A year and a half gone by so fast, I didn't really notice it at all. I guess I truly enjoyed my stay in Saudi Arabia (I'm surprised). Coming home to the Philippines for the first time after I went abroad is one moment I've played in my head over and over. Surprisingly, it didn't play as I imagined it to be because for me, nothing much has changed. It's as if I fit right into where I have left off. There was no adjustment needed. No reintegration whatsoever.
Before I rush into my schedule here in Manila and in my home province, I just need to write this entry so I won't forget what it was like. This is a survival guide to the moment in between; your place in the land and the sky when you left the foreign country and will be returning to the home country. Excitement, nervousness, anxiety... emotions that will turn your stomach and make it lurch with the aircraft. Anticipation at its finest! This is the story of my first homecoming and the lessons that came with it. I hope you gain something from my sharing. :)
1. Prepare the documents needed. Passport? Check! Exit/re-entry visa? Check! E-ticket? Check! These are the main documents you need to travel out of Saudi Arabia. Make sure everything is present. Make sure they give you exit/re-entry visa and not an exit only visa. The visa is printed in a legal-sized coupon bond (2 pages). The iqama (residential ID) is left with the employers. Usually companies and their respective travel agencies are the ones preparing everything for you just make kulit once in a while so you know they're processing your papers. Er, first, make sure your passport is still valid!
I realized my passport expires on January 2010, and I only realized it last October. And I'm having my vacay on November! I went to the Philippine embassy immediately (October 4) and had it renewed. The renewal process was pretty straightforward and I came out of the embassy's consular services office 15 minutes after. Renewal costs 200 riyals and takes 30 WORKING days. I hoped and prayed it come out before November so I can apply for my exit/re-entry visa asap. Thank goodness my passport was released October 26, a week earlier than expected. I had enough time (and breathing space) to secure my visa and travel papers.
Get updates on your booking once in a while. After your flight is confirmed, just call the airlines a day or so before your flight just to make sure that your slot was not canceled or changed. There are some instances when slots are canceled even if it's already confirmed. I called the customer service of Gulf Air the night before my flight just to be sure. I wouldn't want the hassle of going to the airport only to be told na wala ako sa listahan! That would break my heart into a million pieces. Imagine, excited ka na eh tapos di ka pala makakalipad?! Ugh!
2. Be on time. Or earlier. Airlines have rules that you have to be in the airport 3-4 hours before your flight. Don't be late. Make sure you know your departure time. Memorize it by heart. AM is different from PM. Check if your ticket uses the 12- or 24-hour timeline. Some gets confused by this. The good thing with the King Khaled International Airport is they prioritize women (or was it just my experience?!) in the baggage x-ray and counter line.
I was early because I wanted to get a window seat. My Gulf Air flight is 4:30 in the afternoon but I was at the airport by 12:30nn (excited much?!). Imagine my surprise when the lines at the still closed check-in counters were already long! My porter brought my luggage in front of the line. Mabuti na lang kabayans yung nasa unahan ng pila and they let me get the first spot! Imagine my surprise too when I saw I was the only woman in line! Most passengers were Indian and Pakistani men! I immediately asked the check-in guy to give me a window seat. My question of "Am I the only woman on this flight?!" made him laugh. I was darn serious.
3. Mind the baggage limit. Gulf Air has a baggage limit of 30kg. Weighing your check-in luggage at home will let you clear the counter in no time at all (though your weighing scale might not be as accurate). While it's true that a little charm can nudge the check-in guy to accept your overweight baggage (if it's just 1-5kg over), not all can be swayed. Some won't permit all that weight. Be fair to your co-passengers too. Avoid begging them to check in your extra baggage for you. Make sure all your bags and luggage are properly tagged and labeled. You wouldn't want them to be lost in transition. Every time you go and leave a seat (ie. the airport waiting lounge, coffee shop, etc.), check if your belongings and essentials are still with you and complete. Never let your bag/s out of your sight.
My check-in baggage was just 14 kilos. A week before my flight, I sent my 'balikbayan' box through air cargo. A 50kg box cost me SR350. Not bad because my box arrived before me (exactly 5 WORKING days). It arrived in Manila on the day of my flight. I was also carrying a very light hand carry. All my essentials (documents and cellphones) are in a smaller bag.
4. Relax and be comfortable. Wear comfortable clothes. Stop being fidgety. There's really no need to rush to your gate once they announce boarding. After all, you are already assigned seats, no one can steal it from you (unless they made a mistake in registering two passengers in one seat!). Just make sure you will not be left behind! Usually, airlines staff will seek the missing passenger (causing a delay on the flight departure time). They announce boarding through speakers but just to be safe, wait at seats near your gate.
