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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jeddah Rain: A Blessing Or Otherwise

"If you want the rainbow, you've got to put up with a little rain" - Dolly Parton.

I thought I was awakened by a strange noise today. The not-so-lovely timing of its arrival has added to my misery. Already had an early feel of dawn light slowly creeping up the hollow windowsill. Yet sleep was not coming. It's been two weeks and this stubborn cough seems to enjoy its vacation in my anatomy. When its rage finally settled like a rabid dog so exhausted,  had no idea already it was raining cats and dogs outside. Yes, thunders and lightnings have put up a race to scare Jeddah residents another time, and the massive downpour had most cars outside stuck in deep mud. Feeling grouchy and head throbbing, I had to keep my balance and reach for the window glass to see  heavy rains pummeling the pavements.

Curiosity aside, I will be condemned had I not gone out to take this stupid thing for scanning at the internet cafe. This obnoxious thing called Body Temperature graph that some nice people had wanted me to add up to the slide I am making for them free-of-charge, really tested me. Of course it's borne out of generosity to be able to help out, but really the troubles of playing long jump not to get wet and swim in the sewer almost killed off my patience. Before deciding to venture outside, I was kind of waiting for some nice people to place some planks or sort of as walkway outside of our accommodation to avoid wading in the floods. Unfortunately for me, our building watchman chose rather to hide his skin. (He is only most visible when harassing my door  for that 10-riyal water duties when the tank gets dried up.) So  I thought I had to crawl on top of the cars lining up by the roadside for me to get out of the building. That was gross! (Next time I swear to cut down a bit on my generosity. It only spells trouble and getting no appreciation at all. :-)

Although raining in Jeddah can be considered a rare occurrence, many would still prefer a rain-less Jeddah especially motorists. The difficult part is, the troubles it could cause are beyond annoying. Some motorists could easily get into fisticuffs or sandal-whipping with patience hardly a virtue on the roads.  Just a litttle rain could be potent enough to clog roads and highways, gifting taxi drivers an opportunity to rip off hapless commuters. Accidents also come in abundance. After the floods, potholes and sagging cracked roads emerge, courtesy of substandard works done by the contractors. So, it's not really a happy moment in Jeddah when rain pours out, though I want it to be always raining (to validate my reason of no-show in work :-).

All things considered, it was not the best idea to venture outside to see whether this rare phenomenon has wreaked havoc the scale of November 2009 Jeddah flooding. That few hours of rain considered normal by tropical standard already claimed scores of lives in Jeddah. And that is what every Jeddah resident is praying for not to happen again. Thanks to that disaster, corruption in the government has been brought to light as the real culprit behind the deaths of those who drowned in areas where no drainage system had been put in place. The simplest of thing that the Jeddah government is able to implement has not been done because of the corrupt city officials who pocketed the budget for drainage projects that could have saved many lives. Who would have thought anyway that flooding in the midst of the desert could kill those who were caught offguard by the deluge in highways and residential areas?  Now, those who were found responsible  have already made their cells their homes.

If rain is a blessing, I hope and pray that Jeddah will rain the whole time of next year. But if it is otherwise, let it it fall some other time. I remember sometime in 2004 when the whole company accommodation was awakened in the middle of the night with hailstones as big as poultry eggs. I and my roommate scampered for the heavenly  pieces that tore through the balcony and kept them in the freezer. We were so amazed at the gorgeous find that is considered rare in this desert country. Sadly for us though, what appeared to be snowy white in the dark had turned muddy brown on daylight. So the next thing we did was discard them from the freezer and had them pelted on the kitchen sink. We couldn't be blamed for picking them up like snow virgins in a frenzy. :-)

This quotation from James Whitcomb Riley has caught me, "It is no use to grumble and complain; It's just as cheap and easy to rejoice; When God sorts out the weather and sends rain - Why, rain's my choice." And for a hosts of reason, rain will be my choice too. Rain reminds me that nature always gains an upperhand against man's conceit, be it nourishment  for a dry land or a curse when she asserts her fury. Happy New Year  to all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

In The Thick Of It: Blue Christmas

"Never regret anything that has happened in your life, it cannot be changed, undone or forgotten so take it as a lesson learned and move on." - Unknown
I cannot explain what my insides feel like when Christmas is looming large at my doorstep. With certain responsibility falling on my shoulder, I feel helpless being helpless. Yes, at some point in our lives we do stupid things and make stupid decisions as well. Crying over spilled milk will do no help nor lessen the burden you carry. Things may be that sweet at a glance. Your whole being is gravitated towards a rare gem that has a tongue of honey; and you are cast under its spell. Until you realize you suddenly snapped. Then go figure why things do not seem to be what it seemed to be.

I don't get stressed about things that other people might. What I do let get under my skin are things like deadlines, bills, unnecessary throw-aways, wasted efforts, cunning minds taking advantage of the gullible, and  even Christmas traditions, among other things, that fall heavily on my mind.  But does it make any difference if December happens to be a Christmas month? Yes and no. It does because this month happens to be my tightest, and it falls on Christmas. No because Christmas has to pass anyway before we welcome another year filled with hope. Eye staring down at the negatives helplessly tore at me and made me wish away each passing day, and oh yes even on Christmas day.

