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Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrating The Real Reason For The Season

"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor" - Romans 12:10

Thursday night was long and damp. We could have dropped our scheduled BS for a last dance practice. But no, the topic certainly entailed a no-nonsense dare-to-miss-and-wail-later moments that you didn't want it to end. Once he is sat at his fave spot in a circle of lounging and slumping listeners, Brother Sancho never lets go of the anointing and sees to it everyone gets challenged...and hopefully changed. 

Quietly, most of us had our minds fixed on a late night final practice. We were set to perform at the joint fellowship at A so our minds were urging on our BS teacher to conclude the session rather earlier. Bad thing, our choreographer  Kuya CJ had a bout with colds and tonsillitis. I suspect the virus became more potent when the previous night we still messed up with our steps he thought so simple for even autistic kids to master in a jiffy. And partly I take the blame and pass it to my progenitor for the absence of dance DNA in me. Buoyed by an audio upgrade and sheer determination to do well, we pulled off our last practice sans our choreographer. 

It's almost dawn break and we were still scrambling to find a bigger kettle, really big kettle  (imagine the beeline at every GMA's Kapuso Foundation soup kitchen). We were six members in a group assigned to cook one of the main courses. Obviously I've got no talent on the dance floor and so I might compensate its lack in the kitchen. I could have easily egg-scrambled a dozen trays but I doubted whether it makes sense to be in a lunch table. Hello it's a Christmas party!

Aside from excelling at a karaoke and being good at surviving a mouth stab, Kuya Pepe can cook too. He thought Callos would be perfect (we'll see later how it fares once served). 

Okay. Modest guess-timate for Friday's worship service is sixty. The transport ministry is expected to be plowing back and forth Jeddah roads come early morning. If one wonders how on earth a tiny Suzuki Alto can ferry all shapes and sizes to and from the church, well that is a God matter, and yes even sometimes it feels like you're being toasted inside. Kuya Pepe can still give you a lift anywhere as long as you show up. Aware that one invitee of Kuya George had to be fetched at eight, the rush to get a couple of hours sleep was paramount than anything else. 

We were excited to bring new souls for the Lord, we're optimistic that is.  We almost forgot Christmas parties are celebrated in ubiquity. George's sms  had preempted the alarm set at seven saying that his invitee will be a no show-up, probably some heads already spun around in merriment that night. Wisdom learned: when confronted with this spoiler, don't wail over ruined sleep, though five minutes of deep sleep matter. 

With an hour to spare before the supposed start of the worship service, we proceeded to fetch Neil with the Callos-brimming kettle in tow. Thank God even our Alto's A/C is acting up, our dish settled well in heat and reached our destination still edible notwithstanding the thick tomato paste.

As I was busy recording (sorry folks, the video of him belting out "Still" will not figure here), this picture of the day's coordinator will suffice.

Forget about swelling midsection! This is our moment, and it's our thanksgiving day too! Looks like cliche on the menu table but once confronted with the sight and smell, better be well-stuffed than sorry :) Right Kuya Phallus Maximus?

Gotcha Roy! It's a welcome news that you've officially renounced  your quasi-emaciated frame to join the race for thicker belly! Yes, the irresistibly yummy purple yam cake will certainly help your cause. Bon appetit!

"Don't look at me like that! And don't say I have jumped on the bandwagon of "take-out-club". I am just thinking of my flock at B. They would be happy if they get to taste this trophy purple yam cake", rationalizes Ate Malou.

To say that everyone was overjoyed is an understatement, well, except for Kuya Celso who barged in late and envied Phallus' spot. Take solace from me Kuya Cels: I didn't figure in any of those group pics as I made myself busy  scooping up the residue for a week's fuel, ha ha! And hey, Pepe's Callos seems to have been largely ignored? Not exactly, it soon found its final destiny across another fence. In fairness to Kuya Pepe, his Callos was served late so that it didn't attract much attention (who wants to make him feel bad by the way?:)

"Amid the noise and haste (as borrowed from Desiderata), I won't let go of my caldereta", says Ate Florence. "And I'm still the handsomest of all sans my white locks", adds Kuya Orayan. "Wait, though I fall short in that department I am still in the running for the most photogenic plum", argues Kuya Jonie. "How did I get in this trouble dear Lord? I have long abandoned my job as a bouncer and here I am in the midst of this commotion", laments Kuya Noli.

