Manila bound. From where things are not as glorious as people back home thinks it is.

July 31st, 2015, 10pm

My feet itched when my watch said 10:50 PM. The gates were just opened. Eager people lined up the counter. Balikbayans, as we endearingly call them, translates to literally: those who return to the country/motherland. A plane ride away from home. It’s a cheap flight. My mother bought it a year before in a promo. The end justifies the means, I guess.

It’s supposedly for my 18th birthday, our trip to Dubai, but I seriously think my mother just wants to tour around Dubai and (of course) visit my father. He has been working there for 7 years now. He comes back home occasionally. It’s just right that we visit him, for once.

It’s a cheap flight. So these people we were with did not just come from a relaxing stay, touring the city, trying out food, shopping, meeting up with old friends over a hearty meal [that we can afford because we were one of the lucky ones]. These people spent years there, working their bodies to exhaustion for their loved ones, enduring so many hardships, the sometimes blatant racism, and homesickness, all the while hoping that their bosses wouldn’t send them back home. It doesn’t make sense that I’m humiliated to be in their presence. It’s just the thought - that I came there because of a privilege and they didn’t - creeps in my mind.

It’s somehow funny that these modern-day heroes see our own country as a place where opportunity is scarce and where the future is blurry. It’s contrasting also that they see it as their home. It’s just the way it is, I guess. They’re called balikbayans. They always return to their motherland, right?

We spent two weeks there. I was not that excited for the trip in the first place. Dubai is dubbed as the most luxurious place in Earth, and luxury is not something I take for granted. Seeing these people after two weeks of my own version of luxury was almost nauseating. And, consider me weird, I like the chaos of Manila; it’s a place where opportunities come unexpected and dreams are widespread, even if government is shit (to eloquently describe it) and drivers are reckless.

It’s a cheap flight. I spent nine hours cramped in a tin can, bags in front of me because the overhead compartments were already full of other passengers’ baggage, seated next to a stranger who was asleep the whole flight, and with food that was disgustingly bland. But when it turned 11:20 and I stood in line amongst homesick OFWs (with their heavy hand-carries filled with pasalubong; my own bags filled with trinkets, souvenirs, my own pasalubong, and an excess of gadgets), I shared their sentiments. The end justifies the means. I was just eager to get back home.

Craig and Paul said thanks.

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Ianne Villanueva

Burning the soles of my shoes. Breathing in the dirt in the air. One day at a time.

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