Seriously though, I said way back when I started this endeavor, that I was excited to see what I would become at the end of this road and how would the experience change me. I hoped then that it would be for the better. As long as I can accept the lessons that life is throwing my way, and learn from them ... truly learn from them, I can say with certainty that this is for the better. Lessons learned indeed are a gem that adds to the pearl of wisdom drawn from the experience of life's adversity. I hope peace on earth will still have a chance. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thank You PEBA!

“The real winners in life are the people who look at every situation with an expectation that they can make it work or make it better" - Barbara Pletcher

My 77-year old mother riddled me with incessant queries over the phone; forget that my yelling reached  a cracking decibels yet unaudible to her as much. My younger brother had bombarded me with questions too. Why am I sending my two sisters to Manila for what? Turns out a rather difficult task to explain to them what I am up to apart from being the most responsible breadwinner on the planet. My woes just started. I vowed not to make promises again - even for a birthday's worth. Earlier, I was not too ecstatic about PEBA night knowing my odds of winning tipped the other side. I knew I had a strong entry, written from the heart and experience. But there were other criteria that my blog fell off from. Silently though I had promised a birthday present for myself if things get my way.

Two weeks preceding PEBA night, I had somewhat a realization that I'm not gonna make it as one of the awardees. Looking at the trend: Alexa ranking - I'm almost dead last - on online voting a perennial bottom dweller - oh yes I have one of the most boring blogs too. Even myself hated my own style of writing - impulsive, preachy, daring - Nebz would call it vitriolic sometimes. To unwittingly lunge it into a lighter sphere suits not my persona, observes a fellow blogger. And so I stopped begging for votes. I'd been mum on Facebook about this obnoxious vote-for-me boo-boos. "I had other things to get obsessed about", my mind consoles my psyche. But my mind has it. If I ever get to the top ten, I will send one of my siblings from Negros to represent me to the awards night.

Exactly a week before PEBA night, I received an email from Yanah Bautista informing me that I have been chosen to receive an award. I had hoped I was in the top ten. As to the kind of award, you certainly won't know until the awards night itself. Hmmm...I remember PEBA site announces 40 plus trophies are to be given out. So I was not sure whether my blog landed on the top ten, or perhaps a special citation for the most melodramatic entry. As I recall, other entries were more of a tearjerkers too so I am not alone contending for that plum. Plus the fact that I was told to make a video of myself or acceptance speech for the awards night. "Oh this is cruel", I resented. I will not in a million years do that - humiliating myself in front of hundreds of people? No way! The message certainly won't get through but my thick Ilonggo accent. Let me just make an essay about world peace or Gloria's mole in fifteen minutes but not this thing called public speaking, albeit a recorded one.

Whether I was in the top ten or not reigns incredulously in my mind. Shall I send my sister to Manila or not, plays tug-of-war in my mind. Over lunch that day, my mind vacillates between the pros and cons of my decision. If I throw a fortune for a two-way ticket plus accommodation, I will have nothing left to help my family tide over this Christmas. Okay, comes the impulse. I had to summon my strongest will. I texted my sister in a spur-of-the-moment. She replied like "are you serious?" kind of thing. Honestly, they have no idea what is this thing called blog. They have the slightest idea what I am up to apart from religiously sending my monthly remittances to them. After much deliberation, one will not go unaccompanied so I had two of them baptized in their first ever taste of air travel. And so, the bleeding of my pocket gushed like no other. What else?

Accommodation though was not sort of a problem because we have  friends in Bicutan who are more than wiling to offer them  a couple of night's sleepover. But as so often happens to those innocent enough to venture  the concrete jungle webbed with superhighways and skyways, heading to the event venue certainly guarantees another headache. And so I had to beg the organizers a couple of seats more to accommodate certified city slickers to chaperone them. Grateful to have found willing volunteers, I instructed them not to come late so as not to avail of SRO. True enough, they arrived at the venue an hour earlier and were duly ushered to the front row. An hour and half past six, the program has not commenced yet as the venue is slowly filled with guests who either got stuck in hellish traffic or got dazed with a finding nemo predicament.

Before the live streaming got to air, my cellular phone was already mired in traffic - this time complaints that the program will not start  a little too soon and some midsection already started to grumble as well. I thought I missed out on the awarding of photo entries as should have preceded the blog entries. Due to time constraint or some  lapses perhaps, the photo awards were not given out that instantly became an issue of seismic proportions. Special blog awards were given out first for different categories. Some blogs even scooped up multiple awards like Friendster, Facebook and Nokia awards. This is what you call misery loves company. "If I ended up zero that night, I think there will still be more losers than winners", I conceded. "So I am in the majority's side", me consoling myself. :-) But wait, I was told I'd be getting one. Until the best blog award for Mideast and Africa was announced. So the rest will have to contend for 2nd to 10th place knowing fully well that most of the strongest entries come from this region.

