National Geographic : 2014 Jan
94 national geographic • january 2014 might contribute most to the people they love. Picture this, at the Manila airport: A crowded reception terminal, scores of people just outside customs, all pressing and shoving for a glimpse of the first returning passengers to emerge. This was about 13 years ago, Teresa’s initial visit home after a three-year absence. When she recognized one of her brothers and then another, and then a sister and some nephews, she was startled: Ev- ery one of the relatives who’d shrugged her off when she’d left the Philippines had crammed into borrowed cars to welcome her home. Atop the luggage cart she pushed toward them was a hefty cardboard box containing a new color television—a big one. “At home we had a small black and white,” Teresa told me. “But I said, ‘I want to buy a 25-inch TV.’ I saw in their faces how happy they are to have this TV. Even now if there is no one watching, the TV is on.” The room in which the television stands—the sala, the big family room—has over the years been wholly reinforced. The construction was done bit by bit; Teresa’s parents would tell her about it in long-distance conversations, how ev- ery few months a little more of the money Teresa wired was being funneled into repair. First the sala. Then the kitchen. Then the sleeping area, with the old bamboo mats on the floor. “Slowly by slowly,” Teresa said, “they made it stones.” IN TAGALOG there’s a popular song about a re- mittance worker, recorded a quarter century ago by Roel Cortez, called “Napakasakit Kuya Eddie.” Teresa darted to her computer to call up YouTube when I told her I’d never heard it. On the screen appeared the silhouette of a small boat lashed to a buoy in a golden sea. “I’ll translate,” Teresa said. Music swelled. The lyrics scrolled. “I’m here in the middle of Arab country and working so hard,” Teresa said, as Cortez’s rich voice rose. “In the very hot place...the hand will become hard, and your color become dark.” She was absorbed, singing and translating, working to catch up in English. “When he sleeps, he is always thinking to become past the time, so that he can go back home,” she said. “And Jesus Bautista appears on-screen from Sharjah, U.A.E., where he works as an electrician, while his son Jesus Julian (J.J.) speaks to him from a one-room apartment he shares with his mother and brother near Manila. For most of his nine years J.J. has known his father as a provider who lives 4,300 miles away. hear personal stories from current and aspiring guest workers on our digital editions.