My Name is Noeme, and I’m a big family woman. I have four kids – three boys, and a girl with special needs, I have a husband, two rabbits, two roosters and two hens, who just laid two eggs, which will hopefully produce two chicks. I live with all of them plus my mom, two sisters, my niece, and my younger brother in Mindanao, the Philippines.
My husband and I met and married in the Philippines. When we moved to Libya it was supposed to be for good, but it was very hard. We returned to the Philippines where I got my MA, then gave Libya another try, right after the Revolution, thinking that I would work, and our kids would have a good education. Despite early promise, the political instability never really ended. Things got very bad by 2014, when we had to decide what to do next. Living in Libya was no longer a feasible option, so we evacuated by ship to the Philippines, temporarily. Setting out on a journey home wasn’t planned, although I desired to only visit, so I really did not have any goals in terms of settling here. It always feels like “we’ll cross the bridge when we get there” for me. We just do what we need to do NOW, give it our all and hope for the best.
I was 35, with my two boys ages 2 and 6 months, when we moved to Libya. We were married when I was 31 and stayed put for four years before venturing to Libya. I wanted my boys to know their father’s side of the family and I also wanted to meet them myself. I was excited for it was my first trip abroad and I had always been interested to know his culture. We arrived in 2008, and received a big Libyan welcome. I was overwhelmed by the big family (waaay bigger than mine), we were showered with gifts and love (well, hugs and dizzying kisses). The welcome lasted for a month. I became a stay-at-home wife/mother, I learned to cook, and clean the Libyan way. Six months later, the honeymoon stage ended and I began to feel isolated. I still have vivid memories of the loneliness that turned into depression.
We stayed for almost two years in Libya, when we decided to go back to the Philippines. That’s after I gave birth to Hannah. She was only 4 months when we returned home. I was taking up my Master’s degree when the war in 2011 broke out. Then, after the Revolution, just a month after I got my diploma, we decided to go back again – on the condition that I work. I did not want to feel contained. Our decision was mostly focused on raising the kids, giving them a good education and sustaining the finances. I liked the slow pace of life and the reasonable income, with which I could save enough to invest in my home country. I liked the weather: not so cold in the winter, while summer is not as hot for me, since I come from a tropical country. I loved the springtime there! But I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser…and the “demands” can be just impossible to meet with such a large family. Also, there is too little breathing and moving space for my taste, in Libya.
I learned not to stay. I remembered World War Z where Brad Pitt’s character said “Movement is life.” Some friends tell me (with good intentions) to stay the same or “as sweet or as loving as you are.” Of course there are certain parts of us that cannot change – our personality, our love… But we cannot really stay the same. We have to keep moving, learning, seeking out truth and beauty, and growing. We change in the way we love, the way we see things…because everything around us is also changing.
Although this happens all the time, I still get surprised: that every time I write down plans, they do not materialize the way I want them to. And those dreams and desires I keep in my heart have their own way of unfolding. I began to believe, firmly, and remind myself that God has laid out our destiny for us. Our duty is simply to stay on His side – stay in peace, trust, believe, love, and flow. I was surprised to discover how strong I am, and I think it’s true of all of us: we never know how strong we are until we’re in a situation in which it’s the only option you have.
I used to meditate and read scriptures to keep on track, to motivate me – Koran, Bible, and the teachings of Rumi. Right now, I just remind myself that my kids need me to be well, and sane.
What I value most in a friend is: authenticity. Loyalty. Unconditional love. We’re a tribe, and we need to stick together and support each other.
The best advice I was ever given was to pray, and believe in a Providential Being – Who has many names but is One. He has our destiny written.
2016 was the most defining moment in my life: when the Universe slapped some sense back into me. LOL! Really, it was a year of sorting out what really matters, and choosing parts of the self I want to be and integrating them into the self that I need to be. You know… like: I wish I can be this, dress that, go there… but then definitely not because of the norms, but what my conscience tells me. I can rebel against the “what should bes” like this is my life. And then, I ask myself “is it really ONLY my life at stake here?” So, the sacrifice seems perpetual. I do not regret choosing to prioritize my family. And I realized there are two sides of mental conditioning, and I do not want to be on either side – you know… the religious and the secular. I had to ask myself: “whose standards are these that I’m trying to maintain? Who am I doing it all for?” It’s meaningless. So I took a step back, took a year off my studies, and concentrated on my family. Now I’m almost finished with my degree, a year late, but I feel I am doing it with more integrity, with my priorities more in line with who I think I am and want to be.
