Leaving home, living abroad, and coming back

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Have you ever had to pack up to move someplace else and build a new life, only to – after some time – go back home for good?

The ordeal was expectedly tough. Packing and unpacking. Then packing up again, and then unpacking – again. I just did not know it was that tough. But I would go through it all over again if I had to.

Leaving Iloilo City, Philippines for Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013, I was hit with the brutal reality of relocating: you never get what you had, and you would almost always question why you even moved in the first place and gave up what you already had.

No matter how I love my husband – the very reason I relocated – and no matter how supportive he is, it just felt like I lost myself.

On a positive note, it made me more self-reliant and resilient. It was as if I was “building on the ruins,” to borrow the words of Nick Joaquin. That “move” made me find myself despite the “losses.”

It has always been my ultimate dream to share my life with someone and not grow old alone. He is not Filipino, so I chose to be where he was. The decision was easy, a given. It was easy to book the ticket, to fly. The difficult part was the guilt, knowing that even if your loved ones said they fully support you, a part of you said it was not OK parting with them.

When I got married and decided to relocate, I already knew everything will be tough. I just did not know it would be so tough I sometimes wished I was in the Philippines, where someone else could tend to my daughter so I could catch some sleep, or an immediate family member could give advice whenever my husband and I argue.

What made things tougher was not having a social circle. I love people, sharing ideas with and listening to them. Talking to loved ones on social media is not the same. I could not be as “animated” and as expressive as I am when I am typing emojis and adding exclamation points.

There are no hard and fast rules in adapting. I just did. I just blended in. I even started speaking the slang and expressions in Johannesburg. I welcomed difficulties and faced them with both hands on my sides – but one was ready to reach for a sword.

My husband and I have always lived simply. Our achievements came in little packages – a day without an argument, a day with full sleep, a day of playing mini golf (it is an “in” thing here so it is not a luxury), a day of just staying indoors, our daughter’s milestones, the day we bought the house and the new car. These little achievements were celebrated quietly among ourselves.

But there came a time when we had to reconsider our options – we are going back to Iloilo City.

We have been mulling over going back to the Philippines for a year. As parents with a preschool daughter, we have weighed the pros and cons between Johannesburg and my hometown.

We chose the place where it is safer and we could better live within our means, especially that we have a schoolchild. We decided to sell the house in August. It was bought in November.

As for the timing of our arrival this month, my husband never witnessed Christmas in the Philippines, and the way it is celebrated in South Africa is not as grandiose as we do in ’Pinas.

In addition, my relatives from abroad are home for the Yuletide. My family, as a tradition, hosts a reunion among our relatives and a few friends at Christmas lunch.

When I left the Philippines, I packed three essential things, among others:  my prayer book with rosary, my journal, and my favorite pen, a Pilot G2. You see, I like to doodle and write reflections. I write down what I want or what I wish for. They are all related to faith and writing – my personal lifesavers.

Other than these and all the other material stuff I had, I brought with me the spirit of positivity despite challenges and a smile – basically, I did my best to embody the Filipino joyful spirit.

From South Africa, I am not bringing any essential material stuff – only a smile, which I would gladly “unpack” as I become a resident, again, of my hometown.

If I had to do all these again – packing up to move someplace else and build a life, only to go back home after some time, and with all the challenges in between – I would. I like challenges. I like adventure. I do not fear change, and I am not scared to see more of the world./PN


Edel Carmela S. Subong-Csoka, a former professor at West Visayas State University College of Communications, wrote this before leaving Johannesburg. By the time this comes out, she has arrived in Iloilo City. In her last piece in Panay News, “The home I’ll always go back to,” published on Aug. 25, 2013, she talked about how Iloilo City will always be her home.


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