Please pardon my words (although I am not really sorry).
THE PEOPLE IN THE AIRPLANE CLAPPED WHEN WE WERE ABOUT TO LAND… WHY?
Unlike a lot of people who’ve come to Dubai… with very high expectations… seeing the city as the answer to their dreams (reminds me of Dick Whittington dreaming of London and its streets paved with gold)… I had no such preconceived notions. I didn’t even want to come here in the first place, but I did come, since my dad suggested it would help me in preparing for the future… financially of course. I knew nothing of Dubai. I only heard of Abu Dhabi coz that’s where my aunts were… one of them has been in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) for about 27 years… and one after the other, members of our clan followed suit. But I was never curious enough to look it up or get to know anything about this country.
When I first arrived, I was scared of the mostly bearded men I saw in the airport, the strange noises, voices I could hear but could not comprehend. I was disoriented and frightened. I kept remembering how my dad used to talk about the way of life in Saudi Arabia where it was so strict that he could not even bring pictures which showed some of us wearing sleeveless tops from the Philippines, even if they were just family pictures. So I was thinking, it can’t be so different here since the place is inhabited and owned by Arabs.
HARASSMENT AS A WAY OF LIFE
I stayed with my aunts in Abu Dhabi for a couple of months while waiting to get a job. And what shocked me out of my soon-to-be-proven-false ideas was the fact that although any kind of immorality is taboo (the same for most societies… although the definition of immorality is relative in different cultures) and, if proven true, heavily penalized, women could and men could, if they wanted to… they could do as they wished as long as they remained “discreet.” It’s like saying “to see is to believe”… you’ll be fine as long as you don’t get caught or put yourself in a compromising position that may lead to your exposure. I was even more shocked to know that there are actually prostitutes here and that women (& men) can and do get sexually harassed on a daily basis.
Case in point, I can’t recall how many times I have been harassed by taxi drivers while I was in Abu Dhabi. So there I was, a ‘normal’ friendly person… they make small talk… how are you? are you a kabayan? Segué No.1: I have never gotten used to saying this kabayan thing, don’t know why, but I have never completely gotten it into my system, coz honestly, I treat fellow Filipinos here the same way I do back home, with politeness, that is all… neither do I use the term “my friend” (friend is a much maligned word here) in addressing strangers who are non-Filipinos… anyway, I understood later that if you are a “kabayan,” it means you are a Filipino… Filibini they say… so, when thus addressed, I say, yes I am. They usually only know about Manila or Cebu… don’t know why… maybe it’s because there’s a lot of them here? Simple observation would lead one to believe that Manileños and Cebuanos outnumber other Filipino ethnic groups, but I don’t have statistical info to confirm this. If they ask, I usually say I live in a place near Manila, that’s all.
So small talk is fine. Or so I thought. When I told my aunt, she said don’t talk to them at all… talking is considered a kind of propositioning. And yeah, I did get to know better. And it wasn’t just the taxi drivers. One time I was so late for my Arabic class that I ended up hitching a ride. I was waiting for a cab as usual, but there were hardly any, they didn’t stop coz they’d have a passenger already. And it was that time of day, around 2pm, when most people would be taking their afternoon break from work, including the cab drivers. Anyway, one car stopped and when this guy opened his window, I saw that he was a respectable looking Arab guy who seemed to be in his 40s. He offered me a ride. So I got in and there it was again, the small talk. Anyway, it was time for me to get off so I politely thanked him and said goodbye. Then he asked for my number. He must have thought, there I was, jobless & alone and maybe needed help… still, I said I have been told not to give my number to strangers. But I did hitch a ride he said. If I didn’t trust him, why did I get in his car in the first place. He was right. Not yet licensed 🙂 in giving fake numbers (but what they do sometimes is give a “miss call” to your face just to make sure… clever huh?!?), so I gave him my number. After that, he kept calling me. I didn’t answer. He got tired eventually.
One taxi driver just kept talking to me even when I stopped being polite. He was an old Pakistani chap… maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Anyway, since I heard about women being harassed, even raped… I began to arm myself with a cutter. No fight without a struggle. I was just there staring ahead when he started to talk about the prostitutes there. He said Filibini expensive, but very very good. Filibini No. 1. Filibini very clean, smell good. Chinese ok 20 dirhams, then he turned around and said, come with me to my home 30 minutes only. I kept my cool. I shook my head and said, sir, I am late for my Arabic language class. My teacher is waiting for me. I don’t need to call my aunt and the police do I? Then he smiled and said, no problem. No problem.
My Mexican classmate wasn’t spared either. Married to a Lebanese-American guy, they had moved to Abu Dhabi since his work required it. That time, she still did not have a car and had to take cabs like I did. She told me of how one driver stared at her from his rearview mirror and tried to make small talk. She found herself pulling down her skirt to cover her knees and uncomfortably waiting to get to our school.
In Dubai, an old cab driver actually jacked off while I was inside the cab… God, what shit one has to go through… I was ready to cut that thing off… then I had to rethink my plan of action, I was still on visit visa and about to exit to Qeshm so I just had to make sure he took me to my other aunt’s place since she had my ticket. Thank God I did. But ugh, that was an awful, awful thing. And if my dad or any of my relatives are reading this, I am sorry I never told you. It’s a memory so humiliating and scary that I consciously tried to forget about it.
