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The importance of reciprocity

I always appreciate feedback I get from readers. I write not only for myself but also for them.  So, it is helpful to know what they think of and how they feel about the topics I discuss in my column.  Their comments make me feel like  being in front of a mirror, asking myself "how I look" or was my writing “good” enough to convey a message clearly that   readers will be incited  to post a comment. Reading people's feedback is also like having someone tell me how I should "look" or how I should improve my writing.

Recently, somebody asked me what I was doing in Egypt with a “holier-than-thou” tone, so I decided to write about my past experiences in the developed world and how they compare with my recent and present life in developing countries. In a previous article, I also wrote about weathering storms in families with an overseas Filipino member.  One reader commented  that he was touched by it. What I appreciated more was that he also shared his own experiences being an overseas Filipino with  family members back home who onlys send emails or an instant messages whenever they need money.  It really hit me when I read it because he is not the only one with the same “hinanakit” (sensitive but reasonable complaint).

Most overseas Filipino friends I had met in the different countries I lived in rarely receive an SMS from their family back home. When they do, they usually get two messages – the first one is  asking for money (either the padala or remittance is delayed or they need something extra), and the second is to confirm the receipt of the remittance.  Sometimes, my friends would get a third or a fourth message but only to follow  up on the request.  And when they don’t hear from the family member anymore, that means they  already received the padala.

My mother would also always complain about how her immediate family in the Philippines would only remembered her whenever their wallets were empty.  She was very religious in writing to her parents and siblings and sending them at least two greeting cards every year – for their birthday and for the Christmas and New Year holidays.  But her thoughtfulness is only remenbered with occasional letters  asking for money.  Of course, there was the usual introduction of asking how she is, whih she believes, merely disguises the real purpose of the letter, which is to request for financial assistance. 

I experienced the same thing when I started living abroad and earning a relatively higher income than my family and friends.  My siblings occasionally send me emails but there were a couple of times when the messages were more frequent -- not because they terribly missed me, and  not because they had a lot of stories to share with me – but because they were asking for  financial help and had to explain  why they needed it.  I also had  long lost friends who, out of the blue, got my email address and sent me heartwarming messages only to be followed with an email requesting for some money.  I did try to extend a helping hand in most of these situations but afterwards, the correspondence expectedly reverts back  to being brief and patchy.  

I am also guilty of committing the same “offense.”  One of my  friends lives in America and we constantly keep in touch by email.  She would call me to ask  how I was and it was always her calling me.  But there was this one instance when I had to call her to ask her first how she was and second to wire me some money because left my wallet on a plane to Santiago, Chile and was never returned.  The aunt I am closest to also lives in America and when I left the States for good in 2001, I only called her a couple of times to ask for money in similar times of emergency.

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I did the same with my mother, too.  I remember talking to her on the phone after the longest time when I went on vacation in Los Angeles  two years ago and she was in Loveland, Colorado.  After the conversation, I managed to talk to  her via the Internet when I was in the Philippines last February.  When I arrived in Egypt, I didn’t bother calling her so I sent her an email instead.  But I did call her a week after my arrival only because I happened to experience a force majeure and I needed her financial support (once more).

Sure enough, I called her to follow-up on her “padala” and only sent her an email and an SMS to confirm receipt of the wire transfer.  But I didn’t want to remain a hypocrite any longer, so I decided to call her a few weeks ago just to ask her how she was and wish her well on her upcoming nursing licensure examination.  By the sound of her voice, I could see her smile on the other end of the telephone line.  A call coming from me of that nature was something she never expected, so she was absolutely overjoyed (Okay, I’m exaggerating but I am pretty sure that it made her day).

In being apart, they say that it is always harder for the one who left than the ones who are left behind.  This is because the person leaving will have to adjust to everything  around him almost always alone.  The people who were left behind, on the other hand, still have everything around them intact -- family and friends -- minus just one person, so they don’t have to make that much of an adjustment.  

So for the ones who are left behind, I think it is only proper  to make the hardship of the one who left a little less hard.  It shouldn’t take much effort to remember your loved one abroad with a short SMS asking how he or she is, or an email sharing with him or her how you are, and/or a quick phone call just to say hello.  After all, it is most probably from that person’s  padala that you were able to buy that mobile phone load, subscribe to an Internet connection, or pay for the telephone bill.


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