Friday, April 29, 2005


dawit and me enjoying the sisha (narguila), segma taking the pic Posted by Hello

Despite the numerous years and opportunities of smoking shisha or narguila (nargile) in the Middle East, I found myself having my first puff in Geneva last night.

A meeting with some old classmates/friends turned into a dinner yesterday, not to mention an unexpected peep show. An Ethiopian friend of mine, Segma, invited for some drinks at the Café des Arts in Rue du Paquis, a quaint restaurant with an artsy-fartsy ambience. I don't know if actual artists go there. On one of my trips to the unisex toilet, a male occupant forgot to close the door. I opened it but I didn't see anything as he was facing the toilet and I was looking at his face. He thought I saw something so he said sorry while all red in the face. I wanted to laugh because I didn't see anything and perhaps, there was nothing to see.

Anyhow, we spent a few hours there. Segma introduced me to some of her other friends, who I met for the first time. One had to leave for another meeting, Dawit (Ethiopian for David) stayed. We hit it off and the three of us were dinner-bound at the "La Caravan Passe," (The Passing Caravan)a nearby restaurant.

Earlier in the café, a young man asked one of the customers where that resto was. The customer joked, "It already passed."

Going on...the Lebanese restaurant had a semi-authentic Arabic look to it. There were brass plates that served as tables and cloths with the usual Arabic design hanging from the ceiling to form part of what looks like an Arabic wedding tent.

The food was relatively cheap. I had my favorite felafel (fried ground chick peas with herbs, spices and baking soda) served with hommos (ground chick peas mixed with herbs and spices with a generous topping of olive oil) and khuboz (pita bread). We ordered different dishes so we could share.

We enjoyed authentic Lebanese tea which tasted great with the apple flavored narguile.

At least we didn't go home in the usual cigarette-smoke soaked night out.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

walang p.

this is a common phrase used here in geneva among the filipino community. it means "walang papel" or succinctly, "no paper." many filipino migrant workers here are undocumented or do not have residence permits. from the rough 5,000 in geneva, maybe 70 percent are undocumented.

they live in fear from the men in uniforms that routinely check bus passes. they fear the winter raids. most of all, they fear the denouncement of their fellow countrymen. because of this, kababayans (compatriots) often ignore the other which is contrary to filipino inherent values. so many instances have happened that a filipino was "raided" because of some petty argument that arose. anger subsumed the other and the reasons why both of them worked and cleaned toilets didn't matter anymore. a trampled ego or unbridled pride was enough to wreak havoc and make the other lose his/her job plunging his/her family into more poverty. it was poverty that sent them out in the first place. but all is forgotten when anger is there.

it makes my heart cry to hear of these stories. traveling from country to country, seeing the plight of my countrymen, it has been a privilege to share in their lives. i am also an OFW (overseas filipino worker). but my life is arguably better than most.

one of my friends now, who i used to go hiking with in the lush mountains of our alma mater is cleaning houses and scrubbing toilets in a country that once colonized us for almost 400 years. it is still a decent living. but poverty has driven my countrymen out of our homeland. when will this diaspora end?

the philippines blessed with 7,101 islands have made some lives unlivable for some. a golden age ended with the power hungry politicians so eager to fill their pockets with government money.

so many filipinos seeking greener pastures are willing to give up the prestige of a degree to clean houses in a far away land. they risk being deported from switzerland to put food on the table for their families back home.

never had i seen such determination. not even when i was in the states, where the undocumented lived in relative comfort.

when i first left my country in 1990, i left that picture of poverty, the tenement style BLISS housing project that Imelda Marcos had constructed. i left some playmates whose joy was to fiddle with the passenger jeep parked in the then brown earth. i left the insult of my tattered clothes. i left the public school whose teachers made students come over their houses to do extra credit work to check school papers.

i saw what the american dream was. blessed filipinos who had gotten out during marcos' time or even earlier and when doctors and nurses were in demand, had resurrected their impoverished lives from the ashes and lived in enviable comfort.

big houses with manicured lawns, swimming pools and billiard rooms, erected from the sweat of the 18-hour shifts of some toxic hospital ward. they had reaped the rewards of their labor.