THE PINAY IN THE UAE
They say (who are “they”? I don’t really know) that the Filipina (usually) in Dubai needs five boyfriends: one to feed her, one to clothe her, one to give her telephone credit, one to give her money and one to have sex with. Ridiculous isn’t it? Isn’t it? Or is it?
I am ashamed to say that when my non-Filipino friends talk about this idiopathic stereotype of the Pinay, I couldn’t think of an argument strong enough to stolidly defend my “kabayans.” All I can say most of the time is that they don’t normally do that back home… must be money problems… it’s kinda like what Emile Durkheim says of anomie – when moral guidance / norms set by society seem absent or the feeling of normlessness sets in… which is not difficult to imagine when men and women are uprooted (voluntarily or by force of circumstances) from their habitat, from their society, with all of its cultural norms and values… and are allowed to ‘run amok’ in another country where they are basically anonymous. Known unknowns, or is it unknown knowns? Yeah, there’s always the passport, visa and labor card for practical purposes… but that’s as far as it goes. You have all these ‘identity cards’ to prove who you are… but here, in a foreign country, people are free to reinvent who they are. And that is precisely what is happening. Married people become single overnight. A 40-year-old woman is now a decade younger. A bum back home is a kind and responsible prospective boyfriend. A woman who knows rudimentary English is relied on so much by her Arab boss who believes she is the best English speaker he has ever known.
The possibilities are endless.
POK-POK KA BA KABAYAN (KABAYAN, ARE YOU A HOOKER)???
The Pinay… tired, worn out and disillusioned that she would ever be able to save anything (because really, this place takes more than what it gives to most)… bravely scopes the dating scene hoping she’ll find the right guy. But is there a right guy? Or is it because she’s just the wrong girl? Frustration after frustration… she suddenly realizes, if they can… why can’t I? if a man can’t be serious, why should I be? Then she starts dating several guys at one time… a different guy for a different day of the week. Her frustration tolerance reaches new heights and her heart no longer gets torn into pieces every time a guy stops calling. She’s cool about dating now… she has learned to play the field.
Doesn’t justify how this would affect her morality. Doesn’t justify her not caring if people see her and the rest of her “kabayans” as some sort of bimbos… women with loose morals… and the men, oh the men… Filipino guys are usually seen as a pathetic lot. Mostly gays (who are at least productive) and straight guys who are losers. Segué No. 2: The reason why other expats here think that Filipino men are losers is that most Filipino expats here are women, and this, combined with the reasoning that a man should provide, leads them to conclude that since the Filipino men cannot ‘bring home the bacon’ so to speak, their women have to go out of the country just to earn money, however which way.
Doesn’t justify her realizing that some guys do trade money for sex. Doesn’t justify her thinking that money problems back home seem neverending. Doesn’t justify the fact that she doesn’t always have sex with the guy. Doesn’t justify the fact that her day job pays her only two thousand dirhams or so.
Now she eats at these posh places, sometimes a guy would take her to a not-so-trendy place, but hey, she gets a free meal and the next guy might be better off. She just has to be more strict with her standards. It could be Neos the next time around… or Madinat Jumeirah or Club Cavalli…
But hey, there are some women who do earn a decent living but still do this. Any extra cash is welcome. Someone I know has been so frustrated with men that she dates several at a time, not for the money or freebies… but to shield herself from further disappointment. She loses either way ofcourse. But that is her way of coping. And she is not alone.
And of course, there are the true victims who are forced into it.
Kabayan my foot. Some women get pushed into prostitution by their fellow “kabayans.”
They are promised jobs here, usually in sales, they sell their property and even get into debt back home paying for the placement and endless processing fees… and when they get here, their passport is taken away… and are taken directly to a hotel where a client is waiting to be ‘serviced.’ This form of human exploitation is one of the worst of evils. And mind you, most of these women had white collar jobs back home and almost always are degree holders.
Tsk, tsk, tsk…
THE LUCKY ONES
Of course there are a few Filipinas here who may be considered successful, in their careers or in their search for love, or both.
A career that gives a woman a great amount of financial freedom is a major accomplishment. Finding a guy who is a keeper is an even more major achievement. Having both is like… wow, the best of both worlds. These are the women who have a choice. They are the ones who, alone, can make or unmake their source of fulfillment.
And I have very little to say about them since they are a minority.
I am happy for them. That is all.
WHAT TO DO YANI?
Up until now, I am seen as easy. Every Pinay is seen as easy.
No woman is spared, whatever the nationality, from the leers, the stares… of the men who stop to look at us from head to foot, pausing somewhere in the middle… and slyly smiling. It doesn’t matter if you’re almost naked or wearing a shirt and jeans. We’re all the same to them. Just women. Just Filipinas.
Kumusta ka? Kumain ka na? Kabayan! It’s the other foreigners who say this to the Filipina.. thinking it might impress her or get her attention. It’s stupid and presumptuous, but sometimes it works.
A car would suddenly stop in front of you and the driver would say, can I be your friend? I will give everything you need. In the supermarkets… the same thing happens.
In fact, you can get propositioned anywhere.
It’s a crappy, crappy feeling to be seen as some kind of object… and I cringe at the thought that this guy knows I am a “kabayan” and that is why he is brazenly propositioning me…
I have been taught to value who I am and be proud of my lineage, my origins, my country.
I am not your kabayan. I am a Filipina.
And I know that I am better than you.
© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010