I really wanted to pick any of those Guess boxes. "If I could only rig the numbers to my favor", says my old self. But yeah, that's not quite possible and none of us would want to do the same, it's a sin folks! I hate to do that. Okay, I would be appeased later, as those were just Guess boxes; inside were some candles which are best used when there's power outage! Oh by the way, brown out here happens only if you failed to settle your electric bills.

Phallus beams with pride for winning, err, taking elekta iron for his gift (though he muttered he would prefer a rather well-known brand :). Pastor Raul on the other hand cannot contain his joy with his two gifts that he clasped them tightly, lest somebody else would offer a swap.  And Pepe whispered, "whatever, as long as I look good in the picture, my gift doesn't mean a thing. By the way, he had planned already that his gift will go to a worthy recipient: our building watchman.

Who says I came up short of documenting real action as to whose talent emerges relevant amid economic crisis? Roy, had you not slipped this ultra-big bowlful of "take-outs" into your bag, well, probably for a "week's meal" as Ate Malou had estimated, I would have not been convinced you're in for the most-improved waistline contest. George too, of course didn't want to be outdone with an empty  rice cooker he had flipped for easy stacking, well, also for a week's supply maybe? (Joke only mga Kuyas:)

At the joint fellowship later that night, we're glad Kuya CJ could not come with us, otherwise he would not be talking to us anymore given our actual performance. And naturally, a plethora of reasons were to blame for such a botched performance. One, space is too small compounded by an elevated platform on the back steps that hinders our smooth execution. Two, we couldn't hear each other's counting that each one was on his own. And that was really gross. We resolve though that next time we will do better, maybe minus this fellow here, ha ha!!

If there is one deserving of all thanksgiving, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who stripped himself of his divinity, was born in a manger full of humility, died for our sins in the most painful and humiliating way so that we have hope in this life and for eternity. He is the real reason for the season and in Him is real hope.

Have a blessed and Christ-filled new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trudging Through Fear With His Peace

"For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." - 2 Timothy 1:7

I dreaded to be here at the Philippine Consulate. I had already a script written in my mind. Hope is never fading. Only armed with bravado and  honest rationale should I get caught in this escape-attempt I had staked myself in. Totally unimpressed with how the government generalizes domestic workers to be vulnerable to abuses, still I had to submit myself to what it requires of me to be allowed entry back to Saudi Arabia once my vacation concludes. The odds are tough but I should be flying home in two days.

First step: OWWA. I was spared of 90 rials or so for my last payment still covers this year. It's only been a year and half since I last went on vacation. Then at Pag-ibig, I was purged of 30 rials. Though mandatory, I never foresee myself trooping down to its office to borrow as paying for loan interests scares me to the hilt. Last step OEC - the least costly at 9 rials yet the most important one. Then came  the familiar dilemma most common to OFWs like me holding a domestic worker visa. When asked, I had the original contract in hand signed in Manila in 2006, but  Miss Ruby Ruby (a quasi-twin of the real one on the boob tube) won't concede to its validity and cannot be appeased with the "old one" she refers to. Yes, she's too smart to know I had transferred to another employer by this time, and demanded that I showed her the new contract with all the capricious demands stipulated in it including the repatriation of my remains to be shouldered by my boss once oxygen escapes my nostrils, for good. So there goes my script as she wouldn't lend an ear to my case.

My feel-good story about my job and how much privileged I am to be paid for my conceptual skills rather than my manual skills didn't register to her logical bearings either. And I understand she adheres to strict compliance to orders, in which case technicality reigns over logic and textbook rules trump humanity. There's nothing more humiliating and self-diminishing than being warned of not being able to come back because I am not considered a legal OFW. In the absence of a contract (in which case a phony one makes a perfect substitute at a cost of 1,200 rials), she will not issue an OEC hence I'm no better than a pauper if I fail to come back. She's not interested anymore in even looking at the bulks of documents in my hand, i.e. salary certificate, company perks, job title.

Then she called the one next to me. He is a cleaner working for a contracting company. Not that much perks understandably. He beats me in this: he does not belong to my category - a household servant as many call it as per my iqama.She  proceeded to issue him an OEC in haste. And suddenly, I seemed to look the most miserable among the people in that room. Along the frustration comes a stern warning publicly declared that if I proceeded to go on vacation on my scheduled trip after two days, I will not be allowed to come back by the government that sees to it every OFW is protected and the same that seeks to alleviate poverty of its citizenry by promoting labor export. Thus, I am sure to lose my job and over a dozen imminently going to go hungry. 

