The time is between six and seven in the evening. As part of my routine, I have to buy food from the market.
Another night, same as the past nights. I bought food from a bearded guy. For basic conversation, I have to unload my little knowledge of broken Arabic.
Of course, I should pay the “bakala” — the way people called the local convenience store. In Filipino version, it’s “Aling Puring Suking Tindahan.” Ah okay, it’s “tindahan” for short.
I have to take out my currencies of Rials with different sizes. Same as Euros, it gets bigger depending on the value.
Then, I said it with a smile, “Shukran Sadiq” — a simple greeting in broken Arabic. It means “Thanks, my friend.”
I’m ready to go.
December 18, 2016 — the date when I last set my feet on the Arabian grounds I lived for 26 months.
When you hear the word “holiday” in Saudi Arabia, there are only three events in the minds of the majority of the population. Those would be the end of Ramadan (also known as Eid al-Fitr), Eid Al Adha, and Saudi National Day. Don’t worry if you have no idea about them. Up to now, I’m still not so familiar with these event names. I consulted Google for the correct spelling (of course, except for the Saudi National Day, spellchecker will handle that).
One of the benefits of living in an unknown culture is I appreciate more the culture I grew up since birth.
I can remember as if it was yesterday. Day one as Overseas Filipino Worker.
I arrived at the Dammam Airport. I saw different people from different countries. All are hopefuls of taking a bite of this huge cake of opportunity called “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
After several months it hit me. Life here is not a piece of cake.
As many had experienced, I lose count of how many times I thought of quitting. I doubted myself. I regret coming here.
I ask myself some questions. Can I really survive working here? For the money, was it all worth it?
I know from the people I spoke here. Both Filipino and non-Filipinos. Working here is same as signing up for military school. Okay, I might be exaggerating. This I’m sure, though, toughness is a must.
I dedicate this list to Filipino men. Especially those I encountered in the construction sites. They’re the real tough guys.
Today I just want to make this post a little bit shorter than my previous ones. This time I go straight to the point.
All expatriates I talked to here in Saudi Arabia came here for work. I never find anyone whose purpose is to have a missionary volunteer work. No one works here for free. Yet, there are some who did but not voluntarily. Unfortunate ones got delayed salaries or none at all. Some got paid, but with deducted working hours, vanished from thin air. Or say vanished from someone’s thick wallet. Some even mistreated with verbal and physical abuse.
Every pursuit has its own benefits and risks. Many people, including me, came here without knowing what we’re up to. Well, how can we know? Same as all the expatriate workers here, I already carried my own weights of heavy loads. I’m always thankful to God for protecting me from taking unbearable sufferings.
When I was in college, I thought, to work abroad was the last option for my professional career. In conclusion, I realized I’m both right and wrong. I’m right; I did everything in my hand to have a decent earning in my home country. And yes, it was my last option at the time. Hence, I became part of the statistics of Overseas Filipino Workers. On the other side, I was wrong; as this is my short-term last option. In my heart of hearts, I am now part of my greater journey in the future. And see life in a perspective of gratitude and faith. Only time can tell if I speak empty words.
I’m not promoting or romanticizing the life of an expatriate in Saudi Arabia. No rainbows and unicorns here. In the grateful eye, though it is hard sometimes, this is still a good life.
I missed my beloved country, the Philippines. I could not explain enough how colorful there the Christmas is. We had the longest holiday season on the planet. Many started celebrating Christmas from the first day of September up to the first Sunday of January, which is the epiphany, also known as the day of the three kings.
Every part of the country has their own ways of celebrating. Every night, some people forget just for the season to be conservative in their electrical power consumption with their Christmas lights. For some, this is the time again to take out all those Christmas decorations — Christmas balls, Christmas lanterns, beléns (usually a mini version of the birth of Jesus, with statues, the manger, and hut), Santa stuffed toys or just anything that could remind us that Christmas is coming. The air is filled with Christmas songs from choirs, local carols, TV and radio stations or maybe just from yourself who can’t help but sing as the effect of the last song syndrome.
Our apartment is on the third floor, next is the rooftop where I’ m in right now. This is the best place that I can find for musings. With one Pakistani that is far for me to be bothered, I was at peace. At eleven in the morning, the wind is slightly felt, the birds are chirping and the sun’s heat was dominating. I think God is pampering me as I’m sitting on a sofa. Yep, a simple surprise, a sofa set plus a bed right here. Though worn-out, these are all great means of comfort.
I’m also hearing loud prayers. Literally loud prayers. We are surrounded by Mosques with high towers with megaphones. I don’t understand them but I can feel the solemnity and devotion of our Muslim brothers and sisters. This happens five times a day. So as I had observed, Muslims prayed in five different specific hours every single day. They have an incredible commitment to God.
After all the efforts and waiting, at last, I’m in Saudi Arabia. Congratulations to me! I now belonged to the statistics of the Overseas Filipino Workers, the so-called “new heroes” of our nation.
Now, I’m sitting in my bed inside my apartment, the air-conditioning is helping me to forget that I’m in the middle of the desert.
As of this very moment that I’m typing on my tablet, the time was past eight in the morning. All of us six Filipinos living together in one Arabian roof finished eating our breakfast.
What to do next?
So it’s true! Five is easier than two, huh?. I mean, five days rather than two days a week of writing is easier. The reason might be because of the cut from momentum. It was hard to write again after days of delays.
I always have a good night’s sleep, but not this past three days. I’m preoccupied of my upcoming flight this Sunday going to Saudi Arabia.
The urgency gave me a good reason to start typing now.
I love to think that I’m just going on vacation. I wish I’m just taking a holiday trip to enjoy the culture of the Arabs. But it’s not. I have to work there for a two-year contract.