I chose a seat near my gate but also wandered around the KKIA because I had lots of time to spare. When they announced boarding, I chose to let all passengers go in first before me because as I said, I noticed that most of the passengers were men and were of other nationalities. I wouldn't want to be sandwiched in there! (Women, you know what i mean!) I was still shocked though to find my seat near the end of the plane and was the only woman on that cabin. Seriously. I couldn't even find a Filipino nearby. There were a handful Filipinos, I noticed in the waiting lounge, but they were scattered inside. Gah! I was feeling nauseous when the plane began its ascent but I chose to ignore the stares and stared outside the window instead. Thankfully, my seatmate appeared to be nice and he wasn't the noisy type. He kept quiet the entire 1 hour flight to Bahrain.
Likewise, I was one of the few last passengers who entered the plane from Bahrain to Manila. I think it will be much organized if they announced boarding for those whose seats are near the plane's tail first and so on so there will be less human traffic inside. But oh well, what do I know about planes and stuff. LOL.
5. Survive the stopover. Like what we said on our How To Land In Riyadh Fashionably, almost all airlines except Saudi Airlines, have stopovers in their home countries. For Gulf Air, being the national air carrier of Bahrain, its stopover is at the Bahrain International Airport in Muharraq Island, 15 minutes from Manama, the kingdom's capital city. Stopovers can be fun especially when there's a lot to see. Just make sure you know where your next gate is. Locate where you're headed first and know how many hours your stopover is before going around.
[Sorry, no photos here... I was busy
shopping sightseeing! Hehe!]
I have a three-hour stopover in Bahrain. (I like stopovers! I wouldn't want to take a Saudia flight if I had my way. My experience with them during my flight to KSA was not that great). I located my gate first so I know where to go when boarding is announced before I wandered in BIA's Duty Free. I also used the airport's wifi (free wifi is always a winner!) and surfed the net to my heart's content.
6. Get to know others. It's also fun seeing kabayans who are going home. Take the time to get to know some and you'll be amazed with all the stories our fellows are willing to share. Laugh, cry, empathize... whatever it is, make sure you gain valuable insights with each experience you hear.
I had the privilege of getting to know a few Filipinos on my flight from Bahrain to Manila. I met a man, who like my father, has been working in Saudi Arabia for almost 20 years. It was fun listening to how he willingly transferred to Dammam from Riyadh because the capital city is too strict and suffocating for him (cough, cough). I stopped listening when he asked for my number and YM ID. Toinkz naman si tatang! I also heard this woman talking to her husband in her cellphone, telling him that she has no money at all. It's not as if I'm eavesdropping you know, because the entire waiting lounge actually heard her shout it. Also, she was my seatmate. Turned out she didn't complete her contract in Bahrain. She was an overworked domestic helper and the only salary she got for the month was used to pay her flight home. There's this woman who's going home for two weeks only. Then there's another who lost 400 US dollars in the plane (!). And so on... By the time our plane landed in Manila, I was already imagining of compiling OFW stories in a book! One flight, one book. Interesting, LOL.
7. Don't miss a beat. When it's your first time to go home, you get to experience every emotion there is. But the moment you should not miss is the few hours before landing. Every Filipino on the plane becomes fidgety. Like they don't know what to do. Some go to the loo, others just stand up to stretch, some talk (and talk a lot), some just stare outside their windows grinning like crazy. It's the moment when the plane beats to an excitement emanating from all its passengers. Every one is preparing for their homecoming. Patience is running low. Everyone will be gunning to the exit any minute now.
My flight from Bahrain to Manila took 8 hours. I slept the first 5 hours (there was nothing better to do). I woke up to see most of the passengers getting up and going to the lavatories. Some are requesting water. Some are taking pictures (with the clouds outside as background). Some are just well, not knowing what to do. I took my breakfast with ease, but I can feel my stomach lurching a little. Believe me, it's not because of the food. I can feel the excitement and anticipation of the crowd. And when the captain announced that we're landing, it was as if time stood still. I swear everyone held their breath. (I heard some will even launch a round of applause... I guess we're too shy to do that on this flight, LOL!)
8. Do not forget the essentials. Don't forget to fill up the disembarkation card and custom card that are given at the beginning of the flight. Ask the flight stewardess if she forgot to give you one. You can check out the Duty Free counter if you want to buy more pasalubong. You have to present the disembarkation card and your passport to the immigration official. Go to your assigned conveyor belt for your baggage. Once you get your belongings, hand over the customs declaration card to the customs official before exiting at the arrival area. You'll surely see your relatives waiting for you already. If you can't, I'm sure they're the ones who'll spot you. An extra tip is to stand on the sign of your surname's first letter (pero ang sabi nga nila, pang bagito lang daw itong step na ito... eh sorry ha, may mga taong ayaw mawala at gustong sumunod sa signs eh. LOL!)
Airport taxis are available if no one's coming to fetch you (which is sad naman pero oh well, may mga pagkakataon talagang ganito eh... lalo na kung may pa-surprise effect ka pang nalalaman... gaya ko! Haha!).
Coming home is the most-awaited event in an OFW's life. Being home to share the holiday feast with your families is probably the best gift you can give to your loved ones.
Mabuhay! Maligayang pagdating sa Pilipinas. Enjoy your stay in the Philippines!
§undrenched, blogging live from MNL