If I wasn’t brave enough, I might have packed my bags and left this place as soon as the first call for repatriation was announced. Never in my dreams have I thought of living in a country where peace is a major unsolved issue and civilian freedom weren’t liberally granted. Yet, somehow, I wasn’t willing enough to leave.
At that time, the world’s chaos seemed to be at its peak. There was Japan’s tsunami and nuclear crisis, New Zealand’s earthquake, London’s riots, Arab countries’ uprisings, Philippines’ tropical storms and typhoons, bombings in parts of Europe, and hurricanes in eastern USA. It somehow occurred to me that at that point, no place was safe anymore. Each has to face their struggle.
It’s just a matter of choice where.
I know it has been a big question why I, along with the numerous other Filipino medical workers, have chosen to stay and risk our lives for the jobs we have in Libya. And truth is most of us were truly undecided. The idea of leaving is just as hard to succumb as staying.
To some OFWs, the war has brought an uncertain halt in their career and threat to their financial security. The Libyan protests have caused too much damage that it has left thousands of OFWs hanging. From 22,000+ Filipino workers, our number trimmed down to only a thousand. Filipino families who were already settled in Libya were left broken in just one snap — the dependents headed back to the Philippines and the working class remained.
We stayed here by choice. And by staying, we have accepted the fact that we could hear things – bombs, gun fires, voices of people rallying; we could see things – emergency rooms filled with casualties of war, dying soldiers and civilians; and we could feel things – fear, anxiety and now finally, relief.
NATO has bombarded a lot of Col. Gaddafi’s military camps. From that experience, I learned that a bomb explosion is similar to that of an earthquake. Some were too close that its magnitude made us feel closer to death. What’s odd was that it had been part of our everyday lives. It was all too scary to the point of numbing. To the point of wondering why there was no explosion heard on a particular day; to the point of being unable to differentiate the thunder and sound of bombs, or the gun fires that were similar to the sound of fireworks; to the point of making a joke out of everything that was happening. A trait I admire most to my fellowmen is how we could still manage to smile and make a hearty laugh despite of crisis.
Seven months of living without the internet, seven months of not knowing where the food, water and electricity shortage stop and starts, seven months of risking our lives into the hands of Libyan people, seven months of pure uncertainty on how long the war’s going to last.
I didn’t know how I got this courage, strength and endurance, but I seemed to be much braver here than I ever had been my whole life. But then, I thought, Filipinos are one of the most resilient human beings in the world. No wonder.
Apart from ‘service’ given that nursing is a ‘vocation’, we have our personal reasons on why did we actually stay.
We didn’t leave because we were, and we still are, needed in Libya. Vice-Versa. The reality that we have to face in our homeland, especially for our career, isn’t quite promising. In the Philippines, the supply of nurses exceeds the demand. Most of the nurses in the Philippines were either unemployed or underemployed; or rather, employed but underpaid. Anyone who went home to face that fact was as equally brave. I can imagine how difficult it is to start again from scratch. As for everyone who stayed, perhaps, the fear of a future devoid of job, self-worth, career, financial stability — the ability to continuously provide for our family — outweighed everything. It was all a risk. A sacrifice we have to make not only for ourselves but also for our family.
Being a Libyan war survivor is quite an experience. The war isn’t something I would be thrilled about to go through again sooner or later, but it is something I could actually look back into and say that having been through this, I survived. How much worse things can get? We all know we can’t escape death, but with God, we were able to face the worst things that could happen to us in Libya. At the same time, we were able to do our duty, to serve.
In life, I believe that things will get worst before it gets better. I guess we have known the literal meaning of that when we have experienced here the loudest and massive bombings, before the Libyans finally got their most awaited freedom. The cliché of “The darkest hour is just before dawn”.
Now that the war has ended, I hope things will get truly better. I really hope that it will. Soon. For our career. For our family. For our future. And that’s what we were really looking forward to right now.
*I dedicate this article to my fellow OFW war survivors who have chosen to stay in various Arab countries amidst political unrest.
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