Right now my greatest challenge is keeping a well-balanced life and proving that anything is possible: one can be a full-time mom, a full-time wife, a full-time diva of whatsoever dream, a full-time friend, and a full-time literal-housewife (meaning wife of the house), all at the same time.
My spice for life… New Age? Believing I have inherent superpowers, or I am a fallen angel. Mind games. I play with these beliefs in my mind. I am entertained by how it works. It keeps me sane, amidst all the crazy goings on.
I would like everyone [those who count] to remember that I truly love. Them. All. And with all my heart.
a) You are pursuing your PhD in Educational Management, and have taught for many years in Libya and elsewhere, what does your experience tell you about the state of education in general?
It is going where it intends to go, and that is a new world order where minds have been prepared through some simulation being done in schools right now. Educators mean well, they love the children of this generation. But the system they are thrown into, or they choose to be in… that is quite a wall to confront. The system eventually sucks them in. But I still believe that educational leaders are doing their best in terms of reform and confronting the system by putting the learner in the center of the curriculum. So yes, there is hope.
b) You are publishing a book, what can you say about it?
I wrote it as an act of gratitude for those who helped us during our repatriation and for NAGMAC (a local writers’ collective which I’m a part of, and as an output for the training I had under them). I wrote a memoir about my experience in Libya, the conflict, and our escape. It’s a collection of letters, although it was originally conceived as a chapter book. It’s in English, which makes it more accessible to more people, although I would have preferred to write it in my native tongue of Bisaya (or Cebuano) and then translate it if needed. It was a cathartic experience, writing everything down. Although I wrote it two years after I had lived the experience, with the benefit of hindsight, I had a very good memory of it. I relied on my Facebook posts, back and forth communications, and news of the period to refresh my memory of the details, and of how I was interpreting the situation at the time, because although it was still very fresh in my mind, I could interpret it differently with some distance, than I did at the time, not knowing what was going on exactly, or how it was going to turn. It’s titled: Letters from Libya, and it’s a compilation of reports in the form of letters to women in my life; a memoir of sorts. It really helped me to understand the effect that the experience in Libya had on me. I knew it affected me, but I hadn’t really realized to what extent and in which ways.
c) You are a big fan of homeschooling, why is that?
I want my children to be free, independent, creative and critical thinkers and there are barely any schools around that are actually focused on developing these traits. So I’d rather take charge, in my home. Kindness and character aren’t things that can be readily taught in school, but they are very important. I believe that the development of kids begins with the belief of the mother: if you do your part and believe they’re good, they’ll be ok, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
d) If you could combine the best aspects of the places you’ve been in, what would it look like?
Hogwarts? (joking!) A place where women – wives, mothers, whatevers – are free to be and do whatever they want without being judged. A place where women have adequate support from her tribe/community- babysitting, job referrals, project support, anything and everything. I miss the peace I had in Libya: there was no pressure for myself at home, I could concentrate on my family without feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing enough. Here in the Philippines there’s this constant push to do more, be more, get more. There’s this pressure to perform, or is it a temptation, an enticement to be bigger than that? It’s like you’re torn between two worlds. It would be nice to get that peace back.
e) What do you see as the most valuable contribution that could be made today?
There are too many…with latest technology…people become hallmarks of knowledge…My father once answered me when I asked why problems in my city don’t get solved. He said, “because they (leaders) are all very intelligent.” Every problem has a solution, the important thing is the values: how to analyze and be kind. Character takes time to develop, knowledge can be acquired at any time. I think if a new order arises – of peacemakers, and peacelovers – you know, people who’d rather pray than picket this world would be a better place. Funny how leaders today need a refresher in basic kindergarten skills.