If there are persons you should thank for The Pink Tarha, it’s not Reina and I… you should thank our parents, specifically Reina’s mother and my father. They were the ones who brought us here. They were the persons who toiled in this desert for years and finally brought us here for our turn to make it into this world. Remember when we started? We wrote an entry titled “Ang Tunay na Katas ng Saudi” which won us the second place in the Pinoy/Expats Blog Awards in 2009. We wrote there that the true fruits of OFW parents labors are not the houses they built, not the cars they bought, and definitely not the money they remit every month. The true fruits of their labors are us, their children. We are the outcome of the sacrifices they made many years ago and the sum of the hard work they did, up until they exited Saudi Arabia a few months ago. Yes, our parents are no longer here in Saudi Arabia; they are now back home in the Philippines, and we, their children, now carry their stories, their torches, and their OFW legacy.
REINA: About 30 years ago, I remember standing in an airport. I was with my mother, waiting for my father to pick us up. We had just flown almost 5,000 miles across the ocean from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia. I was too young to understand it then, but all I knew is that we were starting a new life in a new place. He arrived and I hugged him to say hello.
Fast forward to earlier this year, at the same airport but with the tables turned. My father was no longer in the picture. Three luggages accompanied my mother at the check-in counter. I stood a few meters away, staring at her back, knowing that I may not see her as often anymore. She has spent the last 27 years of her life here, working and providing for her children. Now, she’s leaving to go back to the Philippines. As her luggage was taken away and her boarding pass issued, she walked back towards me and I hugged her tight to say goodbye.
My mom was a professor in Fine Arts at the University of the East, Philippines before coming to Riyadh. Her first job here was as a Graphic Artist for the ladies Center in Al Manahil for about three years. Later on, she would learn of an opening for a volunteer position at the Photographics Department of King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. She learned the ropes pro bono for about two years and by the end of her 22-year tenure in the hospital, she was a respected Graphic Designer in their department and the only woman and Filipina to have thrived there. As a mom, she raised us mostly on her own, here in Saudi Arabia. She was the one person who showed me what bravery meant: she would do groceries on her own, ride cabs on her own, fight with neighborhood mischiefs on her own (she would not take harassment from young Arab boys and was sure to fight back) and she has also has gone through a total of four major surgeries while here in Riyadh. Her last one was months before she left as she got a mastectomy to prevent a possible cancer that was found in her body. She is my real life hero. And whatever fierceness or level of independence I have about going about Riyadh, I learned from her.
The sadness only deepened once I drove away from the airport. The seat where my mom would often occupy was now empty and as I got home, I could still smell her perfume on our sofa where we last prayed together. As I sat there, I closed my eyes and put myself in her shoes. She was standing by a window, looking at the horizon, ready to start life anew.
JANELLE: There was an army green luggage I mentioned in an entry that reminded me of the day my father went to Saudi Arabia. That’s long gone now. What he used when he went home for good in the Philippines last May was a blue luggage that we picked together as a family during our errands in Batha. It was a fine day and he was really excited (uwing-uwi na guys!). In his bag is an exit/re-entry visa that will probably be used as an “exit visa” no matter what it says. His company wants him back and that’s a testament on how great he is as an employee.
He started as a regular engineer in a construction company in 1991. After many years, he became a project manager at his current company. Thankfully, he got transferred to Riyadh and that paved the way for my mother, brothers and I to follow him in Saudi Arabia. I stand in the airport, falling in line for him at the PAL counter, realizing that I’ve been in the Kingdom for nine years without even really counting; I truly enjoyed my time in Riyadh because my parents, brothers, and recently, my husband are here with me. My mother and brothers exited Saudi Arabia months before and my father followed suit. They all left already!
