Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shadows of a long gone poet

the poem below first appeared in the Middle East Edition of Abante on 17/09/2006 and i remember the poet asked me once (long before it was published ) to read the poem... and yes i read it with matching gestures...

as i look back to that poem reading session that day, i apologize for not giving the right emotion it deserves (maybe i was so carried away by the gestures i had to make...) Truth is that I was so flattered to have been asked and given the chance to read the poem for the first time... reading from the very scratch paper where the poem was originally written by my fine poet-friend...

"Shadows of a long gone poet"
by Mario Acuesta Aguado

felt this anger inside of me
the devil i thought was long gone
showed again its image
of wrath and hostility
a quiescent rage
that brought back mythical fiery.

arm stretched
a mighty sword in one hand
the battlefield begins
on white shaded field
these hurting words
the wound it leaves
mightier than the sword
my pen executes.

heed this venom
flowing through my vein
traits of a long gone poet
kept forcing me to write
hence i write and write and write
like kleptos in a busy store.

let me seize this moment
and be vehement
release this fury
and be triumphant
heed these thoughts
this caged anger
shades of crimson
never been gray
never been amber.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Filipinos in the Gulf

If only the opportunities offered in the Gulf countries are available in the Philippines... that would be great! We, who work here in the Gulf would be back home with our families... but such is not the case so we can only dream and hope for a bright future for our beloved country.

Nevertheless, Filipinos here are able to take full advantage of the opportunity - we can adapt easily to any situation, we have the values of honesty and integrity, we have high quality of education and good English skills. These are probably some of the reasons why there is a diaspora of the Pinoys.

Here's one article that's worth your time...

Filipinos in the Gulf
By Jerick T. Aguilar Saturday, April 12, 2008

I am fortunate enough to have traveled to all the Gulf countries. I was able to visit Kuwait and Qatar a couple of times as overnight stopovers between my trips to the Philippines and Europe. While my mother was working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, I was able to spend time with her there courtesy of a family visit visa. And just recently, during my break from work here in Yemen, I went on a brief vacation to the neighboring countries of the U.A.E., Oman, and Bahrain.

The Gulf is where overseas Filipino workers or OFWs are concentrated. They number by the millions so it was not really surprising to see “kababayans” everywhere in these countries. And they number by the millions because the Gulf was the first region of Filipino labor migration that started in the 1970’s and has continued until now. There, I met Filipinos who have worked there not for years but for decades.

It was also there that I met Filipinos who at least have a relative or two also working and living in the same country. For most of these Filipinos, they came to the Gulf with a family visit visa not just to visit a family member or relative but to eventually find work and have their visa converted into a work permit. In Abu Dhabi for example, I came across a hotel receptionist (an electronics and communications engineer in the Philippines) who was initially sponsored by his (or her, as “she” insisted) aunt to visit her and, at the last minute, was able to get a job in the same hotel.

A host of Filipino family members not only visit their spouses or parents in the Gulf but get to live with them there with a dependent visa. I remember grocery shopping with my mother in Riyadh and I had to look twice at two Filipino kids inside the cart pushed by their parents. In Sharjah, a couple of Filipino families were having lunch at Chowking (yup, “our” Chowking) and I didn’t have to look twice to register what I had seen.

I guess these OFWs who took their husbands or wives and children with them have resigned to the fact that their family’s future is in the Gulf so they have to continue working there indefinitely. And instead of being painfully away from their loved ones, they decided to bring them to a foreign country (a non-English speaking one at that!) in order to be together. I gathered that some spouses eventually found a job so their double-income family is like a typical one in the Philippines except that they are not in the Philippines.

And they are a typical double-income family indeed! In Muscat, I have seen Filipino families inside their cars with the father driving on the highway or parking outside a shopping mall (and a Filipino family walking their dogs in Salalah!). In Manama, I have been with them inside the church on a Friday (as Sunday is a regular working day in most Muslim countries) with the children seated between their parents. (I have also heard that their children go to private schools to continue their English-language education. In some cities like Dubai, there are schools exclusive for Filipinos).

