By Tin Bartolome

Posted at Sep 25 2015 08:34 PM | Updated as of Sep 26 2015 04:34 AM

The 12-hour flight from Istanbul to Manila seemed endless and I could feel the excitement of other Pinoys. At one point, the man on the other side of the aisle said, “Ilang oras na lang!” I tried hard not to be impatient but 20 days away from home was something I hadn’t really prepared for.

Many flights from Europe and the Middle East had Istanbul as stopover. We met a Filipina from Sweden on her way home to introduce her son, barely two years old, to her family in Manila. There were elderly couples, mostly Filipinas married to foreign men, coming home to the Philippines. And of course, male and female OFWs—some going home for good while others, only for a brief vacation.

I could only imagine how these OFWs prepare for their homecoming. I assume many of those on board do not know each other but by the end of the flight, they had already shown pictures to each other and exchanged stories, even addresses.

At the airport, we Pinoys often smiled or nodded at each other but rarely struck conversations—except when they were alone. We would chat with those in front or behind us while waiting in line during boarding. Ever gallant and helpful, the males help the women and the elderly stuff their luggage into the overhead bins. Hellos and introductions are made before the first meal is served and by the time everyone has settled in, with pillows, blankets and other accessories provided by the flight attendants, Pinoy passengers discuss how long they have been away from home, why they are coming home and the length of their vacations with the strangers beside them.

Inflight food choices are discussed, jokes are exchanged and as the passengers unwind, they start talking about more personal matters, pausing only to appreciate the view outside the window—a spectacular sunrise so difficult to capture on camera, or walls and floors of clouds that shimmer as they reflect sunlight.

Out come gadgets from travelling bags and albums are shown while owners annotate the pictures or videos they show. This is interrupted by a few hours of sleep or a movie or two and resumed once the lights come on for the next meal. I could hear stories told by a man (three seats away from me on the same row) about his children, how his daughter has become such a fashionista.

As the plane approaches Philippine territory, guesses are made as to where we were exactly. Someone predicts how many times we would need to circle the airport before landing due to congestion while another explains how small our airports are. The excitement and anticipation of being home peaks once again as the monitors show how far the plane has descended. We know the plane has landed once the ride gets bumpy. And, like the movies, we feel the suspense as we wait for the doors to open.

All of us may have felt the same relief after the long hours of travel, but my own excitement cannot compare with those coming home after many months. At the immigration queue, the man behind me told me how excited he was to see his grandchildren—and he was ten years younger than me!

Watching them meet their families at the airport lobby made me feel like I was meeting my own. But I was always aware that my excitement was but a fraction of theirs because I was gone for only 20 days. Coming home is perhaps one of the best things everyone looks forward to after a long flight and an even longer stay abroad. I now understand why many of those who leave their families to work abroad are nothing less than heroes.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.