A Year Ago

We were talking and laughing so hard over dinner one cold December night.

It felt like I’ve known you for so long when it was actually the first time we went out.

My mind connected with yours like it never did with other people.

The kind of connection I needed then to bring me back to life.

It never occurred to me that we’d someday meet and spend time together.

Because though we’re under the same sky, we belong in different worlds.

It’s really amazing how someone who was just a stranger to you before,

Would suddenly be someone who’d mean so much to you.

Even until now I’m not sure what we were then.

What I’m sure of is that you made me feel butterflies again.

My heart became alive anew as I found my ability to share what’s in me once more.

It’s nice reminiscing about it,

Reliving every second, every minute of that winter night.

It can’t be real anymore but it’s still something I hold on to.

A year ago today was when I opened myself completely to you.

Sometimes my mind wishes I shouldn’t have.

My heart says otherwise.

Maybe it’s not harmful to hold on to the feelings I felt then.

Because it’s a reminder of how I am still capable to feel something for someone.

I’m not numb after all but in a way scared to experience it again.

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12 Things I’ve Learned from Working in Kuwait

It’s almost nine years since I boarded the Etihad Airways flight leaving Manila a few minutes past midnight. I haven’t been home since then. But for as long as I can remember, working overseas — specially in the Middle East — was never part of my plans growing up. Moving to a foreign country could be a scary stuff for many but not for me. It’s just that, at that time, I didn’t see myself working abroad. But to borrow the words of Jamie Lannister (or George R.R. Martin to be more precise), “…the things we do for love.” So off to Kuwait I flew…

Jumping into life as an expatriate was a decision I made for love. When I think about it now, I still somehow think it’s one of the most stupid decisions I’ve ever made. I had a rewarding job back in Manila, was earning good enough, have a wonderful family and friends. So why leave? Love. Yes, love. But that’s not what I wanted to write about today though here’s a spoiler… it wasn’t a happy ending. It wasn’t all easy but I can say I still have been very fortunate and blessed after that. What happened then opened new doors, challenges and opportunities for me. Thus, here I am now.

Personally and professionally, these long years of working in Kuwait and living on my own has taught me a lot of things. Allow me to share some…

1. I’ve learned to become totally independent/self-reliant. Arriving in an unfamiliar environment by myself, I didn’t have a choice but to find my way around and rely on myself completely. I have already moved out of my parents’ home a couple of years before I came here but it’s always easy to go home to them whenever I want to or need to. But moving to another country, clueless, is a totally different thing. I learned to cook my meals, treat my wounds (physically & emotionally), going to the doctor when I’m sick, making my grocery list, paying my house rent and bills — I have to do it all on my own. (Thanks to technology I am able to pay my bills or order food online just by clicking this and that, click, click and click then it’s done, as sometimes it’s not easy calling due to language barriers.) It’s amazing to realize that I was able to adapt pretty quickly. I’m glad how I’m able to improve an independent mindset and was able to enhance my decision-making skills. Of course I still make mistakes, but it’s from these mistakes that I learn to be wiser and stronger being on my own. Being able to do things my way is a very liberating feeling!

2. I’ve learned that nationality matters. Well, we always hear that we are all global citizens but in reality, nationality matters here. It does. I understand this connotes a negative meaning, however, sad as it seems, people are paid according to what passport they carry. An Indian teacher can never get a salary equal to an American teacher though they have the same qualifications. Nationality determines the salary for different job titles.

3. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and balance. I always try to be as optimistic as I could about life, however, patience was never really my virtue. Coming here though, I’ve learned to be patient with myself and other people or else, I’d better go back home. It just hit me one day to just take it easy and be patient for a while, balancing my work and social life and give myself a chance to learn how things work in this country.  It is definitely a big adjustment, seriously. But being patient and knowing how to balance things helped me adapt to these differences.

