Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Warmth and Heat: Pinoys in Arabia!

Posted on June 19, 2005 by jimparedes

One can never visit even just a part of the Arab world and remain unchanged, unimpressed, unperturbed, or maybe even undisturbed. In my case, it’s a combination of all that plus ironically, a sense of euphoria and wonder during this last trip of APO to Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. It is not strange to feel this way since this area of the world is a land of contrasts. There is a harshness everywhere that pervades. Perhaps it’s because the weather is so punishing. It can go up to 56 degrees Celsius or 110 Fahrenheit in the summer and bitingly cold in the winter. Their way of life, at least to me, can seem quite cruel and dogmatic. I talk especially of their attitudes towards women, sexuality, modernity, religion, etc. Life is hard period! And so live with its stringent rules! That’s what the whole scene seems to suggest to me.

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A mosque every few blocks!

But then, there is also a charming excessiveness everywhere. There is a mindblowing overabundance of gold, money, sand, heat, tradition, mosques, luxurious buildings, royalty, nice cars, rich people and really high end shopping malls. There is also an abundance of spirit, of faith as evidenced by the phrase ‘inshAllah’ (if Allah wills it) which they say when commenting about anything that is unsure in life. I am sure I am only touching the surface when I talk of life in Arabia in the way I do. Forgive me for I only stayed there for 10 days.

Bahrain is one of the Arab world’s nice free zones rivaled only by Dubai. They allow liquor, and people seem to be quite relaxed. There are discos, bars and there are sexy singers in short skirts, musicians with long hair, rappers, dancers, even hookers. No wonder they are regularly visited by the Saudis who simply need to cross the bridge when they need a break from their very strict Islamic society and get their fix of Western decadence! On weekends, drunken Saudis are everywhere! A high point for me was a visit to the grand mosque and a very interesting and enlightening conversation about Islam with a young female scholar.

Kuwait is the richest Arab state, and possibly the richest country in the world if we talk per capita. Its distinctive icon is the Kuwait tower which dominates its landscape. It is home to the ‘sweetest’, most easily extracted oil in the area. No wonder Saddam wanted to annex it.

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The Kuwait Tower which can be seen from almost any place in Kuwait city.

Oman is the prettiest among the three places we visited. It’s like a quaint ‘boutique’ country, if you know what I mean. For one, it is mountainous and has lush greenery. It also has old souks (markets) and like everywhere in the Arab world, one can buy gold cheap. Its charm lies in its look– buildings whose regimented white color stand out amid the backdrop of beige, jagged mountains everywhere.

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The luxurious Chedi Hotel in Oman. Simply fabulous!

One of the things I try to do when visiting a strange place is to touch base with the humanity of the inhabitants. With Arabs, this is not difficult. They generally are friendly, accommodating and honest. Just as Sting expressed it about the Russians, ‘the Arabs love their children too’, and they are like us and everyone else in many respects. Just don’t try to take stolen shots, most especially of the women. They have an aversion to having their picture taken. Almost each time, I had to ask permission first and was almost always refused. Sayang, because many of their faces are so ‘biblically’ dramatic pa naman. .But I still managed to get some good ones after I bluffed about being a correspondent for the Kuwait Times.

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The Arabs love their camel meat, too. This guy asked me to take his picture! I love this shot.

But the biggest imprint this trip has left me is still the indomitable spirit of the Filipino. Everywhere we went, we saw our kababayans exuding that great Pinoy hospitality and that drive to make something of themselves in this hot, almost inhabitable, alien world. We are everywhere—in Arab homes, hospitals, government ministries, entertainment centers, restaurants, hotels, malls, parks, etc. We are turning the cogs that run their industries, businesses, and all aspects of their lives. We are raising their children and holding the sky up together with Indians, Pakistanis, Moroccans, Egyptians, and other nationalities. But by and large, we do it with much more grace, competence, joie d’vivre, and humor.

Sure there are sad stories that also abound—-exploitation, violence, etc. Even so, we saw wide, appreciative smiles from 220 takas women who had sought refuge in our Kuwait embassy. Most of them had been physically abused, emotionally scarred, sexually beaten or raped, deprived of their salaries but they still managed to exude that child-like innocence and trust that characterizes us as a people. This is probably one of the reasons after economic ones why we so boldly seek employment in places unknown everywhere in the world. I was quite moved by the sight of all these women I actually wanted to embrace each one of them and promise them that things would be all right. Oh, if only I could really give assurances, I thought to myself as I held back.

