Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I Survived

It's another rainy day here in Manila, one of many countless rainy days that characterize the All Saints/All Souls Days here in the Philippines. Apt that the world should weep while the souls of the dearly departed rest.

Restless could be the best way to describe how I feel. I wouldn't trade the Philippines for any other land - this is my own home soil - yet staying here makes me wish that I were far away.

It's been more than a month since I returned - I was planning to make a diary of sorts of my (mis)adventures in Manila since my return, but even that lost some of its appeal after some time. In the wake of misinformed posts on social networking media, getting into one's inner psyche for the appreciation of all isn't too healthy. If I wanted to do that, maybe I should launch my own reality show.

That being said, it still feels strange to be waking up each day in my own bed, whizzing into my own bowl, and easing into my own sofa watching cable from the TV I bought six years ago on my second electronics purchase in Saudi Arabia (the first being a handphone). Strange, but still very welcome, is the virtual omnipresence of moisture in the air, if not through the rain, through the humidity.

I MISSED MANILA. Not because there are people here who are very important to me, I literally miss the feel of being here. Of being home.

But now that I am here, isn't it ironic that I want to leave, again?

One can only start appreciating the expansion of time away from the Middle East when catching up with friends and family. All around, people are getting married, having their kids, graduating from this and that, burying loved ones.

Through all that, I hardly felt the passage of time in my own space since I left Manila. I hardly think that a credit to me, since despite my own learnings outside of Manila, my relationship counter still ticks zero.

Naturally, one can never run out of stories to tell to validate or refute the perceptions of others regarding the Middle East, though it's nice to know that a lot of the old stereotypes have changed. Fifteen to twenty years ago, it was about desert heat, strict regulations, and unabiding loneliness. Now, it's still largely that, but it has been overtaken by exoticism and the ubiquity of large shopping malls - a perception reinforced by the glamor of Dubai.

The Middle East is not all about that - it is just as unfair to stereotype the region just as a lot of non-Filipinos stereotype us in their own ways. There is a continuum of culture from the old Arabs to their Spanish descendants all the way to modern Filipinos. I appreciated more of my personhood when faced against the (somewhat) different personalities of theirs. There is likewise a bridge spanning our culture and that of the Indians, but amazingly enough, I didn't (and don't) feel a kinship with them than I do with the Arabs.

Despite the age of the Muslim culture, the Saudis are a young people - younger even than the Filipinos - and they are just coming to realize the amazing potential they have as a people. The insularity of their government, like all monolithic things, will not be able to stand up to the tide of change. I do hope that unlike the West, they will be able to manage and keep some of the beautiful aspects of their culture intact, while spreading enlightenment in areas where ignorance keeps them backward.

People I meet say I survived. Sure I did. I survived six and a half years of working away from home. But in exchange - I learned more about myself and my job, I began to appreciate the shared history of our people and of my hosts, I found reprieve from the daily pressures that make living in Manila a daily chore. How do I put this - once you remove the stopper on a wine bottle - you can't put it back. I understand, more than ever than being Filipino means you don't stop with making it here.

Making things better means going for more - "good enough" isn't going to cut it. Be it in work, in play, in family. I am not in favor of the BPO industry, for some reason (call it my Marxist heritage), but it does prove a point - given the right impetus, a level playing field, and sufficient resources - Filipinos are top-rate professionals who bring the most added value to any organization.

Being good means being better and looking for ways to improve. It can't be patchwork dress presented as a ballroom gown - simply because the patches are made out of gold thread. Patchwork doesn't hide the poor quality of the rest of the product. Expensive paint will not hide wood rot. Flashy dribbling will not disguise faulty passing or ill-timed jump shots.

If we want to deserve the best things in life, we have to start acting that people can expect our best as well.

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