4. I’ve learned that culture shock is a real thing. (It can happen to anyone.) And homesickness, too. Coping with culture shock I think was one of the most challenging aspect of moving overseas or even just traveling. Every traveler I think feels the same way to a certain extent but for most first-timers, I think it’s more serious. First thing that strike me was the language. I felt dizzy listening to people talking simultaneously and very loudly in an unfamiliar language that pretty much sounded like noise to me in my earlier months here. Next, the way people stare at me made me quite uncomfortable, too. (My mom told me it’s bad to stare.) A lot of men stare at women differently that it makes it awkward and unpleasant. I don’t know how to explain this well so I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure others who have worked in the Middle East will understand me. Another thing that still shocks me even to this day are the times when some men drop a piece of paper on your table with their mobile numbers on it. Seriously. You can decently ask for my name and my phone number if you want to be friends with me but dropping a piece of paper with your number and expecting me to call you or send you a message?!? Hell, no. I don’t know if this is okay with other women, but for me, definitely a no-no.

Work ethics and social interactions are far too different from where I came from so it’s really a big shock for me, too. Life doesn’t move as quickly here but life doesn’t end when you don’t get a reply to your email the same hour or the same day, but still. Unanswered phone calls are annoying as well. Some things that I can’t really get used to.

Alongside coping with culture shock, I also learned that homesickness can hit even the most independent of people. It was only less than a month since I arrived when I started  missing everything about my country already. I miss my family, my friends, the food/restaurants, my dog, my mom’s voice (specially when she’s angry (: haha!), my hometown, our home, my bedroom, my books, our village, the markets/shops/malls/bookstores, the public transportation, the pine trees, the fog, the weather, the rain, the discos/bars, alcohol/beer, the people, the fun. I wanted to go back home. But I thought better of it so I stayed. I realized it’s okay to be homesick. Some people I’ve met here make me forget homesickness every now and then. I just try to enjoy the time I have here with some good people I’ve met or by myself most of the time. Home will always be there when I return anyway. 🙂

5. I’ve learned that it helps a lot to learn the country’s language and culture. Communicating with people from different countries without a common language was something really irritating for me at first. I actually expected them to at least know basic English, however, that wasn’t the case. Many people I’ve met here don’t speak English at all. It’s surprising specially in places where English-speakers are expected. So it was (and is still) pretty difficult to communicate. Like in restaurants that serve Arabic dishes, of course as expats, we expect someone who is able to explain to us the dishes in English. It’s frustrating that the staffs aren’t able to explain these things to you. So my experience in a Lebanese restaurant helped me a lot about Arabic food. Anyhow, as days and months and years went by, it became very interesting to experience communicating without a common language! Yes, believe it or not, it’s possible! This happened almost everyday in my first two or three years and even these days, though rarely. But it’s not easy of course. It sometimes leads to miscommunication so it really helps a lot to learn the spoken language in your host country. I’m not saying learn everything but knowing the basics certainly made my life better and easier. It’s pretty annoying coping with a language difficult to understand and I never had the will to learn actually but it goes a long way to know at least how to greet or say thank you in other people’s language.

It’s also a big plus knowing cultural taboos and how to avoid them. I surely found some pretty odd things at first and many times, I disagree about something, but taking a step back and trying to look at things in their perspective helps a lot in understanding their culture/behavior and gradually I learned to understand and respect them. Nothing really comes out good for being an idiot abroad so I try to learn whatever possible things I can learn about the place, the people, the culture and gain understanding of whatever situation I’m into. I’m sometimes appalled or amazed or surprised but it all contributes to how I survive here.

6. I’ve learned to be flexible. I can’t always get what I want and people are not going to adjust or give way for me all the time so I always try to be flexible. Back home, I mostly work things my way and I’m mostly in control of situations but here, I’ve learned that life can’t always be like that. I certainly can’t have all things my way and not every situation is under my control. I’ve learned and understood that there’s always more than one correct answer. I always try to be open-minded and to be prepared to change my mind once in a while because things don’t just fall perfectly on my lap. Even in everyday experiences like eating out with friends/colleagues, being flexible and open-minded will make the experience better, happier and worthwhile. Trying unusual and never-before-heard dishes because it’s the only place open at that time of the day/night actually introduced me to new different dishes and new favorites! So being flexible lead me to different adventures.

