By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
It was a crazy idea. She was already an up-and-coming manager in a Makati-based firm. Her husband was an architect abroad. They already had a house, a car, and two rowdy toddlers. And now he wanted them to live with him in a country she’d never been to?
Her hubby–they called each other ‘Love’–wasn’t away for too long anyways. He regularly flew home–but not for long. Like many wives in similar situations, she also earned her share in the family budget, took care of the kids, and eagerly waited for each letter, photo, or cassette tape that came in the mail.
She was already used to the state of things. Leaving that and practically starting a new leaf just didn’t seem right.
And yet in 1994, barely six years after getting married to Andy Bagaoisan, Mabel and her sons Anjo, 5, and Nico, 3, boarded a direct flight to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At the back of her mind, Mabel could not yet shake off her uneasiness. It was summed up in one question: What would she do there? Her parents had asked her the same. Her boss did too, as he tried everything just so a company asset wouldn’t leave. In Saudi, she knew, she would go from career woman to housewife. Was she ready for it?
Then again, this was her chance to live out married life with Andy full-time. He had flown to Saudi just months after they became an item, and came home 2 years later to get married. Since then, he only visited Manila a handful of times. It paid off: he was now in a stable post designing for a major developer in the capital, Riyadh.
Mabel was unsure where this new chapter would bring her family, but she trusted Andy and his plans.
Life in Riyadh was hot, boring, and restrictive, especially for women. Mabel had to get used to not being able to go out just any time, and whenever she could, going out wearing the black abaya, not getting to drive, and more so, not having maids around.
At least there, families enjoyed more benefits and preferential treatment than single expats. Mabel grew at home with her new routine. She and Andy learned to split and alternate housework with kid-caring duties. And she soon became pregnant with their first daughter.
But in religiously conservative Saudi, Mabel and Andy found the biggest, most unlikely change–a deeper, renewed faith.
It came to Andy first–through other Filipinos who invited him to gatherings held clandestinely under the radar of the mutawa or religious police. These meetings in houses or in the desert focused on studying and living out the Bible and stressed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. With it he found a new direction and a new community of brothers and sisters.
At first, Mabel resisted Andy’s efforts to share with her what he had found. Again, it seemed crazy, and went against all she was long used to.
But love won out. He was faithful and patient despite their momentary differences. She gradually saw the bigger Love behind his actions for her. Soon, she decided that as she went where her husband went, she would love God as he had come to love Him. Their family became part of a spiritual family–a church.
What once were four now grew to six. Two more A’s added to the mix: Andrebelle and Andric Mark. As the older boys entered grade school, Mabel gradually got to work again–first as a pre-school teacher and later as an accountant. Between engaging their school’s PTA and a few Filipino community groups, the family’s life revolved around that of their church.
The 12 years that followed my dad and mom’s decision to live together in the land of sand and camels were not perfect or smooth, but they were surely the most memorable.
For my siblings and me, it was a coming of age, a steady growth in our awareness of life. It was also a chance to witness how our parents loved and respected each other and their decisions. If they had disagreements, they spared us from seeing that. We saw how faith led them in guiding how they managed our family.
My mother would look back on her uneasiness in going to Saudi with a smile. She’d long realized that she had followed a plan greater than my father’s. They learned to love each other more, and to bring one important person into their relationship–God.
Call it a crazy idea, but it was a trip worth taking the risk.
This is the long-overdue follow-up to the love story of my parents, which I first wrote for their 25th wedding anniversary last year. Read about how they first met here.
Special thanks go to Sushmita Chim, Anna Marie Pagtabunan, Aljan Quilates, and Hiyas Villanueva, communication graduates of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) who found my blog and thought my parents’ story a fitting profile for their thesis on lives touched by the Light Rail Transit. I used a part of their interview with my parents as a source for this post.