When my blog was announced, my sister glided the stage elegantly and held up my trophy as though she too won an Oscar. And yes, she was very proud of his small brother - a college dropout who has become his family's breadwinner since eighteen. This blogger had been through so many tough times in life - of being a sidewalk vendor often harassed by police, of getting duped by employment agencies, of becoming homeless in Abu Dhabi, and jobless in Jeddah, what else he has not gone through? There were times I cried reading my own posts about me, my struggles and my regrets. Though my mother does not understand about this blogging award, I'm sure she is proud of me too, for what I have done for our family.

On arriving home in Silay City, my two sisters have not run out of stories to tell. Maybe not so much about the glitz and glamor at the venue or the freebies that they took home with them. Not even the dizzying skyways and colossal traffic that confronted them, but on feeling proud of the recognition that I got. One of them asked me why I had to choose my nickname to be written on the trophy instead of my real name. By the way, in Negros I am Isoy or Isiock to most of them. Rarely do they call me Nelson. Since the title of my blog is !Soy Negrense! they read it as Isoy. Believe me I could not stop laughing at the blooper. So I had to explain to them that it is Spanish which means I am a Negrense. And my mother had her moment too. She said is this all my 'pasalubong' for her? A Plate? She would further argue that we had a lot of plates already and that she doesn't prefer glass because it breaks easily. :-)

Whether my blog deserves to be in the top ten or not is for anyone's opinion. I too have my own set of favorites and seven of them got to the top ten. And I am very happy that my predictions held true. So more or less the judges got it right. Winning fifth place is not bad on a first try. To me, there are greater reasons why sometimes we are compelled to write our own stories and share our lives to others. With PEBA's advocacy on strengthening OFW families in light of rising incidence of failed marriages and broken families, I could not find a bettter and more visible platform than this to be able to tell the world of what is actually happening behind the sacrifices of an OFW family brought about by diasporic migration in pursuit of a better life. There are still countless other stories that waited to be heard - of love, sacrifices, dreams and sometimes failures that become fixtures in a life of an OFW.

My deepest gratitude to the PEBA founder Mr. Jebee Kenji Solis and PEBA president Mr. Nereus Jethro Abad,  for their enormous efforts and sacrifices to make the PEBA event a resounding success - and of course to all the PEBA people around the world - and in the Philippines for their extraordinary passion and dedication to make PEBA a real platform for OFW excellence, whereby blogs are a powerful tool to get OFW sentiments heard across the world - sending out inspiration and strong statement that we are not just another group or sector but an organization, a genuine one, founded with a genuine vision and mission - to carry the torch of  OFW causes - and be a catalyst for change one way or another. I salute you guys! Thank you for making my birthday a truly memorable one! Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

She's A Good Witch After All

"Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will." ~Vernon Howard

I bet critics of this piece of monumental blooper  lashed out at its author mercilessly, and rolled onto floor in laughter. This prized find may have rotten down the sink, but it sends me up into a convulsive state everytime it reminds me of my own back in high school. I was studying then  in a barangay high school located in a hilly part of Sagay City. I would say, I'd been an average student since freshman high - not necessarily existing in class if not prompted, nor a bottom-dweller in every quiz. I also dread Fridays then. I have to be absent again to babysit my three-year old niece. Her parents are away the whole day going about with their wares. They are into buy and sell. (I don't have any choice - or I get stuck in my parents' home - mind and body stunted under the tall rows of sugarcane. So goes my excuse letter to my class adviser, " Please excuse me for making absent in your class because I care my niece today."

The following Monday, our adviser would do the roll call  and stop at me like ten minutes 'applauding'  my brand of English on top of my Friday absenteeism. We call her "aswang na bardot" which means slutty witch, obviously because she puts on thick and red lipstick and bathes in cheap perfume. The appearance is no more than a piece of stick with bulging eyes that could  horrify Linda Blair in her fiercest. Mind you, she's one of the most confident English speakers I've ever met  punctuated with her bizarre accent. Her mannerism in class is ridiculous too. She would flake off her dead skin cells wherever her hand touches, while her mouth froths tirelessly with her boundless vocabulary. So nobody really takes her seriously that's why she remains a spinster.

While most of us students did not bother to give her a damn other than her being a circus fixture, I guess I somehow gained a few from her wit. She would yell on top of her lungs if you say, "roses blooms". Or she would curse at the hopeless sets of genes you inherited from your ancestors for saying " she has a nice pair of eyeglass".  Of course we would go on to finish high school, and some of my lucky classmates have gone on to become nurses or engineers, until we heard that she had retired already. I thought I admired her secretly for her passion to teach us the right English, though no one really showed her she's being appreciated. I didn't get a chance though, I tell you I was so shy to even recite in class much more to say thank you to her personally or some eyelashes bat collectively.

Just I remember her. Wherever she is now, this is my way of saying thank you to her. 'Cause I got nothing to write and my mind is empty. Trash bin stinks. Mind in wanderlust. Just a little laugh at this piece of genius brushes aside my worries of an empty fridge. What the heck! Christmas is drawing near and nearer, still it floats in the air haha! I hope my landlord doesn't freak out if I've got none for my dues. Merry Christmas in advance!
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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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