7. I’ve learned to manage my expectations. It’s good to think positive but it’s stupid to underestimate how difficult it can get to live in a new place, a new environment, with different people, different climate and a new culture. It isn’t all fun and easy so give big enough room for disappointments, irritation, discouragement and tears. Don’t be overconfident as well but learn to find your niche in your new world and it will be satisfying and beneficial later on.

8. I’ve learned to ask for help. Being independent doesn’t mean you won’t be needing help. Though I can figure things out on my own most of the time, there are situations where it is wiser and more efficient to ask for other people’s help like asking for directions or how things are done here and there. It’s pretty annoying sometimes because of unnecessary talks/comments but hell, there’s no harm in asking for help.

9. I’ve learned to just smile and not to sweat the small stuff. Seriously. A smile always goes a long way. (But still be cautious and use your common sense, of course!) Smiling just feels good. Smiling makes me happy and it could make other people happy, too. Remember that smile is contagious. 🙂 Moreover, don’t sweat the small stuff. Life could be way much worse than we could ever imagine so I learned to appreciate what I have and what I don’t and life as a whole. Really, life ain’t that bad.

10. I’ve learned the value of money. Since I started living by myself, specially when I started working here, the way I look at money started to change. I realized I can just buy a ticket to somewhere and enjoy a lot of different, wonderful, crazy, mind-boggling and extraordinary things instead of buying shoes and bags every so often. (I still don’t mind spending money on books though!) I’ve been able to travel to a few countries during my annual vacations and I was also able to see how people spend (or waste) their money and how little a lot of people have. I also don’t have much but I feel really blessed living the life I have now. I get to realize how much money I’m wasting on things I don’t really need when a lot of people don’t even have anything to eat. I’ve seen poverty in places known as tourist destinations but it’s saddening, heart-wrenching even, to see the reality behind these beautiful and astonishing places. Since then, I promised myself to spend my money wisely and find ways to help the less fortunate in my own little way.

11. I’ve learned to take risks after risks after risks. (Or else, life’s a bore.) I think my decision to quit my job back in Manila and come here was one of the riskiest thing I’ve done in my life. Less than a month since I got here though, I started regretting that decision. Everything was not what I expected, nonetheless, I stayed. Then I needed to take far bigger risks after that. As it turned out, what seemed to be a wrong decision almost nine years ago, turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

12. I’ve learned to embrace diversity. It’s important not to stereotype. Everyone of us is a masterpiece. None of us is exactly the same as someone else. We were raised in different ways, we have different cultures and beliefs, thus, we have different opinions and way of life. Sure, some (or a lot) of things were strange, peculiar or unusual but overtime, I learned to accept and respect these differences as others accept mine. This diversity makes it all beautiful. We become more passionate about other people, it helps bring about a healthier lifestyle, it enriches our knowledge and opinion and it makes us closer.

These are the most notable things I’ve learned thus far living as an expatriate. (This decision I’ve made for love ain’t that bad after all.) Years ago I thought working abroad wasn’t for me. Not anymore. It has opened a lot of exciting, challenging, rare and unexpected opportunities, both personally and professionally that I think working abroad is a choice I’d make again and again. There were years of happy, delightful, wonderful and satisfying moments. There were weeks and months of tears and despair. But all these contributed to what and where I am now.

Kuwait is not for everyone. Countless times I thought it’s not for me, too. It’s certainly not the life I’ve wished/imagined when I was younger but it undeniably helped me in a lot of ways which couldn’t have been possible if I just stayed back home. I am pleased that I’ve learned a lot about myself and that my life had been better in one way or the other. For this I am glad for the experiences I’ve had. Sure there are negative aspects of the country and sometimes I myself find it unsafe in some areas, but it’s not all war zones here or in the Middle East. We can’t ignore the fact that terrible things happen every now and then, however, we have to keep in mind that tolerance and respect for people and their culture is a two-way process. I still always try to convince myself and believe that there are more good people here. Perhaps, I just have to give it a try to reach out again. I don’t want to be left wondering what if and if only.

