OFWs around the world have a story to tell and if all their stories combined in one book, we will have a compilation nf 12 million unique stories from OFWs around the world, stories of familial love, pain and sacrifice, heroism and martyrdom.
Even before I become an OFW, I always admire the exceptional courage of Filipinos chasing their dreams in foreign lands - and I wonder how could these people withstand the chilling winter snow in USA, Canada and European countries and scourging desert heat of Middle East and Africa. And I even wonder if my kababayans' are gifted with a nerve of steel to withstand the pain of separation from their love ones, wife, children, mother, father and siblings. And I ask myself in a satire manner "sila ba ang bagong Superman".
On January 1992, along with other 40 OFWs we're heading to Doha, Qatar, a country which I have never heard of. I never knew that at this point in time I am about to unmasked the real lives of "Supermen".
We're housed in a "barracks" (military accommodation), I share a room with 5 Filipinos; four of them are ex-Phil. Air Force personnel. It was literraly a bare room with 6 beds without any dividers between beds.
It was a nightmare sharing rooms to people whom you never knew and it was totally difficult. By 10 pm, you could hear snores, sleep talkers and occasionally muffled cries or sobs. I admit, when homesickness strikes, I cry too and shed a lot of tears. I wonder if Superman cries too.
Fridays is our weekends, you'll be surprised to see that Catholic Church is filled with warm bodies of OFWs, the spiritual nourishment is important to a thirsty soul. After the mass service, OFWs swarmed the Pinoy supermarkets and malls, bowling alleys, tennis and basketball courts.
Internet is not known during the early 90's, even mobile phones has not reached the Middle East during that time. So we are armed with prepaid cards as we queue on public phone booths.
Each riyals saved is a riyal added to my monthly remittances. Our families back home never knew how much "pagtitipid we are doing abroad. Instant cup noodles, fried fish and adobong manok is our regular meals in the dining table. At end of each months, with hundreds OFW; we stand in line in Western Unions as we await our turn in sending our remittances to our families, hopeful that it will reached them on time. Though I knew that my money will reach my family in a day or two through bank channels I still make "kulit" to the teller by asking - "kelan matatanggap ito ng family ko?"
Love letters from my wife reaches me between 1 to 2 weeks and international calls which costs 5 riyals per minute, these 2 things keep me sane and connected with my family. I tried tennis for 2 years but I love running and that keeps me going until now.
Other OFWs tried to survive through alcoholism, infidelities and illegal gambling. Some find their way out and reformed while unsuccessful ones were trapped in the cycle of sins of their own making where few fail as they end up in jail, deported or terminated.
After 18 years, I learned that Filipino migrant workers are not men made of steel and they never possess special powers. They are Filipino citizens, ordinary men and women in brown skin, with bright eyes wearing sweet smiles, with faith and determination who sacrificed everything for the love of the family - and thus they are called OFW.
► Read Pope's previous articles here.