Antiemetic for Homesickness
“The Philippines must be half-empty; you’re all here running the NHS.” - Prince Philip
Romalyn Ante was born in Lipa Batangas, Philippines. She was sixteen years old when her mother - a nurse in the NHS - brought the family to the UK. She currently lives in Wolverhampton where she works as a registered nurse and psychotherapist.
Filled with Tagalog phrases and Filipino folklore, Ante’s poems reflect the liminal existence of migrant generations, which for her is measured through the enduring work she does as an NHS nurse, compared to the life with her family she has left behind in the Philippines. This is captured in probably my favourite poem of the collection, ‘ode to a pot noodle’. In this poem Ante is preparing her noodles on a break at work, and as she does so she sees her grandfather sitting at a dining table in the steam emanating from her pot noodle. On one hand this poem is a heartwarming story about fond memories of home, but it too highlights a contrast between the nourishing, homegrown meals eaten in the Philippines with her family versus the convenient ready meals she lives on while working at the hospital. The humble pot noodle here becomes synonymous with the sacrifices migrant workers have made.
Another poem in the collection I loved was ‘Way Back Home’ which explores a family ritual from Ante’s childhood that she has taken with her into adulthood, even now that her parents have split and she has moved to the UK. It demonstrates both the joy and sorrow that can be found in memories, as well as the idea that our memories are often the one constant in a world that is always changing.
In ‘Nature Morte aux Tulipes’ Ante writes for Joanna Demafelis, an oversea Filipino worker in Kuwait, who was found mutilated in her employer’s freezer. She notes that this poem is “for every migrant worker in the NHS whose strength emanates from their dream of a better life for their families back home, and especially for all my comrades who have risked their own welfare in service to the British public”. This was such a beautiful poem.
Following on from discussions surrounding the sacrifice and dedication of migrant NHS workers throughout the pandemic, this felt like an especially relevant read right now. It was personal, yet political, and while I have read a lot of collections with similar themes, it offered a unique perspective on how migrant generations carry their homelands with them. Would highly recommend.