Thanks for reading. Happy day, homo sapiens! 🙂

Betrayal

How do you murder friendship, kinship or any kind of relationships the fastest way?

Betrayal.

Betrayal is the fastest relationship killer. It can manifest in different ways, in different forms, in different acts, in different relationships, in different individuals. How people take advantage of other people for their own benefit at the expense of other people’s feelings, I don’t really understand. What’s worse about it is that,

“The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.”

Yes, betrayal never comes from our enemies but from our friends, our colleagues, from people we love, from people who mean something to us. I can attest to that.

We all probably have experienced betrayal at least once in our lives. All of us have our own personal Judas perhaps.  And when it happens, the sting of the betrayal often leaves us appalled, hurt, broken and maybe clueless and unable how to move forward from that point on. On the other hand, the traitors will deny the act and even convince us that we misunderstood them. Moreover, many of these traitors would even justify their acts of betrayal.

Whatever relationship we have with the person who betrayed us, it often leaves us hurt and wounded deeply. We let our guards down whenever we start to be comfortable with people and we often realize it too late. As I grow in my understanding of relationships of any kind, those who love you or adore you at one point, can or will reject you any other day. People see things from different perspectives and we unintentionally disappoint each other sometimes.

Moreover, it hurts to know that you were betrayed because they can gain more from betraying you rather than staying true to you. Why would anyone do that for momentary benefit or comfort? I don’t know. What I do know though, is that they’ve lost more than they know. They’ve lost more than what they thought they’ve gained.

It’s sad that this had to happen. I probably appear weak to them that they took advantage of it and I won’t be able to trust them once more. I’m in a place where as far as I’m concerned, there’s no point in trying again. Nothing ruins a relationship more than the realization that you can’t trust these people any longer. It’s an irreparable harm but something to learn from.

On Friends & Friendships

imagesSocial media has made it possible for people to become friends to anyone around the globe merely through the click of a button. I think it’s generally a good thing. My need for friendship isn’t too much but once I decide to build one, I intend to make it genuine as much as I can. Somehow, maintaining friendships can be hard work but so worth it at the same time because our friendships are one of the most influential and essential parts of our life. Recently, I’ve been pondering quite often about my friends and friendships. The friends worth keeping and friendships worth saving. The fact of the matter is that, my social circle is quite noticeably shrinking. I don’t see that as a bad thing. I actually think I quite understand now what they mean with “less is more” and “quality over quantity.”

images (1)I first arrived in Kuwait on the 1st of March, 2009. I have a variety of friends back home but very few real ones. They’re some of the best people I’ve met. The kind of friends for keeps. A few weeks since, my friendships have changed a lot. I’ve met different people of different nationalities. Most of the friendships/connections built were situational. Most needed context to make sense. Some stayed longer while some had a shorter shelf life. I still do wish them well now but I don’t intend to reconnect. Luckily, I also get to meet a few that didn’t need any context but exist in any given situation, people who are always there during my ups and downs, stayed during my best and my worst days, the type that lasts.

Several times, I let go of a few friends while a few others let go of me as well. I didn’t think I was being selfish to let go of them just like that but mind you, it wasn’t always easy to put an end to it. However, given the world we live in and the values instilled in us, I knew it was necessary.download

A couple of years afterwards, two of my closest friends abruptly ended our friendship. I first received a message from one of them telling me never to call her again and a few days later, I received pretty much the same message from the other. Sure I’ve made mistakes and dealt with things the wrong way. We had misunderstandings at times which is pretty normal in any relationships but why they suddenly wanted to end the friendship, until now, I still don’t fully understand.

