough to not have to make it myself. It’s a tough experience to have to uproot and plant yourself on new ground. It can be emotionally confusing when you realize that home is in two places, because as much as you have found yourself comfortably assimilated in the new culture, your heart is pulled into the opposite direction, one filled with longing for a place where you know you belong, where you know you still belong.
Photo courtesy of http://prinsezha.buzznet.com/user/journal/7709761/
Christmas is that time of the year when I find myself missing home the most. After all, the holidays is a time that should be spent with family. It has been 15 years and in those 15 years I was only able to spend 1 Christmas back home. Although we’ve managed to make and keep tradition going and surround ourselves with other Filipino friends who have to bear spending Christmas far from home too, nothing still compares to the comfort of being around family following tradition. Though there are communities here that have the Simbang Gabi, it is never the same. Not without that sweet smell of bibingka wafting through that chilly early morning air, or hearing that faint whistle as you watch with sleepy eyes the steam that comes out of the pugon of the puto bumbong. There are no children singing Christmas carols on your doorstep whilst shaking their tansan tambourines late in the afternoons, and the neighborhood is not lined up with the colorful array of parols that entertainingly flicker through windowpanes at night. That’s Christmas for me, that’s the Christmas I grew up with, and that is the kind of Christmas that makes me fall into a deep sense of sad nostalgia every year. A lot of people I know have their own version of Christmas, but it all echoes the same uniquely Filipino Christmas trademark.
Photo courtesy of Pinoyadventurista.com
This year though, Christmas will not be quite merry for a lot of Filipinos back home. In light of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) the simple details of what makes up Christmas, no matter your socioeconomic status has gravely shifted. Only a few of what was once a big extended family will be gathering under a house just barely built by putting together scraps and debris, if not having to celebrate it at an evacuation center; and Noche Buena would probably be a spread of what was creatively put together by the relief goods they were given. There might not even be a Christmas tree to gather ’round in, much less presents to open at midnight. However, and this is not in any shape or form a propaganda, I have seen on TV, that in spite of it all, we as a people still manage to smile and laugh. It may be a very confusing trait for many other cultures, but this one really makes me proud more than ever to be a Filipino. It is an inspiration for the whole world to see how we always build a sense of community with one another, and how it is enough to just have each other. I love how we, as a people, always manage to move on with grace no matter what, and that in itself is a reason to be joyful. It is worth celebrating the Filipino smile during times like this because it communicates strength, it speaks optimism, it conveys hope; and if the survivors somehow manage to smile amidst all of that from over there, then I too should have a reason to smile from way over here. It is going to be a Merry Christmas after all.
Written by Donna