Category Archives: homesick

The Leisure of Work

Many people hate working during vacations. Others hate going on vacations with people who stay just as connected to the office in the country as they are in the cubicle. One of the things that I’m learning on this trip, though, is that work can actually make the trip more relaxing.

This isn’t a forget-your-worries kind of vacation, but more about keeping my ties. I grew up in the Philippines, and most of my family and my friends live in Metro Manila. The short trips I take are the only time I get to catch up with them face-to-face.  I remember one trip when I felt so distraught at the prospect of leaving that it was hard to enjoy the days before my flight back to Toronto. When departure looms, every moment gets thrown into hyperfocus, and there’s such a temptation to pack every instant with activity. When I return to my quiet(er) Toronto life, the the sudden vacuum in my schedule gets filled with the pain of being between worlds.

So when I decided that I’d find a way to make it to the wedding of one of my best friends, I felt guilt over not being able to spend the whole time relaxing. My team members were counting on me to contribute to the project. I didn’t feel comfortable taking an entire two weeks off, and it didn’t make sense to fly halfway around the world for a trip of only a week. My compromise was to spend the first week on a proper vacation and the second week working remotely.

It turned out remarkably well. This week of work is what made everything feel more like home. It seems that the greatest leisure is the feeling of normalcy, of being part of the everyday routine, of following the rhythm of meals and work and some unwinding at the end of the day. Last week was hectic: lots of fun, hardly any time to breathe, hardly any time to reflect, hardly any time to slow down. This week, I feel more like I’m at home.

This trip to the Philippines feels much more relaxed than the others, as if we’re not trying to cram too much in too little time. Yes, we’re flying back to Toronto two days from now. Yes, two weeks is still too short a trip. Yes, I’ve run out of evenings for planning get-togethers. But it doesn’t feel as jarring as the last time I traveled. I don’t feel as misplaced, and I don’t feel that I’m unraveling from the strain of being “on” all the time. I have space to be normal. I have time to breathe.

I’ve checked off some bugs, written some documentation, responded to some mail, and thought about some improvements. There’s a sleepy cat on my lap. All is well with the world.

I’m flying back to Toronto in a couple of days. In the past two weeks, I learned that I can work anywhere, there are things I love about both worlds I live in, and that I can be fully present–here and now–even though I’m becoming a person of two worlds.

Break glass in case of emergency: For homesickness

Dearest Sacha,

I read your blog and I see two issues that are bothering you: homesickness
and “guilt” for being away from your country.

First, let me say that it is alright to feel homesick – in fact, we would
worry if you never felt the pain of being away. It only means that you miss
us – your family, your home, your cat, our pets, your friends, our weather,
even the places where you hang out. We feel the same sadness and longing for
you because we would prefer to see you everyday, to see you smile, to hear
the excitement in your voice when you tell stories, to be able to tell if
you are sad and to be able to hug you when you are. Which is why Skype is
my preferred way of communicating with you – because I want “to be with you”
as much as possible, even if it means listening to your voice on one
computer and looking at you (webcam) on another. Since our schedules do not
always allow “skyping,” I depend on your blog, and your occasional emails
-too few and too short =( to know what’s happening with you. It’s pain that
we must bear, because we love you and want you to grow and become fulfilled.

But the “guilt” that you feel for being away from your country is
unnecessary grief. As long as you carry your love for your country in your
heart, then there is nothing to grieve for being somewhere else. Think of
the Filipinos who have brought pride to their countrymen – they’re not
necessarily here. Patricia Evangelista won the speaking competition in
London. Lea Salonga made her name in London, New York and Hollywood. Leo
Oracion, Erwin Emata and Ching’s friend, Romy Garduce could not have
conquered Mt. Everest by staying here. In the same manner, Einstein was born
in Germany but his genius flourished in the U.S. The Kennedys were
originally Irish. Your papa’s parents were from China. Pre-historic
Filipinos were migrants from Malay Peninsula and Indonesia. You know what I
am trying to say but you need to say this to yourself every now and then,
especially when some people, or you yourself, make you feel guilty about
being away from your country. Nobody should be limited by the physical
boundaries of one’s country – you need to climb your highest mountains, no
matter where they are. And when you are on top, you plant the Philippine
flag and proclaim to the world that you are a Filipina.

We love you and we are proud of you, and if the pain of loneliness is the
price we have to pay so you can be the best that you can be, then so be it.

Love always,

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E-Mail from Mama

Sometimes I just get homesick

I sometimes forget that I’ve only been here for a year and that it’s
perfectly normal for me to feel homesick from time to time. Sometimes
it can be almost paralyzing.

We spent Labour Day weekend with Simon’s parents. The conversation
turned to the Philippines. I told them about the idea of a barkada –
the close, mutually supportive group of friends that I often hung out
with. I told them stories from my grandmother’s colorful past. I told
them about my parents, about the new house, about these little facets
of life—and I found myself silently crying, wondering once again what
I was doing in Canada, wondering whether I couldn’t have just stayed
home and made a difference anyway.

Simon stood up, walked over, and held me until I felt better. He promised
that we’d talk afterwards. His dad looked at me with compassion and
quietly asked me if I was feeling homesick. I nodded, and then joined
Simon’s mom in feeding peanuts to the raccoons that come to their deck
– a little bit of serenity as I cleared my thoughts.

On the drive back, Simon helped me sort through not only what I was
feeling but also how I might make the most of my talents and skills. I
hurt because I care, Simon said, and that’s a good thing. It’s
particularly difficult because my homesickness is also bound up in a
sense of responsibility and a desire to help. Sometimes I get
paralyzed by the thought that if I’m going to be away, I need to be
doing something absolutely spectacular.

Yeah, sometimes that can be really scary.

I need to make sure that what I’m doing here is worth the sacrifice.
Most of the time, I can see that. Most of the time, I remember that
through luck or circumstance or work, I have more opportunities than
most people would, and I can share those opportunities with other
people. I have a good-karma file of the changes I’ve made to people’s
lives and the encouraging messages I’ve received. I sometimes need
help remembering, though.

To all the people who remind me when I forget why I’m here: thank you.

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