“You’d be concerned. She needs to earn money for her daily needs and send them to her pamilya in Pinas”, answered Lyn*. In one of our conversations, Lyn drew light on a privy matter.

Lyn was referring to Shirley*, whom she has employed as a part-time domestic helper for years already. Shirley came to Austria as a tourist in early 2000 and her three months visa has since expired. She left her village in the Bicol region in the hope of finding a better job in a foreign land no matter what it took.

Lyn who out of pity took Shirley ‘under her wings’ is one kababayan who understands the situation. Living illegally in a foreign country with a completely unfamiliar language and experiencing cold winters is an unhappy situation. However, Lyn too is in a dilemma. If authorities discover the illegal employment, she would face penalties. So Shirley became a shadow.

A curious maddening scenario unfolded during one of our daily ticket inspections on the state locomotives. As we usually conduct shifts as teams, we scour every compartment validating tickets. A colleague spotted an Asian woman traveling together with a Caucasian man. It started quite obvious that the woman had no valid ticket. After observing, it was a Pinay kababayan much to my surprise. (Normally Filipinx abide by rules and always almost possess a valid ticket). She was getting erratically nervous and aggressive. Instead of just paying the penalty (105€) upfront so to close the case, she was dodging – rather refused to show her identification and even lashed out at the colleague, who was forced to call the state police. After some scrutiny, the cops found out she was an undocumented alien. It resulted in her being handcuffed at the same time escorted to the nearest police station. She was issued hefty fines plus deportation. Sad but true.

Like her, there are many undocumented aliens or TNT’s (Tago ng Tago) in Europe or even in the States. Coined in the ’70s for Pinoys who flew to the US without any legal documents to support their long-term stay the acronym literally points to persons that are constantly hiding.

When CoViD struck NY City in early 2020, many migrants lined up in city hospitals that were already overwhelmed. One of those was an acquaintance, who left Pinas and started a TNT life working illegally as a private home caregiver. He was housed in the basement of an American family employer. As he felt the obvious symptoms of CoViD, he tried to queue to one of NY’s public health units. After learning that he needed to prove his identity and realized he was not insured in the US health system, he went home. He, unfortunately, died two days later. Together with hundreds CoViD patients who succumbed to the virus, he was buried on an island off the coast of NY. His American Dream went down with him. A tragic end for a 44-year-old countryman.

In the neighboring district here in Vienna I’ve met Fatima* and Cherry*.
Fatima originally from northern Mindanao, a mother of five children, was employed as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia. She narrated it was early 2005 when her filthy rich Arabong amo (Arabian employer) together with an extended family first brought her to Vienna for a short visit flying on the family’s private jet. During that stay, Fatima met a fellow Pinay who worked as a chambermaid in a five-star hotel. This started the whole ‘escape’ plan.

The opportunity came when Fatima (together with her Arabian employer’s clan) flew over the second time for a summer vacation in Innsbruck, roughly 500km west of the capital city. Fully decided but not realizing the long-term consequences, she tiptoed herself away from the hotel room before daylight while her amo, who has securely kept her passport and visa, was asleep.

She found a kabayan taxi chauffeur who agreed for a 300 Euro fee to set her Bahala Na (Leave-it-to-the-Fates) journey. She was transported and reunited with the Pinay hotel staff working in Vienna. Then after hopping around in many different Austrian family households who has taken advantage of her being undocumented. No papers meant rather unbelievably low pay.

Cherry, a mother of three and a native of Isabela, northeast Luzon, also had a similar story. Employed by another Arabian family, she decided to leave her employer the next morning they landed in Vienna. Rachel* who worked as another chambermaid in another hotel ‘rescued’ Cherry. Cherry like Fatima now lives in limbo. Without any health insurance, constantly searching for work, constantly moving from one habitation to another, constantly living in fear, afraid of facing legalities, and afraid of going back to each of their barrios in Pinas.

Whenever I meet them around my neighborhood I inquire about their respective families in Pinas. I can only think of how the children are growing up without the maternal element of a household. I encourage them to go back home and catch up with the lost years for their own children’s sake rather than being miserable all their lives. Their answer – “What are we going to do there?” (referring to looking for work).

These two women are just a few of the many who aspired to freedom from Middle Eastern modern ‘slaveowners’. Ironically setting a self-imposed exile. Once caught they face deportation. The Austrian political stage nowadays doesn’t seem favorable for asylum seekers or undocumented aliens.

Like Lyn, I was concerned. In many ways, you’d feel empathy for the Pinay kabayans. On the other hand, one is baffled.

Yes, they send money to provide for the ‘well being’ of the family. But is it really worth the sacrifice? Living in oblivion and never seeing your loved ones?

From a child’s viewpoint, it does not. I experienced being fatherless for years as my Tatay was employed in the Aramco company in Saudia Arabia back in the 80s. He had only a month’s vacation every year. So I barely knew him as I was growing up.

One may ponder over…
Do we really need to leave loved ones for the sake of earning? Do we need to sacrifice relationships in order for us to gain material wealth (or status)? Do we expect that once a parent works abroad kids will grow up alright? How high are our expectations when one family member has been a TNT for years? Or do we even expect them to come back to our lives sooner before we realize it was all too late and for nothing?

*names have been changed