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The Filipinos - the world's finest!
This hub is offered in gratitude to the people of the Philippines
First, a disclaimer. Paraglider is not Filipino, is not employed or sponsored by a Filipino, nor married to, engaged to or dating a Filipina; in short, is not in any way connected to this fine people, save by a bond of admiration.
In these sanitised times, it is 'not done' to stereotype people by religion, ethnicity, or even hair colour, but that's a risk I'm prepared to take in the special case of the Filipinos, or at least the ex-pat Filipino communities living and working in the Middle East. And the risk is in fact a small one, since I single them out only to thank them.
How the Gulf States work
The Gulf States are the territories that surround the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman. I have never worked in Iran or Iraq, but I have lived and worked in all of the rest, and still do. These are oil-rich states, or, in some cases, protectorates of oil-rich states. However, they are still poor in education and in native skill-base, and, with a couple of honourable exceptions, are wholly dependent on immigrant labour and expertise to install, maintain and develop their fast-growing infrastructures.
As an example, the population of Qatar is about 20% Qatari Arab and 80% immigrant workforce. This 80% mainly comprises workers from the Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and 'professionals' from anywhere in the World. Ultimately, the Qataris own everything, but subcontract it all.
Christmas in Saudi
Saudi is not renowned for openness or tolerance and though it is politically friendly to the West (with respect to Iran, not to Israel) it remains a strict and difficult society for Westerners. Public expression of any religion except Islam is technically a criminal offence, and there are plenty religious police zealous to uphold the law.
Christmas day is just another working day here. And so it seemed, to Paraglider, and so it would have been, but for the Filipino canteen staff who threw caution to the winds, put on party hats (where in Saudi do you buy party hats?!?) and sang Merry Christmas to all comers. Who knows; there may even have been a few secret smiles behind the black veils.
Stop Press !
A few days ago, I lost my passport, getting into or out of a private taxi. I thought I'd never see it again, and was going through the Gulf nightmare of Police reports, Immigration, Visa control, etc. Then, a phone call from the Embassy. 'A Filipina' had found the passport in the street and handed it in to the Police station. Sadly, the police either did not record or (more likely) did not keep her contact details so I've been unable to render thanks. But I'm grateful it was a Filipina who found it. Someone who knew to do the right thing. Thank you, whoever you are!
So, the Filipinos...
You go into a workplace in Abu Dhabi. Let's say, a print shop. You have a large order to place. Can it be done on time? The guy on the desk will tell you yes or no, if he's Filipino. If he is not Filipino, he will only ever tell you yes. The Filipinos will give you a straight answer and do their best to deliver. That is rare in the Gulf.
Confidence in Competence
Your air-conditioning breaks down (not funny in a Gulf summer) and you call your land agent who does nothing until the fourth attempt, though somehow you know that in his comfortable office he is wagging his head from side to side as he makes promises. This is the standard non-filipino response. Finally, he sends a technician to take a look. You relax - he's from Manilla. Half an hour later, you have a working system. These guys take pride in their work and finish the job.
The Hotel Bar
Yes, there are bars in the Middle East, though mostly inside the international hotels. We're not talking about pubs on the street corner. In fact there are two kinds of bars - bars staffed by Filipinos and bars where you can't get a drink. Paraglider favours the first kind! In quiet times, you learn a little bit about the lives of this community - why they are working abroad, their concerns about loved ones at home, the living conditions and restrictions imposed by their sponsors. In busy times, they simply move up a gear and almost run from customer to customer, too busy to chat, never too busy to smile.
The Philippines seem to have an endless supply of musical talent. Filipino bands play nightly at live music venues throughout the Gulf. Cover bands, mostly, since that is what the hotels demand, but many of them take familiar standards to a new level of performance. And it's all about performance here. These bands give 100%, night after night, often playing three or four hour-long sets. It's fiercely competitive of course - a band that doesn't pull an audience is quickly replaced.
These quiet times?
That's when you learn that your favourite barmaid, who looks about 23, but is past 30, is here to support her family back home. Her family includes her 2 year old daughter. She's taken a 2-year contract and will not be allowed home until she's completed her first year. The 5-star hotel has put her in unsavoury dormitory accommodation out of town, with her co-workers. They are bused in to work and 'home' at the end of their shift. If any customer leaves without paying, the 5-star International Hotel Chain recovers its loss from her wages. This is comforting to hear. Oh, and she has a university degree in English, from Manilla.
Enough from me
But I hope, in a small way, this hub might have helped raise people's awareness of the principle export of the Philippines - their people, some of the best on the planet. The engineers, dentists, midwives, technicians, caterers, musicians, shopkeepers and others, who keep the Gulf states running. In the words of their unofficial anthem - Filipinos! Filipinos! Filipinos!