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A tea boy’s tales

12:04 AM February 20, 2017

Riyadh — He worked as a “tea boy” in our bank, his task mainly to serve hot and cold beverages to the staff and visitors during office hours. He had been here in Saudi Arabia for more than a year already, and on the anniversary of his second year, which was the expiry of his contract with his employer, he planned to fly back to the Philippines. But there was a problem: His passport was to expire in six months, and this would prevent him from going home.

Acting on the advice of his peers, he secured online an appointment with the Philippine Embassy to get an extended-
validity period for his passport. But somehow he forgot all about it, and so he was able to go to the embassy a day after the appointment. It was early December in 2015, and if he failed to go back to his homeland by Jan. 30, he would be forced to agree to another two-year contract, which he didn’t want. After he was told by the clerk at the counter to get another online appointment, he left the embassy grounds, disoriented.

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Outside the embassy gate, a compatriot approached him. Saying he had overheard the tea boy’s problem, the stranger, who said he hailed from Mindanao, claimed he could provide a “solution.” But it would cost around 400 riyals, the tea boy was told. As the latter didn’t have enough money, he haggled. They agreed to halve the amount, leaving the tea boy with just 50 Saudi bucks in his wallet for his taxi fare. The man (who said he had “connections” in the embassy) delivered as he had promised.

Back in our office at lunch time, our tea boy related this incident to me. “May fixer din pala dito sa embassy natin, sir,” he told me, smiling, shaking his head.

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Being the only Filipinos in our department, the tea boy and I often talked. He told me his stories here in Saudi.

One time he got into a vicious slugfest with a colleague in their housing facility. It all began with an extension wire outlet. The other man, from Mindanao, was upset that the wire was on the floor; he found it bothersome. Our tea boy, from Bicol, countered that it was no big issue. Harsh words were exchanged and the Bicolano drew first blood, giving his foe a wicked right hook on the face. Chaos soon erupted in their bedroom (six of them slept there). It was a violent bout that lasted for some minutes.

When finally the fight was stopped, the Bicolano’s nose was broken and blood was dripping from it. He had the courage to fight but not enough sinew to overcome the bigger physique of the Tausug. When he reported for work the next day, he talked like one with a cleft palate. He showed me a photo of his bloodied face in his mobile phone. I told him to consult a doctor, but he shrugged off my advice, saying his injury would heal in a few days.

His other stories also concerned his roommates. There was one tea boy who was gay and was into a relationship with a colleague. But he returned to the Philippines for good when his contract expired, to attend to his ailing mother. There was another who perennially borrowed money, entrusting to the lender his salary ATM card as security until the debt was fully paid. There were tea boys who moonlighted as waiters in some restaurants, prompted by a dire need to augment their income.

But he himself refused to find additional work. “It’s difficult, sir,” he said; he feared that the reduced nightly rest resulting from a second job might make him sick.

On his last day in office, we the staff gave him his final tip — an amount bigger than he had ever received in the past. He vowed he’d go back to Saudi but for different work and bigger pay, like other tea boys.

“It’s hopeless there in ’Pinas, sir,” he said.

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Amador F. Brioso Jr., a lawyer, has been working as a senior legal advisor in a bank in Riyadh for eight years now. He is the author of several books, and his first nonfiction work published in 2015, on Arsenio Lacson of Manila, earned him the award for best nonfiction prose in English in the 35th National Book Awards.

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TAGS: Amador F. Brioso Jr., Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Overseas Filipino Workers, tea boy
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