This posting is very personal and very long. I know many readers of this blog are dating a Filipina, engaged, or in a relationship with a Filipina. Here’s our story. In my last posting, I mentioned that Rebecca and I were in Abulug last weekend. We were there for a very specific reason: Our interview with Father Carlos, to say prayers at Piat (Next posting), and the trip to the municipality to apply for our marriage licence.
The start of the new journey will be our married life together. The long road is what it took to get here. I’ll explain. Rebecca is what you would call very traditional… She has very simple needs and wants, and a very strong character and personal faith. I have been married two times previously, and was technically still married when we first dated. I was traipsing around the world and, quite frankly, the travel took a very heavy toll on my marriage. Rebecca was working in Abu Dhabi, supporting her family, with her brother and roommates. Her day consisted of work, cook, clean, sleep, start over again… Very little time for a social life or anything other than making a living. Not very exotic or glamorous, eh? I knew Becky for three years, since she worked for an agent of my company. We used to flirt a little, talk, and so on, when I was in town on business. I had a meeting that was postponed and ended up coming to Dubai early from Kuwait. I thought, I have a free day, Rebecca never goes anywhere, I’ll see if she wants to play tourist for the day. I was soundly rejected. Three more times rejected. About a month later, her friend Razel found out that I asked her out, and, after much convincing from Raz and several other ladies in her life, Rebecca said “yes”. Our first “date” was in Dubai: Lunch at the Kempinski Hotel (Tres chic!).
A bit about the UAE: There are seven Emirates in the UAE, each one similar to a US state, as far as government goes. There is a national defence and banking system, but each Emirate largely operates under its own local laws. Dubai is what is regarded as a “moderate” islamic state. Abu Dhabi is under shariah… Not very moderate by any standards and not as moderate as the tourism department may lead you to believe.
Problem: as our relationship developed, we were subject to local laws. No big deal? Well, when you are unmarried and trying to live your lives, it can be a big deal. Think, no holding hands in public, certainly no kissing, and, should you be caught in flagrante delicto by anyone, at any time, official or not, you could face deportation and public lashing (200 lashes for BOTH of you).
We fell in love… Desperately in love. The “once in a lifetime” kind of love. We were willing to take the risks. She cried for hours every time I had to leave town on business. She prayed for strength at the one church in Abu Dhabi. She went to confession and the priest yelled at her, telling her she was going to hell because being with me was a mortal sin. She faced a choice: stay with me or leave me. She stayed. We regarded ourselves a married, even though not yet legal. That feeling is stronger than ever now and grows stronger every day.
Another problem: Her boss, my former business colleague and her sponsor (a BIG deal there), was not happy that she was heavily involved with an American. How unhappy? Well, she was beaten up (It took all my strength and character not to go down there and dispense “cricket bat justice” on that SOB!), and death threats were made against both of us, along with her brother (Who still works for the same company). Remember, this was NOT America, NOT the Philippines… Going to local authorities means you are “fornicating” (Why else would an upstanding Arab male make threats against you unless you are doing something wrong and contrary to Islam?). Not an option. There was very little we could do except what I did: I involved the American Embassy. They made it quite clear to the person involved, in person, that our personal safety was being watched and that if anything were to happen to either of us, there would be the severest consequences. They also stated, very clearly and in NO uncertain terms, that they would represent Rebecca, on my behalf, to the Philippine Embassy. That is why, a few months back, I said in one of Bob’s posts that I will always register with the Embassy. Needless to say, he backed off. We are here in the RP, safe, and continuing our lives. I will reserve comments about the people in the Middle East… They will not be pleasant or appropriate in this forum. Let’s just say that I am bitter, and that, after knowing how Rebecca and other OFWs struggle and are treated, I hold little regard for anyone there.
Finally, last December, I was involved in a traffic accident with a local while Rebecca and her brother were in the car with me. After several hours in the police station, the “investigation”, if you could call it that, determined that charges of “fornication” could be brought against myself and Rebecca. See, she was fully clothed, and nothing was going on. However, we were not married. The only reason those charges were never filed was that her brother was in the car with us.
I will always have the greatest respect towards Becky. She risked, in order to be with me: Personal safety, her family’s welfare, her brother’s job, her personal welfare, her living wage. After we left the UAE and returned to the RP, she faced the adjustments Bob has frequently written about. Not least of which was the following reality: For the first time in her adult life, Rebecca was without a regular salary. Also, for the first time in her life, Becky has a partner who treats her as an equal, with all the respect and love that I can. Money is not an issue, but other issues have arisen. Part of one’s identity is the job that they do. Becky has had to adjust to the fact that I do not regard her as an expense. She has always been self-sufficient. A survivor. Now she is relying on someone else for the first time in her life. That takes a hell of a lot of trust. It is something that we are facing that we never anticipated. Add in differences in social background (She worries if she is “posh” enough for me to introduce her in a business setting… She most certainly is!!!!). Differences in culture. Differences in values. Differences in language and meaning. What keeps us together is love, and it is strong.
Last year, I was introduced to Rebecca’s family. I think of them as my family and worry about their welfare. I realized why Rebecca insisted I visit Abulug first, before accepting my proposal. She was away for 23 years. She NEVER, even for a moment, considered bringing a boyfriend home with her, unless he was THE ONE. Why? Because it would impact her reputation to her family and to the town (Everyone is related there, in some way, shape, or form… Gossip is rampant). Another fact: at that time in our relationship, if either her mother, or older brother, said “NO”, she would have left me, regardless of personal loss or happiness. That cultural thing again. I was accepted, not certain if liked, but accepted.
Fast forward to today. We are having a church wedding. October 8, a Wednesday. Strange day to choose, huh? There is a reason… We are trying our best to keep it simple, and not show off. Very important in order to keep sanity and the requests for money to a minimum. We have told everyone that we do not want any gifts. If they feel they must, help Father Carlos and the local parish. That is very difficult to do in a town the size of Abulug. Especially, since everyone is related, you can’t really invite one and not invite all. So, we are holding a very large lunch, with a very small evening ceremony to follow. 800 to 1,000 for lunch, 20 for the ceremoy. Menu is 8 pigs, 40 chickens, 50kg of buko pandan, cassava cake, wedding cake, and adobo. Traditional Ybanag food, and we are discussing a small band to play the Ybanag songs Becky remembers when she was a little girl. No alcohol (That creates its own problems in a small town). I need to be baptized. We have interviewed, done the paperwork. For a church wedding, the priest must interview you and counsel you. Father Carlos is a nice guy… One of the priests who is trying his best under not the easiest of circumstances. He also seems to really care about the people of Abulug. I need to interview with the Bishop next week for a dispensation, since I am still a pagan in the eyes of the church. No matter. Becky’s faith is important to her and part of who she is, regardless of my feelings, so, I look at it this way: If I love her, I’ll do whatever it takes.
Finally, since it is a church wedding, part of the licence application process (around 500 pesos) is family planning counseling, done at the municipality. Very funny dialogue. The lady sits down (a cousin of Rebecca) and says, “I guess I don’t need to go too much into the ways to plan a family, since you are both over 40.” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I never learned. Go into great detail and don’t skip bits. How does the bird keep from getting stung by the bee?” The blush on her face and the chuckle from the registrar made it all worthwhile.