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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!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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