For a first-time OFW in the Gulf, the adjustment period while working in these countries is probably the shortest given the existent support system around him (or her) – such as relatives who have been there longer so they know and can help her (or him) with the ropes, fellow Filipino colleagues who pass the time at work with an intermittent joke or two, and even the presence of TFC (The Filipino Channel) on satellite or cable TV to get their daily fix of Wowowee and up-to-the-minute “chismis” in Philippine showbiz. It is also very easy to meet and make friends among “kababayans” and should there be a fall-out (as with any other friendship), it is as easy to find new ones.

For a Filipino tourist in the Gulf, it is as if one has not traveled to the Gulf at all. As I wrote, Filipinos are everywhere so it is like he (or she) has not left the Philippines. Filipino restaurants and stores selling Philippine products also abound. Even local newspapers have a specific section on the Philippines and the Filipino community (aside from our diaspora’s own publications) so anyone can be kept abreast with the latest events. And it is ironic that she (or he) is in a foreign country yet can speak Tagalog to get by.

The absence of a language barrier is a real advantage for a Filipino traveling to the Gulf. As for me, I never got lost in these countries. It was such a breeze to ask any “kababayan” for directions. Their local knowledge has also made me save money from not taking the taxi as I took buses and other forms of public transportation to get from place to place, as well as to and from the airport (as well as from not getting ripped-off by taxi drivers as they told me how much certain trips actually cost). I too got better service in restaurants, shops, and hotels from fellow Filipinos working there.

I guess the only disadvantage is not having as much time to go sightseeing. At least in my case as the talkative and inquisitive me tried and wanted to talk to as many Filipinos as possible. There were times when I had to stop smiling at “kababayans” I encountered on the streets, look straight, and miss out on a possible conversation so that I didn’t miss entering a museum before its closing time. And there were times when I had to ignore other “kababayans” around me as I was already talking to a Filipino at a particular place.

As a final note, Filipinos have been in the Gulf since the seventies and I can argue that the region’s rapid development has a lot to do with the presence of our “kababayans”. Their cheap labor (Westerners are paid much more than their Filipino counterparts) and their irreproachable work ethic have helped transform the economies of these countries to what they are today – with a host of business people investing and tourists flocking. If the locals, their employers, and the respective governments acknowledge and recognize this fact, then our “kababayans” should be paid higher and treated better as they rightly deserve.

I am fortunate enough to have traveled to all the Gulf countries – and even more fortunate to have met and talked to Filipinos there who have successfully created a better life for themselves and their families. There is no doubt that for most of these Filipinos, they are better off in the Gulf now than they were in the Philippines before. This only goes to show that given an opportunity (no matter how limited), Filipinos are able to take full advantage of and make the most out of it. And if only such an opportunity were present in our country…

Filipinos here, there, and everywhere

There is no place in this world that there is no Filipino. It's a joke here in Saudi Arabia that even if you turn a stone or open up the sand dunes, you will find a Filipino "kababayan" there - sometimes with an iqama and sometimes without. Here's an article written by Jerick Aquilar that I found in It's worth re-blogging...

Filipinos here, there, and everywhere
by Jerick T Aguilar, Tunis, Tunisia Friday, June 22, 2007

I love traveling. I am already 32 years old and most of my friends are about my age. After working for 12 years or so, and saving money in the process, I had saved enough to see the world. I was working half the time (the rest pursuing postgraduate studies) and spending the money that I saved on, yes, traveling.

One of the reasons why I love traveling is that I get to meet Filipinos even in countries where one would think that there couldn’t possibly be any. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POE), there is at least one Filipino living and working in 181 countries, territories, and autonomous regions around the world. Well, I have luckily been to 76 and I have met at least one “kababayan” in all of them.

