Monday, November 07, 2005


It was always a much anticipated event; far more exciting than Christmas, in fact — Uncle Jerry’s annual homecoming from his job abroad. There were always lots of presents and chocolates, as well as trips to the mall for lunch and then shopping for toys for all the kids.

This time was no different. Almost every night there were unexpected friends dropping by to say hello. And as usual, Auntie Myrna was quick to prepare something for the guys to nibble on to go along with their San Miguel beer, Emperador brandy and never-ending conversations.

At Aling Nena’s store, a substantial inventory of Uncle Jerry’s favorite beer and liquor would always be in stock for these nightly get-togethers. Uncle Jerry was indeed a cash cow during these times and Aling Nena was among the local merchants who benefited immensely from his swollen wallet.

His homecoming would always coincide with the summertime fiesta wherein a much grander and elaborate party would be held for all to enjoy. There would be the usual lechon as centerpiece, all his favorite delectable dishes, steamed prawns, and all those wickedly tempting desserts. To top it off, an abundant supply of beer and liquor for an all day and all night partying.

Consequently, the well of prosperity would soon dry up. By the time Uncle Jerry started preparing his documents for yet another one-year stint abroad, he would be asking his wife for some leftover cash. Assured that he would soon be off to make more money again, Auntie Myrna wouldn’t hesitate calling the money lender from Bombay just to give Uncle Jerry some spending money.

However, unlike the previous times, there appeared to be some sort of a snag with his papers. The main man at the agency seemed evasive at first, but eventually relented. But just before the man said anything, Uncle Jerry’s gut feeling had already told him it may have something to do with an incident four months ago aboard the ship.

The racial jeering and howling turned nasty one humid afternoon; prompting Uncle Jerry to jump a Pakistani guy from behind and threw several punches at him.

Although swiftly subdued — preventing a minor fistfight from escalating into a major racial brawl — the deck officer on duty, following standard procedures, filed an incident report. The Captain opted to suspend issuing a reprimand; they were at that moment facing a major hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic. It was an arduous ordeal with the entire crew staying awake for long periods of time until they’ve passed through the storm. The cargo ship sustained damages that needed immediate attention.

Uncle Jerry suspected that the storm and all the frantic activities that followed had made the Captain overlooked the skirmish he had with a Pakistani shipmate.
He was wrong. When his employer reviewed Uncle Jerry’s application for re-hire, there in black and white, was the incident report about Uncle Jerry’s racially-motivated scuffle with a Pakistani fellow-worker. He was turned down.

The agency had difficulties placing him with other cargo shipping firms as well. Uncle Jerry was blacklisted, deemed undesirable to board any international ocean vessel as a crew member.

When the main man at the agency told him of his unemployable status, Uncle Jerry suddenly slumped on his seat as if the air was sucked out of his entire system. He then unleashed a slew of racial slurs against the Pakistanis, which made the main man visibly upset. He immediately called security to remove Uncle Jerry from his respectable office.

Uncle Jerry was too lost in his gloomy thoughts. He had become perilously oblivious to his surroundings as he walked aimlessly from the agency. He almost got hit by a jeepney while crossing Taft Avenue.

Unable to get a job aboard an international ship, Uncle Gerry faced the grim prospect of going back to where he was five years ago, a dejected nobody -- no longer deserving of the moniker, The Summertime Santa, the once-a-year big shot oozing with green dollars. Uncle Jerry was again another insignificant resident of Barangay Sto. Cristo of Tondo, Manila.

Subsequently, the friends who used to flock to his house during his annual homecoming had stopped dropping by. His wife reverted to her moody nagging self. The kids became lethargic yet high strung. The house seemed gloomy. Money has run out. Partying away most of the money he earned from working abroad, left the family once again in limbo -- creeping bent over backwards beneath the poverty line.

Two months later, just as he was about to consider peddling taho for a living, his uncle whom he never cared enough to invite to any of his festive soirées in the past, stopped by and tipped him off about a certain job opening.

He couldn’t ascertain whether his uncle was being funny or downright insulting with this particular job lead. Nonetheless, he decided to go and apply for the job even if just to enable him to put some decent food on the table for his family.

The manager who reviewed his credentials and employment history went against his better judgment and hired Uncle Jerry. He thought he’d give him a much-needed break, especially with Christmas lurking just around the corner.

It has been a year since Uncle Jerry started on this new job. He has adjusted very well to his duties and with the people he works for. The job wasn’t as bad as he had anticipated in the beginning; the people in the complex were all nice, courteous and well-educated. The manager, just the other day, cheerfully whispered that a promotion was indeed in the offing for him; in time for the upcoming Christmas holiday. Uncle Jerry was thrilled upon hearing this wonderful news. He was thankful for his employers for having appreciated his performance.

That evening, just before heading home, Uncle Jerry stopped by at Baclaran Church to light a candle and offer a prayer of gratitude. As he was leaving the church’s grounds to go home, he ran into Romero, a fellow shipmate from the past. When Romero asked him were he now works, Uncle Jerry paused for a moment, took a not-so deep breath and gladly replied, “At the Pakistani Consulate here in Manila.”


Racial Prejudice

Racism in the Workplace

Seamen Employment Resources

Filipino Sailors Challenge Ocean-Going Colonialism

Taho, a by-product of soy bean curd


posted by Señor Enrique at 7:52 AM


Blogger RAV Jr said...

That made me think for a while...the irony of life, yet, im glad there is always hope for people who are desperate but persevering... yes, i always believe that all we can do in the end is to thank God. =)


November 08, 2006 2:19 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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