some forgot what it was like to be poor and began to look down on the less fortunate often renouncing charity because they had risen from their perceived own sweat.

others still did not fail to recognize the help they got and passed on the good work by helping others in need.

it is sorrowful to see suffering of broken homes because of economic dictates. why can't we provide for our people in our country?

i sit here now in geneva and i remember the countless parties in the states of the filipino organizations. i recount the bloodied suicide attempt of a kababayan who just slashed her wrist because of a love triangle in abu dhabi. i reminisce the lashes on the back of sarah balabagan, who was punished by shari'a law for murdering her rapist/employer. i remember the blood of an abortion on our carpet. i recall the denial of fear in iraq's abundant oil-wealth as filipinos witnessed the transition of dictatorship to eventual hostage-taking.

this is all in the name of putting food on the table and making the lives of filipino families better.

statistics show that 1 out of 10 in the philippines has an OFW. that is 10 million filipinos seeking their fortunes elsewhere. it is millions of families separated, a mother and father that children never knew and came to symbolize only a source of monthly stipends to buy the latest phone. the children sometimes follow when there are legal means. others stave off homesickness and go as long as 11 years without going home to their families. the phone card business thrives because of phone calls that substitute for hugs and kisses.

walang p. can invariably equate walang pera (no money). such a sad reality but reality is never really the rose-colored fantasy we all hold dear in our hearts. we just like to hope and wish it was.

of wanderers and goodbyes

i finished reading "house of the spirits" today. the book, written by a peruvian born chilean isabel allende, recounts the story of a latin american family and their tale of love through war, changing times and goodbyes.

when i first opened the book, i already felt sad. it wasn't the content that made me feel a sinking feeling in my heart. it was the thought of goodbye at the end of its pages.

as a wanderer, i meet many people. some come and go, others stay for while, and still some even through distance manages to stay in my life. when i meet a person, there is both elation and sadness for i know, even in the sweetest of shared laughters, i must move again and leave. no matter how many times i say goodbye, i never get used to it.

goodbyes have become such a part of my life, that even a book evokes such sadness from the first opening of its pages.

i meet strangers and i feel happy when they smile. for that fleeting moment, we shared something. when i talk to a friend and seem to have boxes of stories to share, the meeting must end.

but as dying is part of living, it is all just part of this so-called life. one of my bestfriend cheng said, "life is life...i take it as it comes." it is in the cycle of life that hellos end with goodbyes only to be greeted with another hello.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Ping and me Posted by Hello

Ping Lacson visits

Me, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, his wife Alice, Gorby, Chris, Mama Posted by Hello

One of the other priviliges of being a diplomat's child is getting to meet people that you would just usually see on TV. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a Philippine member of the Congress and then vice-president hopeful, is notorious for the Kuratong Baleleng case. I don't know where to put myself in that rub-out, but seeing him face to face, he is quite down-to-earth.

Ping was here for the WTO Symposium.

My mom hosted them as a send-off before they left for home. And as her children, we are expected to entertain her guests. I don't mind so much, especially if the guests are nice to talk to.

As he was watching T.V., his wife, Alice was talking to her friend. I would ask him questions about his travels, the political situation in the Philippines, the recent papal elections, etc. He was quite knowledgeable and seemed not to mind my curiousity.

Our Tita Minda (wonderful household member) prepared tapsilog, a common dish consisting of tapa (beef), sinangag (fried rice, but plain rice was served) and itlog (fried egg). For starters, they had tinola (chicken soup cooked with papaya and malunggay). They had tuyo (dried fish).

The guests didn't seem to mind the simplicity of the dishes. Philippine Ambassador to the UN, Enrique Manalo was also in attendance as well as the Chief of Staff of Ping. Jing and Jeneatte, also part of the senator's staff came along for the trip.

family visit

mama, me, chris, uncle anton (gorby, behind the camera) Posted by Hello

my uncle was just in geneva for two days but it was more quality over quantity. when ever we are posted, it's always a treat to have family visit us because we are usually in some far flung country.

when we were in the states, my uncle from cali got to visit. then, my grandad got to see our place in chicago. my mom's cousin (uncle) worked for us as well as a nearby aunt too. so, it was still all in the family. :)

when we were in abu dhabi, my mom's sis, the 3rd of 11 children, and my grandad got to visit us.

in egypt, my aunt from england visited.

this time in geneva, one of my favorite uncles came for a job interview and we were fortunate enough to be here to see him.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Best Musical Instrument

This is why the voice is still the best musical instrument there is. I got this from one of my yahoogroups. Check it out as the choir renders some familiar tunes a capella style. (Early fans of Nintendo might find this entertaining.)