We did one concert each in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman and let me tell you, it was such an indescribable pleasure and an honor to perform for fellow Pinoys, in this part of the world. They laughed, cried, sang along, waved their hands as we brought them home to the Philippines even for just two hours. Perhaps it is easier to appreciate who we are when we are outside the country. Even as news about the Philippines was increasingly disconcerting while we were abroad, I could only see hope as I looked at our countrymen. I was proud, happy, and grateful to sing for them–and that I am not only one of them but also one with them. We are a hard, tough people who can smile and be happy in the face of difficulties and adversity. The politicians can all go hang. We are proving everyday that we have the right stuff as a people. The challenge is to behave at home the way we behave abroad.

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My name in Arabic!

Mabuhay tayo!!

0 to “Warmth and Heat: Pinoys in Arabia!”

  1. DarkBlak says:

    Kuwait… naalala ko dati dapat punta ako ng Kuwait para mag work pero dahil sa SARS na ban ng mga Filipino duon, kaya ayun hindi tuloy ako natuloy. pero ok lang naman 🙂

  2. Jim says:

    darkblak–Kuwait is nice pero mas maganda ang Oman. The Omanis are also nicer to foreigners than Kuwaitis by and large. If I were young enough, I would not mind trying it out in the Middle East. I love the strangeness of the customs, the food, the people, etc. Hirap lang talaga ako sa sobrang init but I would not mind going there again and again!

  3. jed says:

    i always wanted to visit the middle east. gusto kasing tingnan ang roots ng islam. i’m not a moslem pero gusto ko lang makita kung anong difference ng middle east sa cotabato city(were i grew up)parati kasing pinagmamayabang saken ng mga friends ko na moslem na maganda daw dun. sabi pa nila mas maging maganda daw ang cotabato city if moslem daw ang hahawak.dont take me wrong pero i doubt what they said. sila na nga ang may hawak ngaun pero were not going anywhere but down.

    nga pla sana pede kau magconcert d2. kahit sa iligan lang. kahit maliit lang na concert. that would surely make a world of difference in these dreary town.

    salamat poh sa musika…

  4. jey says:

    i have heard the same thing too about the people from oman from a friend who was temporarily assigned to work there. comparing them from other people from middle east, they are the nicest and most mabait.

  5. bu says:

    the middle east is indeed a place to visit. to this day, having been a saudia airlines flight attendant is one experience i love to talk about, albeit the ‘culture shock’ i went through for awhile. their cities are like works of art.

  6. enigma says:

    i get to see the other side of the world and appreciate all of it each time i read your blog. thanks jim.

  7. zarah dizon says:

    I have a passion for the middle east too. Never been there but i think it is such an interesting place with interesting culture and traditions. Have you seen the movie Arabian Nights? it’s cute for me, authentic costumes, fabulous narration of the popular middle east stories/myths (children’s stories), and good settings.

  8. Yvette says:

    I now live and work in one of the few Muslim countries in Africa. Totoo, nakakatigatig ang pananampalataya nila kay Allah. The compassion for the poor and strength of solidarity are amazing. Specially the humanity exhibited in day to day life, very far from the idea of aggressive and war freak Muslims I grew up with (thanks to Philippine cinema and christian centered interpretation of history). Muslims I know, work and live with are humane, sensitive and compassionate. Yes, camel and goat meat are typical fixture on our dining table plus camel milk!

    Nakikidaan lang sana surfing about Zen, salamat sa entry na ito.

  9. Alexander Martin Remollino says:

    Dear Mr. Jim Paredes,

    I am Mr. Alexander Martin Remollino, a journalist. I write regularly for Bulatlat.net, an online news weekly. Some of our articles have been reprinted by The Manila Times and the Philippine Graphic, and I also occasionally contribute articles to the latter.

    I am currently doing an article on people who participated in both Edsa 1 and Edsa 2, and how they feel about the prospects of another Edsa uprising — considering that some political quarters are now calling for a similar form of action in the light of the current political scandals.

    I would like to interview you on this topic, preferably before this Friday — in a manner most convenient to you, whether through the Internet or by phone or live. I understand you are in the Middle East right now, so it’s going to be through the Internet if you agree to be interviewed, although it would indeed be an honor to meet you personally at another time.

    I can be reached at ka.martin@gmail.com.

    Hoping for your favorable response.