I would have been convinced of the "sincerity" and "uprightness" expressly demonstrated by certain people in the Consulate had I not witnessed myself how unscrupulous people can easily profit out of our predicament. Barely two months ago, a colleague in the same department as me almost cancelled his vacation. He already had a two-way ticket and his passport stamped with exit-reentry. His nightmare two years back still vivid in mind and a firmly-held vow never to mess-up again with the POEA in Manila, he took an ugly short cut abetted by certain Consulate people who obviously are big beneficiaries too.

It's an open secret though inside Consulate premises who these sharp-witted ones are, cashing in on   technicality-laden government rules to conspire with a local owner of a translation and typing center opposite the Consulate building to make dubious contracts in lieu of original ones yet perfectly honored by the Consulate. The price all in all is a hefty 1,200 rials. So if you have no contract to show as requisite for obtaining an OEC, just consider yourself to be a consenting victim of a friendly robbery in return for a phony contract replete with phony names and information. So imagine that I and my colleague are no isolated case,  if not we are in the thousands. And oh the daily premiums except Fridays! Indeed business is thriving.

Though a little grateful for my visa profession as family driver (my iqama can never be renewed should my profession be otherwise due to nitaqat thing), I dreaded this biennial moment to troop to the Consulate to secure for myself an OEC. Yes, the drawback is exponentially high when as a driver you don't have a contract to show. First, my boss thinks the Philippine government of being intrusive to demand how much he earns or if he has no tendency to run away with my salary, and how many children he has,  their names and ages,  and so on and so forth. Their house location included (so better be equipped with a ruler and a pencil just like your life depended on it, so authorities could easily track down your erring boss. 

I can understand fully well why my boss thinks it to be creepy. He never employs me as a driver, in fact I have never seen his home in  6 years of my employment. I only get to see him very rarely in the office otherwise we communicate through email. I am blessed to be entrusted with an independent department reporting directly to him. So as long as he is being updated with status reports coming from all his business interests across the kingdom, he is fine with that. I have also that privilege to schedule my own trips to all regions regularly. And so the question in his mind - why on earth the Philippine government demands from him all personal information in a way that seems intrusive to him? He all the while thinks he has been a perfect boss to me but why the creepy demands? His opinion on this was relayed to me through his secretary. The fact that he needs to sign a dozen times or so in blank pages reinforces his belief that we are a government of crazy people devoid of sound reasoning. And mostly he is out of the country doing business otherwise he will come unannounced, so it's like I'm chasing the wind and get it to sign some sort of paper as required by my government.

Amid this tribulation I may say, doing the right thing is not always the strangest thing to do. Coupled with prayers and right intentions firmly in check, I asked confirmation from my sister and her pastor husband whether it is God's will for me to push through with my vacation or not. If losing my job and subsequently failure to provide for my family equates to not seeing them temporarily till government relaxes its rules on us (household workers), then I prefer to defer my vacation even if it means forever. But God has different ideas and His script always prevails. I got the confirmation after they prayed and fasted that I should be home in a couple of days.

On the second day since my arrival, I wasted no time discovering and facing either the consequence or reward of my faith. Either way, I was excited. But God  is faithful and true, He will never put to shame those who put their trust in Him. At the back of my head, I know I can still push through with my vacation if I was ready to dispense what they require of me. I even came close to making bribes. But thanks be to God, He shows mercy and grace to those whose hope is only  in Him, when every circumstance seems to conspire so that we lose our faith in His power to turn things around.

The pastor and wife tandem who was there with me in spirit  throughout my ordeal and gave me the word that I am indeed coming home. 

A cool early morning breeze greets you at Silay airport with a refreshing view of eucalyptus trees behind concrete pavements and well-manicured lawns as backdrop.

And finally I got my OEC in minutes on just my second day home! No cheating, no bribes involved. Just complete trust in what God is able to do. After all, in Jeremiah 32:27 He declares, " I am the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me?"