Simply click on the title of this entry or copy and paste the link below onto your browser.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

truckload of opportunities Posted by Hello

Mountain of wealth Posted by Hello

Scrambling for the first pick as garbage turns into money.  Posted by Hello

Smokey Mountain  Posted by Hello

amidst the garbage, a ray of hope, a smile of a child... Posted by Hello

hope in a pile of garbage

(Thank you to Joanne for lending me her pictures to post in my blog and providing the lyrics of Paraiso. She was recently in Smokey Mountain and sent these pictures to her friends.)

The pictures might seem down-trodden and probably makes one smell the stench of garbage without trying to imagine it but the smiles of the children bear witness that even in the direst of situations and in the ugliest of places, lie hope and happiness.

Amongst garbage, the daily pestering of flies, the worms, the constant worry of where to get the next meal, is the image of home for a child.

A popular song called Paraiso (Paradise) by the group Smokey Mountain which named itself after this godforsaken garbage dump in the city of Tondo in Metro Manila, captures the sentiments of such a child.


Return to a land called Paraiso
A place where a dying river ends
No birds there fly over Paraiso
No space allows them to endure
The smoke that screens the air
The grass that's never there
And if I could see a single bird, what a joy
I try to write some words and create a single song
To be heard by the rest of the world

I live in this land called Paraiso
In a house made of cardboard floors and walls
I learned to be free in Paraiso
Free to claim anything I see

Matching rags for my clothes
Plastic bags for the cold.
And if empty cans were all I have, what a joy
I never fight to take someone else's coins
And live with fear like the rest of the boys

Paraiso, help me make a stand
Paraiso, take me by the hand
Paraiso, make the world understand
That if I could see a single bird, what a joy
This tired and hungry land could expect
Some truth and hope and respect from the rest of the world


And if empty cans were all I have, what a joy
I never fight to take someone else's coins
And live with fear like the rest of the boys

Paraiso, help me make a stand
Paraiso, take me by the hand
Paraiso, make the world understand
That if I could see a single bird, what a joy
This tired and hungry land could expect
Some truth and hope and respect from the rest
Of the world...

Paraiso, help me make a stand
Paraiso, take me by the hand
Paraiso, make the world understand
That if I could see a single bird, what a joy
This tired and hungry land could expect
Some truth and hope and respect from the rest
Of the world...

Friday, April 08, 2005

Final Goodbye to the Pope

The circular church, with a crucifix hung from the sun roof directly above the altar, was bustling before 6 p.m. yesterday. Ambassadors and and other UN officials greeted each other as if in a reception at the St. Nicolas de Flue Parish in Geneva. But the mood of the mourners dramatically changed when the bell tolled to signify the start of the Holy Mass. The incense burned and the church was filled with its ancient yet familiar smell. The quick tapping of the Swiss guards' feet ushered in the clergymen who would concelebrate the mass.

Marching to "How Great thou Art," the guards took their places. One in front of the altar, two at the side and two more around the Papal Nuncio, the ambassador of the Vatican. These are the guards sworn to protect the members of the Holy See or the Vatican.

The congregation sang to the popular song and soon, the life of Pope John Paul II would again be recounted. This was the second mass I attended in his honor.

"Do not be afraid," was what the Pope said upon his accession to St. Peter's role, the Nuncio recalled in his homily. The head of the Catholic Church began and ended living these words.

The attendees were not all Catholic. I saw my Muslim classmate. My colleague, who is half Catholic and half Protestant sat beside me. More non-Catholics could be seen in the mass. But it didn't matter. The Pope was not only for Catholics, he was for the people. And everyone gathered there shared his vision and mission - to be equal as children of God.