    Alexander Martin Remollino

  10. Teena says:

    hi, Tito Jim! i learned a lot about this piece. i’ll have Nap read it as well ‘coz he’s been getting employment offers in Doha, Qatar (they need mechanical engineers there). meanwhile, a Dubai-based call center wants to employ me as a trainer. working in the Middle East used to be the last thing on our mind. actually, i’m still having second thoughts. first of all, i don’t think i’m ready to be away from my family for a long period. secondly, the training I had in London got me thinking if journalism is really my calling. our instructor, a veteran Reuters journalist, said i should be proud to have been picked for that course ‘coz they receive hundreds of applicants from developing countries and only select those whom they believe have the potential to be one of the best journalists in his/her country. i don’t know about becoming one of the best…all i know is that i wanna write good stuff. 🙂
    also, i’m eyeing the Oxford fellowship (3-9 months grant) that the same foundation is offering to developing world journalists who’d like to do some extensive research. i may apply for that next year. i’m sure you’ll find my topic proposal interesting (secret muna…hehehe). kelan yung oxford thing ni Mio? baka magpang-abot kami sa England if things go as planned. 🙂

    Belated Happy Father’s Day to you — one of the best dads in the world! I wanted to send an SMS, but I wasn’t sure if naka-roaming # mo. Anyhow, hope you got the text messages that matter that day. 😉

  11. sachiko says:

    I envy you because you can see the world and look at the faces and touch the heart of the many Filipinos scattered all over the world.I wish people like you can go to politics and help rule the country. Hayy..I hope in my lifetime the Philippines can be a better country..Our people deserved more than this.

  12. mikka says:

    hey tito jim.hehe.mikka here.do yah still remember me? im the pamangkin of “ninang erbi”.haha. i was always in ABS during APO shows. hehe. i just wrote yah here doz u ddnt hav a tagboard.hehe. anyway..i hope u get to read and reply.:) it’d be great to hear from yah! take care! mwah! you can e-mail me here nalang: cool_icegirl01@yahoo.com. thanks!ü

  13. BabyPink says:

    hello po.:)

    thanks for taking us with you to these three wonderful countries. i’d like to, one day, visit everyone of them. insha-Allah.:)

    did you know that arabic has no “p”? so, paredes become baredes.:) filipino (person) is “filibiini” in arabic.:)

  14. Jim says:

    jed–maganda talaga ang middle east. but like everywhere, it has its share of good annd bad as well. But I would not mind stayin there a few years maybe.
    jey-totoo. One does not meet too many Kuwwaitis by and large cuz they do not work menial jobs. They like to be managers and bosses even if, in fact, mas magaling ang Pinoys and others sa kanila.
    Bu–Yes, may culture shock nga. But as for me, I love being ‘shocked’ generally speaking.
    enigma and zarah dizon. Salamat! Yes, I too was thrilled as a kid with stories from Arabian Nights.
    yvette–Like you, I live to travel and I love discovering the universality in what appears to be major differences. Indeed, Arabs are warm people talaga.
    teena–nakakainggit ka naman. dami mong choices!! ha ha! Go for the journalist thing. I’m sure you will love oxford. YOu can decide on the middle east later on if you still want it.
    sachiko–long time no hear. Will visit your page later.
    mikka–kamusta na?
    babypink– I thought of you while I was there especially when I entered the mosque. I really enjoy visiting holy places. They remind me that we are all God’s children. Yes, I am aware of the letter ‘P’ thing. Can you write in arabic? I am seriously thinking of learning arabic (written and spoken).

  15. Teena says:

    thanks for your advice, Tito Jim. i’m sure i’d love Oxford, too. when i was in London, we took the train in Paddington to Ox and enjoyed the 1-hour ride taking in the passing English countryside. we visited Green College, which plays host to the Reuters fellows doing research. after sitting in in a lecture by a Zimbabwean fellow (winner of the 2003 Free Press Africa award), we had lunch with him and the others in one of the 18th century buildings there. afterwards, we attended a briefing on e-democracy by a university professor at the Oxford Internet Institute. he also happens to be the government adviser on Internet use. he shared that Blair wanted to start a political blog as part of his reelection campaign and he advised against it ‘coz…well, he said something about Tony that he didn’t want us to broadcast. hehehe. i prefer to just e-mail this little secret to you. 🙂 stay safe wherever you are!

  16. BabyPink says:

    masjids or mosques are the most peaceful places for me. i love being inside the masjid. they’re my favorite talaga, which is probably why i really loved the “mama mary room” in the ateneo’s church of the jesu. gave the same feeling of peacefulness.:) katuwa naman that you remembered me while inside a masjid.:)

    and, opo, i can read and write arabic. but, not without the vowels kasi po (you probably know this na rin) those who are really good at arabic don’t need the vowels anymore. like your name, it was written without the vowels. i know and understand some arabic words.:) reading and writing arabic is very easy to learn. just memorize the alphabet and you’re okay. hehehe:)

  17. Trisha says:

    Wow. You know my father and I have been big fans of APO’s music. Living in a different country is really hard, and frankly, your music helps us remember the simple life in the Philippines. One day I hope I can go back to Manila (maybe next year!) and revisit the Filipino life! Anyway, I sure am going back here. Your blog is such an insightful one!! I’m glad I found it!!

  18. silentmode_v2 says:

    salam malaykum! visit naman kayo dito sa dubai! 🙂

  19. Great, thanks for sharing this article.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

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