I took a taxi and met Mr. Taxi Driver. He asked, “Where to?” I answered. “Please drop me off at the Airport Terminal 1.”
He told me his story about being an Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW, working in Saudi Arabia as a laborer. Yet he decided to stay in the Philippines for good. 3 and 1/2 hours waiting time to pass the heavy traffic on EDSA. Good thing, I was able to still catch my flight.
As we are waiting to board inside the terminal I saw Emma, whom I met at the Turkish Embassy together with her daughter, Angel. I was happy to see her as she will have her wedding in Turkey. She was with me for the duration of our flight.
During the flight, I met Michael. He was excited to finally get a job abroad in Dammam as a stocker. Most of the passengers on the flight were OFW. Some were traveling abroad for the first time and some are heading back after their vacation. As Michael continued with his story he suddenly burst into tears. He was not able to hug or personally say goodbye to his parents and he would have to wait two years to see them again. I asked if he plans to take a vacation back home. He told me he would not return home until he saved enough money. He was young, 23 yrs old.
Beside him were others traveling abroad for their first time. One family, a father, a brother, a son, would not be celebrating Christmas at home for the first time.
Marivic, another worker, told me she lives in Saudi with her husband who is an engineer. She feels privileged because the company where her husband works provide their housing. She was traveling back from a vacation in the Philippines to visit her son, a college student, and her daughter. We had a good chat inside the plane.
I cried as we arrived at the Dammam airport. I felt sad for Michael and the others I had met on the flight. They left their homes for work to survive, sacrificing their lives by being away from their families while working in another country. They would endure sadness and homesickness.
On the next portion of the flight, I spoke with Emma, who told me about her work, love life and lessons in her life.
On my travel back to Manila from Istanbul, I met an Indian Muslim. She politely asked to borrow my ballpen. Then she asked my age, which began a good conversation between us. She showed me her photo thru her cell phone since she was wearing the niqab (a veil covering the head and face but not the eyes). She was married 18 yrs old. By age 28 she already had 3 kids. She spoke only a little English and was traveling together with her husband. She gave me a knitted bracelet that she made while on the plane.
I arrived at Jeddah airport and had a 5-hour layover. While waiting I met a woman who just arrived from Italy. She was on vacation. During the layover, I notice a lot of Filipinos arriving. They were mostly OFW. They seemed excited to be going home.
I met another Muslim woman, her name is Arabia, 40 years old from Dipolog City. I had a short conversation with her. She told me she had just completed a 20-year employment contract and was ready to settle down. She had recently met a wonderful man and was planning to get married the following month-January, on her 41st birthday. She encourages me to marry as well. She also hoped and pray that she could still have a baby at her age. She seemed happy and fulfilled, excited to go home. I was happy to meet her.
As I talked with these people....when they asked me where I will work? Am I returning? Is it my first time? What is my work? How can I answer back...and when I answered them and tells them where I've been traveling and what is my work in the Philippines...I realized I am blessed.
I am so proud of my fellow brothers and sisters working abroad.
I am also thankful for the Indian Muslim woman and for the American girl beside me from Jeddah to Manila, who just smiled since we both had our way to ease boredom. She read while I wrote. She slept and then I slept. She read again and I wrote (and read) again.
I thank God for a wonderful, amazing life of the people I met. As the plane landed at NAIA airport, everybody clapped hands because they were excited to see their families.
As I took my luggage, I saw luggage from Italy and Saudi Arabia, all packed and ready to be opened. I saw happy faces full of excitement and joy.
Thank you, Lord, for your traveling mercies.
"The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9)