And more posts to follow about my brief vacation in Negros, hopefully, if I find it fit not to hibernate again! :) 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's More Fun In The Philippines When You Have Complete Set Of Limbs

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." - Albert Einstein

In elementary, we were taught that Bayanihan only existed in the Philippines. The iconic scene that is of a nipa hut with both ends perched on the shoulders of men in the village and carried off to a nearby place, comes to mind.  Volunteers sometimes run a risk of getting stuck in the mud and losing the balance, if unfortunate the hut follows somersaulting into the dirt mud. Then cheering women let out a scream in unison that turns into laughter. Men stuttered by the sheer weight can't help but join wriggling in laughter as women start to pick on them for having lost their stamina in a previous night's grind. My  childhood memories store of similar scenes from where I grew up and indeed our Bayanihan is a virtue that is one of a kind, if not unparalleled, even so intellectuals grapple to find its foreign equivalent, the jargon of sort, at least.

Okay, we own the patent for that world-renowned virtue embedded in our culture. So what's next? Of course we are darn proud of our customs and tradition. We are proud to be Filipinos. We are  proud of our race. We are the best and we are willing to don belt bomb to annihilate skeptics. It is but natural, no argument here. (In fact, this one here has a familiar banner gleaming over the sidebar of his blog). But ask one sincere fellow whose candor to say he is not proud to be one could spontaneously provoke a race to set up a Facebook page condemning him and putting him in the same breath as the anti-christ. Add up some smart mind literally swimming in wealth due to the success of a venture on polo shirt with the ubiquitous Philippine map emblazoned on it, for a proof.

Of course, this degree of patriotism does not only thrive within  domestic confines, more so a bold statement a Filipino carries with him beyond his shores. In the streets of Jeddah, one does not need to make a wild guess whether the driver is an Indonesian or a Filipino. Tendency is, the gleaming tri-colors and I love Philippines stickers spread across the windshield or trunk of the car serve for easy identification, well, in this case it makes  a patriotic compatriot easy target for a cruising hormonally charged local.

Now here goes the question: What is the relevance of us being proud to the gruesome photo above? Okay, we are proud to be Filipinos, right? And we are super proud of our tradition too. So it's about time that we own up too to the colossal embarrassment that we rightfully deserve from a taunting world because of our world-renowned  New Year's tradition.

Random Thoughts on the 3 Fs of New Year's Tradition in the Philippines:

Food: For the well-to-dos, ushering the new year should be a picture of opulence that dining tables overflow with sumptuous food. Mountains of carb-rich and cholesterol-laden menus adorn tasseled tables of the well-to-dos that leftovers could still feed an entire village - not the typical scene you find in poor households. The month-long holiday mode in December sets the norm for food bingeing that  the omni-present Christmas parties get a malevolent middle finger for a palm-sized increase in waistlines as the year culminates. High-end hospitals similarly enjoy the perks of draining cash from rich patients, whose talents at stuffing their bellies to the brim trigger the hypertension and cardiovascular issues in them. And some who survived the death threat still get the chance to flock online, filtering on the very best advice on how to get rid of the curse slash proof of gastronomic indulgences. So they say, at least they're active in promoting what our culture teaches us: to welcome and feel the Christmas spirit in the form of food, exchange gifts, getting drunk, debauchery, excessive revelry and some endless and senseless partying.

The stark contrast of Christmas 'spirit' seen in poor families is hardly surprising, given the glaring gap between two social levels. The poor do not see Christmas and New Year much of happy holidays when nothing has changed much in their dining table. Not many similar left-and-right invitations for some Christmas gathering; a stray one could prove a nuisance to their daily quest for a living, yes even for a day. Christmas parties at school of their kids can sometimes pose a problem for parents who find mandatory exchange gifts a real burden. But in the race for a flatter belly after the holidays, the poor win hands down. They don't have much to burn; good for them, their daily grind for a living does them a favor. Observe a decrepit cart-pushing man in his topless along the streets of Manila and you will envy at his six-pack you would want to trade your skin-encased blubber with his, except for his trade.

Firecrackers: It is without a doubt that no other country on the planet comes close to the fame the Philippines enjoy for being outrageously crazy over New Year celebrations. What new year revelry in the Philippines without fire crackers? And what new year celebration without flying limbs and blown-up fingers strewn across empty spaces, where adults and kids alike compete setting light to bombs like Goodbye Philippines and Bin Laden?

