• Writer Joseph Bautista and his partner Katie. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
Earlier in the year we had decided that our lives were better with each other in them, and that we would cross oceans permanently to keep it that way.
By
Joseph P Bautista

18 Jun 2021 - 8:51 AM  UPDATED 18 Jun 2021 - 9:18 AM

It was 3am in the middle of March last year when I awoke to a frantic call from Katie. Over in Scotland, she had just found out that Australia had closed its borders to the rest of the world. Teary-eyed and terrified, we spoke at length about what this meant for us and our plans for me to move there. 

Earlier in the year we had decided that our lives were better with each other in them, and that we would cross oceans permanently to keep it that way. As we prepared to make that leap, the pandemic forced us to rethink our plans indefinitely.

This period stretched on for eight painful months. Then, out of nowhere, I was notified my exemption to the travel ban was approved – and shortly after that my visa. After a whirlwind of socially-distanced goodbyes to friends and family, Katie and I were finally together again. 

This period stretched on for eight painful months. Then, out of nowhere, I was notified my exemption to the travel ban was approved – and shortly after that my visa.

Now we live in a two-bedroom flat in a tenement building in Edinburgh. We navigated the worst of the pandemic together, moonlighting as deskmates, housemates, drinking buddies and everything in between. The truth is, it took a teething period to figure out how to be together again. Katie likes to say that we went from “zero to a hundred” - being as far apart as you can be, to living in each other’s pockets. 

In my first months in Scotland, I struggled to find a job, competing with millions of others who were unemployed or on furlough. I struggled to make new friends when all the regular outlets for socialising were closed. And I’m living in an exciting and new part of the world, but unable to explore it.

During all of this, I watched as my friends and family back home congregated in what felt like gratuitously huge crowds. They met in bars, beaches, and in each other’s homes. I was happy for them, and I still am. Yet despite national case numbers remaining amongst the lowest in the world, Australia continues to shut itself off from its citizens who are scattered around the globe.

During all of this, I watched as my friends and family back home congregated in what felt like gratuitously huge crowds

I don’t intend to return home any time soon; I am happy with my decision to move to the UK and I have what I need to make this time worthwhile, despite the difficulties. But being on the wrong side of the Australian border means I no longer know when I’ll be able to see my friends and family at home again. When I eventually do, I hope I would be returning to a country that acknowledges the experiences of many like me who have moved overseas throughout the years.

I think of my parents, who in the early 90s uprooted their own lives in search of something better in Australia. Ma speaks of the steady, promising jobs she and Pa left behind. Upon arriving in Australia, they experienced a whole range of difficulties I’m only beginning to understand. Their qualifications and extensive professional experience were no longer recognised, and even with bridging courses they found it difficult to find permanent work. 

They too had to say goodbye to their friends and family, not knowing when they would see each other again. They didn’t visit home for seven years.

They too had to say goodbye to their friends and family, not knowing when they would see each other again. They didn’t visit home for seven years.

“To be a balikbayan, or to go back to the Philippines for a holiday, you need time,” Pa says. It was time and money that a lot of migrants - including my parents - didn’t have. Despite all that they faced, my parents pressed on and built happy, successful lives for themselves in Australia.

I found this difficult to reconcile with my desire to move overseas – to uproot myself from the life they worked so hard to achieve. My mother cried when I eventually told her about my plans to move to the UK.

It’s obvious to me now that my parents know, more than anybody, how it feels to build new lives overseas – about what is lost and what is gained in doing so. How these decisions are never straightforward, nor easy, despite achieving what you set out to achieve.

I think of countless others who have felt the push and pull of different places around the world, for whom life’s ebbs and flows have drawn them away from where they once called home. The ones who have moved mountains to be reunited with loved ones. The ones who flee the harsh reality of their upbringing. The ones who perhaps never felt at peace within their own country or town at all, or who seek to build better lives for their children as my parents had done. 

I think of how human nature is programmed to search for that feeling of coming home, even if we have to look for it in far-away places and people.

I think of how human nature is programmed to search for that feeling of coming home, even if we have to look for it in far-away places and people. I think of Katie, and all it took to be reunited – how all the pain washed away once we felt the same ground beneath our feet again.

I hope the world can open itself up to this kind of movement again soon, and understand what it takes to cross a border into the unknown. 

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