Thursday, November 13, 2008

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 www.philstar.com. 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.

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