Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Apr 05 18, 4:33 pm

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My “Oh, Man!” exit experience

by | EDITOR’S CHOICE, Feature

Apr. 05, 18 | 4:33 pm

I wrote this not to discourage Filipinos who have future exits. Once you’re there, you’re actually not alone. Al Buraimi Hotel walls have witnessed struggles, have seen faces of hope and heard a lot of prayers

– Contributed by Richard Cabico

It all started three days before my visit visa expired. I finally was able to sign a contract with a government-owned courier service company which offered a very promising salary package plus benefits. They promised to change my visa status to employment, which, I was told, was supposed to take roughly five days to process.

So, two days before visa expiration, we arranged everything for an epic exit to Oman. Twenty-four hours before expiration– I came to the rendezvous at a parking lot of a mall, with 50 other people, mostly Filipinos, some Indians, some Nepalese. Men were situated at the tail-end of the bus, women occupied the front seats, that was the rule.

We started moving at 2pm. We reached the border at around 5:30pm. We’re there for Immigration, exit stamps and border fee of Dh30. After almost an hour, we left and crossed into Oman, where shortly we reached the border post for baggage check.

We reached the Omani Immigration post at around 8pm. It took a while, for everyone had to be checked, and put a stamp on each passport granting a 30-day Tourist Visa. After that, we drove for another hour and had our last meal stop in a restaurant. I had shawarma for Dh8. We continued our drive and around 11pm, we finally reached our destination- Al Buraimi Hotel.

We proceeded to the staff office, where we surrendered our passports and paid an advance of Dhs150 for three nights. Men were separated from women. It was like an apartment, a looooong building (with no 2nd floor) with rooms for eight persons. I walked pass these rooms felt like a convict passing by cells. We continued walking until we finally decided to stay at room C6 with four of my newly-found friends. There were two occupants already.

Disappointment
Dismay, disappointment and exhaustion were written all over my face. I didn’t expect this. For a “maarte” person like me, I had no choice but to switch on the “cowboy” in me, again. Outside the rooms is a space where you can cook…make fire in the middle of three stones; and you have to rummage through construction sites outside for woods. Everyone has to contribute an amount and shop for meat and vegetables outside the hotel. Yes, conveniently, there were stores on the other side of the road, surprisingly selling Filipino spices and cooking ingredients. But you have to cross a highway where it is a “buwis-buhay” moment that you have to play “patintero” with speeding vehicles.

Morning came, I woke up at around 9:45am. We decided to go to the store and buy something for lunch. We bought a large fish and cooked paksiw. We had our lunch, and went back to our bunks to relax, have siesta. Here, you have nothing to do but lie down, stand, sit outside, cook, eat–repeat.

The following day was just like the one before. Same routine, same stuff, same place. Some new faces. There are four bus trips of 50 passengers to and fro UAE weekly. Every day, 50 will say goodbye and 50 will say hello. Some received their visas as early as in a two days’ stay, especially if it’s just another visit visa. If you’re one of me who’s waiting for an Employment Visa, you’ll have to stay a little longer than seven days.

Challenging
Booking for a seat on the bus is challenging. Upon receiving your visa via email, you immediately as fast as you can, make a printout and fall in line at 3 pm at the staff office. First come, first serve. If you weren’t able to be included in the lucky 50, you’ll have to come again the next day, and fall in line and go elbow-to-elbow with the other 50 other hopefuls. What’s depressing is when you are cut off on a Wednesday. There are no bus trips on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which means you’ll have to wait for the next trip–Sunday at dawn.

The third morning while having my coffee, I switched on my data to connect to the internet. “BLING! BLING! BLING!” I opened my Messenger and was shocked! Shocked and overjoyed by what my wife sent me. A photo of a pregnancy kit showing two-lines. I cried. Then she called me instantly and I was crying with unexplained joy while we talked on the phone. I’m about to become a father! That was the best thing that ever happened to me in this depressing situation.

