National Geographic : 2014 Jan
78 national geographic • january 2014 Philippines more than a decade ago, when she stood outside her family’s home and saw that every house on the street had Christmas lights, every single one except hers. “For us,” she said, “nothing.” Her face suddenly crumpled, and she began to cry. “I had heard a lot about ‘Abroad,’ ” Teresa told me. “I had heard that when you were in Abroad, you can buy anything.” Abroad was like a coun- try of its own, the place from which impressive things emanated: gold bracelets, Colgate tooth- paste, corned beef in cans. In the municipality where Teresa and her ten siblings grew up, an hour from Manila, houses of stone were made with Abroad money. “Our house was wood and very old,” Teresa said. One monsoon season, in the room where Teresa and her sister slept, a sodden wall collapsed. “Then when it’s Christ- mastime,” she said, “I was in front of my house. And I said, ‘ The first salary, I will buy a Christ- mas light.’ ” The first salary was from a local job selling sporty shoes. Teresa, just out of high school, could not afford to replace the house’s wooden walls with sturdier stone. But she could buy a string of colored lights. She nailed them up on her house in the shape of a Christmas tree. “I did it myself,” she said. “And I went out in front, and the light was there, and I said, I can do this.” That was the night that Teresa decided she was tough enough for Abroad. MIGRATION FOR BETTER OPPORTUNITY is as old as human history, but today it’s likely that more people are living outside their countries of birth than ever before. At every hour of every day masses of people and money are in motion, a global flux as complex and shifting as weath- er, with nations of fewer resources off-loading their ambitious working poor and relying on the money that comes back in their place. “Remit- tances” is what economists call these person- to-family transfers, whisked home by electronic Nearly every Filipino in the U.A.E. has friends or relatives who manage long-distance marriages by taking lovers. “Don’t forget the people you left behind,” Father Tom preached. “Don’t forget the reason you’re here.” Cynthia Gorney wrote about Cuba for the November 2012 issue. Jonas Bendiksen is an award-winning photographer based in Oslo.