The reasons are aplenty – better opportunity, better standard of living or higher quality of life I hear from married friends with families or those about to start families. Like Badong (and his wife Vanie) who were teachers here. And since their love for teaching can bring them to greener pastures, they wanted to give it a shot.
Or sometimes, it’s just plain adventurism like in the case of my friend Mitch – whom we were supposed to have dinner with one night a few years ago since she was back from her Marketing stint in Guam, only to find out that she couldn’t make it because she was leaving the next day to migrate somewhere in Canada! So, my friends and I had a great dinner by ourselves and all we got from her was a nice email narrating her very first encounter with a koala bear (Isn’t this found in Australia? Or maybe it was a different animal she was referring to). I hear she has finally found her heart (or should I say mind) and is busy taking up law these days – a very staid profession, I might say, compared to her wanderlust spirit. Then again, she might end up ditching that and going to Nepal one day to become a Tibetan monk (or follower, if that is not allowed).
But let’s go back, lest this becomes a story about the misadventures of my friend Mitch….. Goodbyes are hard because everyone tries to be really happy so that the person leaving feels good and loved. Every single memory from the past is retold and exaggerated a thousand-fold to get the heartiest laughs. It sometimes turns pensive when the conversation turns towards immediate transition plans and hopes for the future in the new country of the one leaving. Opinions are shared, Godspeed wishes and promises of prayers for success abound. Then everyone snaps out of it, and drinks are drank, laughs are enjoyed, stories retold for the nth time, pictures taken (but of course!) and everyone has a good time.
Welcome back parties are much happier…. Misadventure stories and wonderful anecdotes of learning abound. Laughs are more heartfelt as we feel happy for the luck and good fortune of our friend. The difficulties encountered at the start become just a story to tell.
The amusing thing for me is how more Filipino they’ve become. Like my friends Melissa and Millet, who in college would rather die than be caught talking about local shows, artists (“yuck, so baduy****”) but are now avid fans of TFC***** shows and its stars (and I mean “avid”). It’s a form of connecting back home, I guess. But I don’t care… What’s important is that they’ve made the transition successfully and are now truly having a new and better life, so to speak.
But sometimes I ask myself, does one need to be in another country to truly have a better life? Or does one just needs to have a mindset of being in another country? Most Filipinos (pardon me if I generalize too much here) tend to conform to accepted norms of our society – hiding behind the curtains of (the expanded) family obligations and expectations, not working double jobs or doubly hard (as they would have had to do in another country) if truly needed, not cutting back on social gatherings and pretentious lifestyles just to keep up with what’s deemed as proper. Or sometimes, for those in real financial need – not working together hard enough to make ends meet.
I worry too on the kind of backlash it may bring to our society here – specially of families separated by this phenomenon (my friends are much better off as they migrate their families with them or start their families when in a foreign country already). I worry of the increasing dependent mindset of those left behind, or worse of the growing ideal that the only way up is out.
And so I stay, and have become quite adept at organizing despedidas and buenvenidas for my friends. Maybe I’m just lucky. Or maybe I just knew early on that for me to have the life I wanted, I needed to make certain sacrifices and perhaps double my efforts. Maybe I still remain hopeful in a country where there have been so many failed attempts in real progress. Whatever the reason, I stay. And continue on saying goodbyes and hellos to my friends.
* Despedida - Spanish word for farewell; in Philippine context, a farewell party
** Bienvenida - Spanish word for welcome; in Philippine context, a welcome party
*** Balikbayan - n., A Filipino visiting or returning to the Philippines after a period of living in another country (Oxford Dictionary)
**** Baduy - Filipino word for being crass, off-fashion, someone with poor taste
***** TFC - The Filipino Channel, a cable channel showing content from the Philippines distributed internationally
About this Post: I wrote this post in July 2007, after another despedida* to a dear friend. At that time, it seemed like I was doing a lot of send-offs and felt the need to write something about it. This post was first shared on my FB page last Jan 2010. How ironic that 6 years after I first wrote this, I am now now of those Filipinos based overseas.