The Philippines has laws in placed banning powerful firecrackers that perennially gift significant members of population on new year's eve the following:  bombed-out limbs, mangled fingers, blown-up faces, and take this - mangled bodies reminiscent of Baghdad bombings where relatives struggle to piece together their dead's limbs and entrails. Forget about those laws. They were made to make it appear that the government is doing something else besides plundering and milking the cows.

And what government can constrain a determined people bound by tradition and belief that loud  and scary explosions  actually scare evil spirits off? (By the way, if nations of evil spirits were successfully driven out year after another, we would have succeeded in jailing the politicians and illegal loggers who conspired to wipe off a substantial populace in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. We would have sent the Marcoses in jail in the company of a pardoned convicted plunderer, and the Arroyo clan that occupy rightful places alongside greatest corrupt leaders in history. And the list goes on and on.)

To make a really credible point here, the data below and actual situation in the wake of New Year's celebration especially in Manila have given weight to the shift of world's attention on us, not with awe but  this time a well-deserved contempt:

  • 916 firecrackers-related injuries - combine the power of Goodbye Philippines, Goodbye Universe and Bin Laden and you will get a real war zone reminiscent of World War 2 that rendered Manila the most devastated capital next to Warsaw. The world has been educated that the Philippines is a third-world country famous for its manpower export, but New Year tradition in the country is tantamount to  hundreds of millions of pesos spent on  firecrackers, in addition to millions worth of destroyed properties and lost lives brought about by careless handling of these explosives - all for the sake of tradition. So, despite their award-winning campaign to keep limbs still attached to their owners come 2012, people at the Department of Health were reduced to tears, not for overflowing compassion for the victims but of feeling slighted when all they had to deal with were a bunch of boneheads.
  • 28 injuries caused by stray bullets (a handful of them died) - who else feel entitled to spray the air with bullets with complete disregard for innocent recipients of their bullets of arrogance, but the men in uniform and educated individuals? This is the worst part of the New Year tradition when monsters are itching to pull the trigger of their guns, knowing fully well that at some point the bullets will be buried in the bodies of the unlucky ones in a mega city of over 20 million. When does killing another person become acceptable for the sake of tradition? When does revelry become a license to cause others to mourn? Okay, it's a given, where else but the Philippines where revelry is equivalent to savagery. 
  • 5 kids injured for ingesting firecrackers - perhaps parents underestimate the dire consequences, thus the complacency and carelessness to keep firecrackers close to their kids' mouths, or as one CNN comment puts it - these being "easily edible when nothing is on the table save for four corners". When have we become a country of responsible parents, when 85%  of the population squirm in poverty and disease due to overpopulation propagated by the Catholic church and sanctioned by the government? 
  • An international airport unable to handle air traffic due to thick smog hovering over Metro Manila - and now that's very self-explanatory. People cannot just curse the smog and pray it away when its sheer thickness can shield the whole city from hailstones as big as Pacquiao's fist. Include the upsurge in respiratory illnesses that cause a stampede to get to emergency rooms first, then we have a bunch of people to blame for preferring fried chicken over vegetables that weaken their immune system. Please forget the amount of toxins they inhale - they are there to stay for weeks, or months - so count them as part of their existence - remember there are still remnants of Bin Ladens that didn't get to explode.

Feng Shui: Of course this is big fat business. Remember how so-called Feng Shui experts find their lives changed? Most of them live glamorous and opulent lives. They are being given substantial media exposure because people rich and poor alike, come to them for advice on what to do and what to avoid for the coming year so that nice fortunes don't frantically running from them but beggingly coming to them. And what happened to Gloria? I just doubt if she ever got the best advice and offered the most potent charm with all her money to buy much, if not all of Binondo's and Quiapo's  amulets and lucky charms on offer. I once heard one famous Feng Shui store razed by fire and another ransacked by ciminals and never to recover. If only those spirits invoked by Feng Shui were offered the best perks or perhaps a little entertainment, they would have not staged a protest and firmly guarded those stores and not let misfortune ate them up. But don't count  the poor just yet out of the equation, because some of them try, really try, to acquire some prized lucky charms in lieu of canned sardines for a meal. Did they not argue that a meal can be ignored but not the nice fortune that awaits them the entire new year? Ah, only in the Philippines!

I don't mean to advocate sarcasm but here is to tradition that symbolizes our national identity: Those who survived the war zone with limbs still attached and both eyes able to see, happy and prosperous New Year!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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