Your peace is more important than driving yourself crazy trying to understand why something happened the way it did.

My heart ached. It really did. Breaking up with friends is just as painful as any other relationship break-ups there is. So after months of failing to know how I’ve wronged them, I stopped. I thought maybe knowing the answer may not satisfy me just the same and I don’t want to drive myself crazy thinking why. I just finally allowed the hurt to help me grow. It was sure a painful way to end an almost decade of friendship but I’ve decided to just let go and move on. I still sometimes think of them though and wonder, did they give up easily on me? Or did I give up easily on them?

downloadI love my friends, really, I do. Friends are one of the most beautiful gifts of being alive. They help shape our lives one way or the other. They cheer, support, help and see the best in each other. Friendships that have depth and true understanding is one among the essential elements of a blessed life. And I feel blessed to have a handful of them. Interestingly enough, some of us drifted apart at some point for some reasons, both inevitable and necessary, but later found each other again and our bonds became stronger. Sadly though, not all our friends give us that good effect. Some lie. Some betray. Then it’s difficult to rebuild trust and loyalty once again. So sometimes it’s better that they end. And a lot of my friendships are meeting its end nowadays.

Whichever and however way we choose our friends/friendships, I think it’s vital that we offer a meaning in each other’s lives. It’s nice to think that we fulfill them and they fulfill us. My friends mean something to me in different ways and play different roles in my life. I do appreciate, value and respect each one of them. Be that as it may, I personally don’t find any reason to work on a friendship that leaves me unfulfilled. More so, friendships out of habit or obligation. That’s just not fair and friendships are voluntary so I think there’s nothing wrong in ending friendships that doesn’t suit you in a positive way anymore.

5e833fe87a8c01614aff165d433a3c29Sometimes, too, we just outgrow our friends. At some point we realize that they’re not good for us because they bring us down or whittle at our confidence every so often. Some friendships evolve with us, but some do not. I will not apologize for evolving closer to my true self and evolving past their comfort zones. We change as we age and grow. So I think it’s just right to let go of such friendships and accept that it’s over.

Other times, too, we have this friend who always swings the conversation back towards him/herself and has no interest in what we have to say. I’ve met a number of them kind and I just avoid them as much as I could and luckily, they themselves stop talking to me, too.

b9cf3e4b311dd4d5e5f3366375bf2c20Moreover, there’s betrayal. As it is with all kinds of relationships, nothing could murder friendships faster than betrayal. It hurts a lot to be betrayed. It hurts all the more to end a friendship because of betrayal. I no longer see any point of saving a friendship when one betrays the other.

From time to time, psychological or emotional issues also become reasons why friends drift apart. It’s important that we maintain everything balanced in our friendships. Support for each other. Will to help in making each other better. Give and take. Trust. Unfortunately, there are times when this factors shift its balance and no longer serve one or the other in a worthwhile, beneficial, balanced or positive way. One typical example is a change in fortune among friends. The manner how we deal with situations like this isn’t always the same, thus, causing friends to drift apart. Where envy or jealousy didn’t exist before starts to gradually emerge. It’s nice to have friends who are always there when we are at our worst but I just don’t get them when they leave us in times when our fate changes for the better. (More of this on another entry.) So I suppose, it all boils down to who we pick as friends in the first place.

I’ve also met a lot of people who just befriend you because they need you. We don’t usually see this right away at the beginning of friendships but eventually, it shows. They take, take, take. And you give, give, give. Then they leave you. They build it when they need it, and break it when they don’t.

Here’s the thing, it is important to always try our best to see things from different perspectives before we make rush judgments whether to still keep these friends or completely cut our ties with them. After all, we all make mistakes. Some of us (myself included) don’t like to rely on anyone for anything to get us through life’s hardships but perhaps there’s nothing wrong in giving the friendship a second chance, be a bit forgiving and understanding maybe, because throwing away a friendship can’t be that easy. Every kind of friendship adds something to our lives, good or bad, it’s just up to us how we are going to let it affect us.