The Mass was celebrated in many languages highlighting the six UN languages - Arabic, French, English, Russian, Chinese and Spanish. Polish was also used in the Prayer of the Faithful as the late Pope was Polish. Latin was used in the many hymns.

The mood was somber and solemn. The passing of a great man was deeply felt in everyone as silence embraced the Church. The traditional Catholic Mass doesn't differ, no matter what place or language is used to celebrate it. Because of this tradition, any Catholic can follow the mass wherever she or he is.

This was again seen in today's Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in St. Peter's Square where Latin was used. Millions of people filled the Eternal City to bid their final farewell to the third longest reigning Pope who for 26 years has tried to do the will of God.

The bells tolled to mark the entrance of the sheperds of the Church and the Papal men carried the body of the Pope in a cypress coffin. He was placed in front of the altar.

Earlier, hundreds of multi-faith world leaders took to their seats to pay their last respects in the Holy Mass. Muslim kings sat beside Catholic and Protestant presidents. Eastern Church clergymen concelebrated with Roman Catholic priests. The Eastern Patriarch even gave their traditional benediction.

The streets of the Vatican swelled with people. This is because of one man, a faithful servant of God. Banners waived, "Santo Subito" which means in Italian, "soon to be saint." Numerous Catholics believe that the late Pope should be made saint.

It is an overwhelming feeling to watch such a gathering of people because of one man. He was not only the head of the Church but he was a proponent of peace and forgiveness. The Pope spent his reign reconciling the Church with other faiths especially Judaism. He was the first Pope to enter the Jewish synagogue in Rome. He tried to bridge gaps between Muslims and Christians. He restored diplomatic ties with the United States. He asked for freedom of religion in communist Cuba and was critical of liberal capitalism.

He was a political figure as much as a spiritual leader. Philippine Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was interviewed on CNN and she commented on how the Pope influenced her in key decisions. One being the moratorium on the death penalty and the other joining the bloodless second People Power Revolution which ousted then Pres. Joseph Estrada.

Many people have been touched by the life of the Pope. I consider myself blessed to have seen him twice in person and at such a close range when I attended a youth gathering in Berne last year. The Pope had a way of looking at the audience as if he was directly looking at you.

The Pope was a simple man.

He went to the Philippines twice. My mother saw him in 1981 when he first came to the country and visited our province, Bicol. He also visited the poorest area of Metro Manila and spent his time with the people. In 1995, World Youth Day was held in Manila and again, the Pope was pleased to see about four million gather to celebrate God's presence in our lives.

About a million people share some personal memory of the Pope. He will surely be missed.

As the world bids goodbye and mourns the death of the Pope, there is always hope in the resurrection. And hopefully, John Paul II is with the Risen Christ now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

blog addiction

tell me...when did this blog thing start? it seems that everyone who's anyone has a blog.

is it an inherent dream to become a world-renowned writer someday? surely, with the world wide web as one's audience, that dream is closer to realization that it will ever be.

so, what is it that draws us fellow bloggers to this blogging thingy-ma-jig? why the publishing of our thoughts for any random internet savvy person to stumble upon?

is it therapy? do we find a sense of comfort or of healing or of just plain simple exhalation? or is it the non-reactionary emotional dumping ground that seems to be so attractive? i don't know myself. i like to write. and i don't want to have to repeat every story for every person that comes my way. frankly, i was intrigued by the blog of my friend and i wanted to somehow have one too. or was it that he suggested that i should have one? i don't even remember.

tell me...what about you?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Eternal Rest Unto Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)

Once standing only 50 feet away from the Pope, I remember how it felt to be so near him and to be awed by his presence. It is sad to hear of his death but the Pope himself said on one of his birthdays, "I am one year closer to eternity." His suffering has ended and he is in a better place now. A great man of God has died and he has met his Maker.

"Eternal rest grant Pope John Paul II, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen."

breath-taking... Posted by Hello

silky waters on the arve Posted by Hello

Beautiful Polly Posted by Hello

Talk to me Posted by Hello

Polly is shy Posted by Hello

Moi!!! Posted by Hello

Photo Accomplice: Nikki  Posted by Hello