Tedious
Fast forward. The days became tedious. My close friends are starting to disappear each day until I’m all alone. They’ve all received their visas within 4 or 5 days of stay. Bunks begin to become empty. I felt lonely and sad. Most of the time, I’m just glued to my bed, playing Candy Crush Soda Saga, chatting with my wife or anybody, following up on my visa application and kept refreshing my email page hoping for some good news. I was still with the original two occupants here, also waiting for an employment visa. From eight, now down to just three occupants. Just like Pinoy Big Brother, people voted for me to stay!

I am used to being alone. I can live all day alone. I grew up alone so this is “maning-mani” — I thought. I was wrong. Visa is just around the corner. I was wrong again. Things started to mess up when I reached my 8th day. Another weekend is coming so that’s an automatic additional three days.

I’ve been waiting and waiting for my visa to come. What’s more frustrating is that, my co-applicants who signed contracts two days after me, have already received their visas. What happened to mine? I was sick and worried that maybe my application papers were misplaced or something wrong has happened.

So I emailed our company’s HR department, but it was a day after that they actually answered my querry–“dear, your visa is under process, next week maybe will issue” I received that response Wednesday. Even if I receive it miraculously on Thursday, there will be no bus trip to UAE. Automatic addition of three days. Lie down-sit-stand-cook-eat-repeat.

As days went by, I became one of the old faces of the hotel. There were some who have been staying there for as long as a month. There were some who already got their visa, but could not check out and book for bus for they have no money to pay for the hotel stay. I begin to love the place, because I had to.

Re-apply
Couple of days later, I told my wife I want to come home. We decided that instead of waiting for that Employment Visa, I would just re-apply for another Visit Visa. So, I contacted my travel agency through Whatsapp to process a one-month Visit Visa. Once released, they will just send the copy of the visa through whatsapp and make a printout.

Birthday Boy
I checked-in on March 15. As I checked my phone one morning, I saw that it was already March 28. Perfect. It’s my birthday. Away from “uy-san-tayo-mamaya-messages.” I didn’t tell most of my friends and even my family back home that I was in Oman. I also didn’t tell my roommates. I just treated myself to a nice Biryani meal outside the hotel. After lunch, a message from my travel agency through Whatsapp came and to my surprise, my Visit Visa was finally released. So, I crossed the highway quickly to make a printout and ran through the staff office to book a bus going to UAE. It was Tuesday, that means Wednesday dawn is the next trip, the last trip for the week. Lucky me!

The feeling was like… the BJMP has just gave me a parole. I’m finally getting out of the “prison.” After exactly two weeks, I’m finally coming home to my wife and my baby. I probably had the longest stay in our batch. And if it was like Big Brother House, people voted for me to win. One of the best birthdays I have had. I packed my suitcase and waited for assembly time to come. 1:30 am of Tuesday, March 29. Freedom!

Same routine at both borders of Oman and UAE. We reached UAE at 11 am. I surprised my wife in her office with a bouquet of flowers. It was awkward to kiss her for everyone in her office was there. So, we just laughed, we read each other’s mind that, “yes, we’ll kiss later at home.”

This experience has taught me to be more patient. I have heard so many stories from other fellow Filipinos who shared the same exit experience. Some resilient, some depressing, some annoying. I’ve learned that we Filipinos are flexible. Way flexible, versatile, resourceful and resilient. That’s what makes us unique.

We can make it through on whatever situation, we can overcome trials, one way or another. I wrote this not to discourage Filipinos who have future exits. Once you’re there, you’re actually not alone. Al Buraimi Hotel walls have witnessed struggles, have seen faces of hope and heard a lot of prayers. Nobody told me about this place or the experience, not from fellow Filipinos who had previously exit to Oman. Because maybe when you asked them how’s Oman, they’ll just say “Ok naman.” So, I challenge future exits to try. Because in every “ok naman,” an experience will change the way you perceive life. OFW-life for that matter.

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It has a print run of 60,000 copies and 250,000 readership per week; bolstered by 1 million visitors to its website every month. It also has an e-newsletter sent to its 250,000 subscribers every day.

The Filipino Times is FREE and has the widest targeted circulation across the 7 emirates of the UAE.

With more than 2,500 strategic distribution spots, TFT is available where the Filipinos are - at Smart Bus Shelters, Metro Stations, restaurants, supermarkets, schools, airport lounges, Emirates and Etihad Philippine-bound flights, churches, Filipino community events and many more.

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