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Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Return of the Natives

Richard Fernandez brings us the reality of who actually makes the Middle  East work.  It's not the Arabs, it's the "guest worker," many from the Pillipines.

Libya has warned of a “total collapse” of its health care system as the chaos plaguing the country threatens to send into flight many of the Filipino and Indian staff on whom its hospitals depend. …

Now, 3,000 health workers from the Philippines, making up 60 percent of Libya’s hospital staff, could leave – along with workers from India, who account for another 20 percent.

The question is, where did the other non-Asian 20% come? What did Libya do with all their oil wealth these last decades, besides learn to build bombs to bring down jetliners over Lockerbie?

The flight of the Filipinos is representative of the exodus of expats from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. The last die-hard Filipinos have fled Syria. They are bugging out of Iraq citing “crisis warning number 3″, which appears to mean ‘the beheading is now starting in your neighborhood’. And when they go its a sure sign the other Third Worlders are heading for the exits too.

The degree to which the oil-rich countries of the Middle East are dependent on Filipino ‘slave’ labor is so astonishing that it’s funny. The Guardian writes “Qatar’s foreign domestic workers subjected to slave-like conditions”.

While the useless eaters in academia, the press and government pontificate, the real work is done by people they despise.

The history of the Philippines is by and large locked up in the experiences of the silent, semi-literate poor. They settled the land, fought the Moro wars, constituted the great bulk of the resistance against the Japanese, went down with ship as generations of US Navy men. They went out to the four corners of the earth to earn money as overseas workers.

In that capacity they've lived in steel containers in the desert; on rigs out at sea; worked as chambermaids in London or Moscow. They ply the ocean as sailors; are playing endless rounds of cards as captives on ships in pirate Somali harbors.

They drove supplies as contractors in Desert Storm, sleeping in hammocks underneath their trucks at night. They are the baggage handlers, gofers and utility men in a hundred different climes, including equatorial Africa. The men who wave goodbye to the last helicopter which never comes for them.

They've poured the coffee for every US president in modern history and nobody even knows their name.

If you go past a middle eastern airport or Hong Kong you will see them in their teeming peripatic millions. Squatting on airline seats, cadging the salt and the pepper from the airline meal, on their way to some blessed job, even if it means living chained under a sink or housed in a camping tent in the indoor courtyard of a desert home.

They are the nation. Not the upper class people most Westerners meet in Manila, who are largely useless. It's the poor and lower middle class that make it go round; the unlovely and the unremembered. And the object their journeys is found in the many malls that dot the Philippines, where their relatives go to cash the remittance they send each month at the money-changer and to have a good time at the Jollibee's hamburger outlet conveniently located near the money shop.

I have often been moved to inexplicable tears at the sight. Not because they are perfect or even nice. But because it reminds me of how little humanity needs to be happy. A little love, a handful of rice and the hope that Jesus, if no one else, will not forget them.

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