The first country I ever visited was Australia. I was lucky to be part of the De La Salle University Debate Team when I was an Economics Instructor and there happened to be an international tournament in the capital of Canberra. Of course, the first Filipino I met in the Land Down Under was my cousin (I mean, who doesn’t have a Filipino relative in the developed world?) who had just immigrated to Sydney. Her mother (one of my favorite aunts) went to Australia several years back as a tourist and overstayed as an undocumented worker, picking grapes and cooking Filipino food to send money back home. She was actually jailed when authorities found out about her irregular (I refuse to use the word “illegal”) status but she was rescued by an Australian who wanted to marry her. That was how my cousin, who was below 18 years old, was able to leave the Philippines when her mother and stepfather petitioned her.

What is also interesting to share with you is when I visited the next country: France. I was lucky, yet again, to be the grand-prize winner of an event sponsored by the French Embassy. The prize, unsurprisingly, was two round-trip tickets to Paris, including a visit to the south of France.

I invited my best friend along and we arrived in Paris at midnight. We were so excited to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world that we started touring the city by foot at four in the morning! In one of the streets that we passed by, there was a Filipina standing by a door who asked us if we are Filipino. Just by looking at each other, my best friend and I were wondering what this kababayan was doing, dressed for a cocktail party and all, in front of what we thought was a regular house in the wee hours of the morning.

She invited us in and we were greeted by several other women (mostly Eastern Europeans) who, you guessed it, were waiting for their clients. This Filipina turned out to be their “mamasan” and, mind you, she was not ashamed to tell my best friend and me about it. She has been living in Paris for several years, is married to a French guy, and has a daughter who speaks at least eight languages (It goes with the territory, I believe). Yes, there are a lot of Filipinos in France, but to meet one of them at dawn (and a proud pimp at that) is really one thing I cannot forget!

One country that I visited where I thought there was no Filipino at all was Honduras in Central America. I was already done with my trip to the capital, Tegucigalpas, and the famous ruins of Cop├án, and I had not met any Filipino yet – until I checked-in at the airport. I gave my passport to this young woman at the counter who asked me, in Tagalog, if I am Filipino. (Filipinos and Hondurans look quite similar – must be the Spanish blood in both of us – so I thought she is one of the latter.) I was surprised to know that she is a kababayan and the first question I asked her is what she is doing in Honduras. She told me that she was actually born there and that her Filipino parents have been working in the country for a long time. As much as I wanted to find out more about her and her parents, I had to go straight to the departure hall so as not to miss my flight.

Another country that I visited where I never expected to meet a Filipino was Iceland. Iceland is not called Iceland for nothing, so I went on this organized tour to see one of their biggest greenhouses in the midst of all the ice that surrounds it. Inside, I could not believe looking at a banana tree in front of me and then I heard the words “Kumusta kabayan?”.

It came from a lady in another tour group who was so happy to see me because she thought that she was the only Filipino living in Iceland. Her smile descended into a frown when I told her that I am just a tourist. As usual, my question was how she came to live in an “un”-tropical country in the northern hemisphere. She said she was originally a domestic helper in Hong Kong, met her future husband there who is from Iceland, and now they have settled down (or make that “up”) here.

I still have a lot more experiences to share meeting Filipinos everywhere but these ones truly stand out. One is because Filipinos, like my aunt in Australia and my first “mamasan” friend in France, are willing to do any kind of job outside the Philippines as long as it pays them well. Second, they, like the Filipino couple in Honduras, are willing to stay outside the Philippines as long as they can and as long as their job pays them well. Finally, they, like the one (probably the only one) in Iceland, are willing to go outside the Philippines regardless of where they are going as long as their job (or their husbands’ job) pays them well.

I must say that the economic situation in our country has not gotten any better but has gotten much worse given that more and more Filipinos have left, are trying to, or want to leave our country for greener pastures abroad. For those who are already outside (such as myself), chances are they (including myself at least for now) are not willing to go back because the grass on Philippine soil has wilted and our government has not taken any concrete measures to water, fertilize, and revive it.

Part of the reason why I love traveling is that I get to meet our kababayans around the world and still feel at home just by talking to them in Tagalog and knowing a little something about their past and present lives. Another reason is that I feel even much more lucky not to be in the same position as them having to make difficult choices, or make that, decisions because they apparently did not have any choice to begin with.