I wasn’t thinking of it that seriously while we were in the airport waiting for his flight to Manila. I guess I couldn’t fully grasp what was truly happening. After 26 years, he’s retiring? What I find more incredulous than that fact was that he went home to the Philippines without even setting foot in the Kingdom Tower’s Sky Bridge! Imagine, I’ve been here for nine years and I’ve set foot in the Sky Bridge five times already! And because of that, I think I failed as a Pink Tarha. Haha! Seriously, my father is a quiet man: loved by many and respected by his colleagues. He’s more of a generous behind-the-scene person whose joy resides in watching television (and commenting on political issues with fervor sometimes), reading in his iPad the ebooks I downloaded for him (because honestly, he doesn’t know how that gadget works), urging us to be done with shopping because he still has an episode of Probinsyano to watch, buying expensive smartphones that in reality, he only uses for calling (not even texting, he finds that tedious), and cooking dishes that no one but him can eat with gusto (he’s diabetic, he can’t taste the saltiness of food properly). In more ways than one, I certainly think that I am my father’s daughter through and through; I inherited his silence, resilience, and wisdom. My mother’s grace and gentle heart went to my sisters, haha. There are no complicated words in my vocabulary to ever explain how much I admire and love my parents. It’s just as simple but as passionate and overflowing as that.
Now the television sits in our living room unopened. Actually, most of the rooms in our flat now just suffers from heat. They’re dormant and unused (but no, they’re not for rent). It’s bittersweet. I’m happy that my parents are together in the Philippines enjoying their retirement with my siblings but I’m also sad that I’m not there. A huge piece of me is in the Philippines because I’m the only one in our immediate family left here and I feel like I’m a true OFW now. A responsibility has been passed on to me especially now that I have my own family and yes, it’s quite heavy but hey, I learned from the best OFW in our family! Salute!
This scenario of OFW parents in Saudi Arabia going back home to the Philippines (or anywhere they want to retire in) for good has become common amongst our peers. We are the second generation migrant workers who were privileged enough to have been brought and raised here in the Middle East, and are now working. Our parents, many of whom have reached the age of retirement, are beginning their sojourn back home. It’s a divergent kind of diaspora. After having spent the majority of their adult life here in Saudi Arabia, they are now off to return to the Philippines, where a sense of displacement is often felt after having worked abroad for so many years.
Most of our parents say they want the simple life once they get home. They prefer to either garden, farm or manage a business to occupy their spare time. Some wish to travel, as this was the luxury they could never afford while raising children. Others venture off to find their lost youth again. But there are some instances when they would miss the comforts of living abroad…like the free healthcare and medicines provided by employers, the less traumatic modes of transportation and the cheap use of airconditioning everywhere. As they transition, so do we.
This paradigm shift is changing our lives. Gone are the days where we would go home from work and expect you there, with a homemade dinner or a long story about your day; when one suddenly feels ill and realizes that no mother or father is there anymore to call out to and heed to your side; or when one has to balance the cheque book on their own, realizing the burden of the rent, utilities and more importantly, the money you now need to send home. This transition is now teaching us the reality of life not just as an adult but as a migrant worker — the same path which they have treaded for us. It is all inevitable. However these days, with the climate of the country being as it is, we will face more challenges ahead. But that’s for another story.
We are not perfect children to our parents but they continued to love us unconditionally. They taught us the values of hard work and perseverance with the experiences they had as OFWs. They taught us how to be patient (the most important thing if you’re living in Saudi Arabia), to be hopeful, and to bloom when we are (trans)planted. They taught us every thing we have to know in living and working in Saudi Arabia. In a way, the concept of The Pink Tarha has been inspired by them. They prepared us for a life in this desert the same way that The Pink Tarha wanted to prepare and help others to prepare and find the positive aspects of living in a country other than our own.
To our parents, THANK YOU for giving us the life you had dreamed for us. It was probably a childhood that differed so vastly from yours, a life that was less arduous than yours and a life that you wished to have been better than yours. Yes, our lives are so comfortable, well-provided for and sustained by your grace and love. It was you who knew first hand what it was like to be away from your own country, and while we may have grown to love this foreign land as our own, your leaving now is making us understand what kind of sacrifices you had to take just to give your children a better life.
It’s our parents’ time now to have the better life. Enjoy, laugh, try not to worry about us too much. Stay busy, find a new hobby, travel far and wide, socialize with your old and new friends. We promise to provide for your needs now as you have done for us (it will take time for us to earn what you earned when you were here though, haha). For every blessing that we wake up to every day here abroad, we know it was all because of you. It’s our time to return the favor.