M.I.A. 72 hrs

Dear batchmates, kabayan, officemates and friends :
CO-WORKERS or workmates are like siblings you’ve known all your life.  When you’re together, they can’t stand you.  But as soon as you’re out of sight, or give notice that you will be, they miss you :
“Find some snow, climb a mountain, run wild mate.  You won’t have the time like this till Christmas.”
Sure I will.  I just need to know if I can stay here much longer, first.
“Recharge, re-load, reinvent yourself, OK Noel ?”
Certainly.  As soon as I make sure I have airfare to scoot back home in case I’m kicked out, my gracious hosts 🙂
“Send postcards, take pictures, but don’t spend too much bro ?”
I hope I don’t sent postcards and pics from Taal, Mayon and Pinatubo  Where I’ll be staying for good…  Spend??? I wish.
               **               **               **               **                **
Only 8 hours earlier, Boss advised us what we had feared most : he could no longer continue keeping us on roster and risk being cited by the authorities… evidently what happened to us only 12 months ago, as well as to many other work permit / visa holders was now depressingly deja vu.  Worse, we hadn’t budged from our original position of bargaining from a position of relative weakness, owning nothing but our meager skills and available labor, and arrayed against willing locals slash willing trainees, we didn’t rank high on a reissue permit list.
Alternating between doublespeak, officious request and sincere compassion (besides himself, we’re the only other Asian in the dozen plus staff), Boss sounded a bit unsure of how to break it to us.
“I don’t want you to stop working ; you and I know the rosters have been set for the next few months and I’m happy you’re here (wink-wink and fingers crossed), but it being a big company, we can’t be seen as doing anything dodgy.  If you’ll agree to using your leave while you wait for your new WP, you won’t run out of money for at least the next two weeks.  I hope you understand NOel…”
And so the subterfuge of unlikely vacay (in the midst of 24/7 production) was improvised, both to save face and to produce easier answers in awkward discussions…
His words belied his concern, which was not entirely altruistic, although we appreciated it.  Training dollars and company time had been spent on us, and we were remunerated for our time learning the ropes.  Not only would the employer be starting from scratch if we were unceremoniously repatriated, the new candidate would have to learn to get along with a diverse group of workers and lifers in a deeply blue-collar industry supporting a medium-sized community.
Concern, compassion and good intentions aside, the idea of leaving your job, albeit temporarily, is certainly never an abstraction.  We knew the probability of a hitch in our gig was just lurking in the shadows, and yet we hardly made enough preparation, save setting aside leave credits and a tiny tiny rainy-day fund that would be wiped out in case we were sent home prematurely.
First day : We tried jogging among large oak-like trees, even talking to some of them.  Did you really provide shelter to Frodo & Co. when the Ring-Wraiths were almost upon them? …  Rugby fields vast as half a dozen basketball courts laid side-by-side overwhelmed us, such devotion to the sport.  And adding to the beauty of our hosts’ land was the total effort to keep it pristine and pure.  Almost unbelievably, the news that Gandalf / Sir Ian McKellen was actually walking the streets of downtown, while doing a play for a month here, got us roaming said streets for a precious sighting. 
2nd day : We hardly make a dent on The Bridge, an audacious biography on The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, despite all the idle time on hand. without having reached the political chapters of his life, we surmise (duh) that he is an extremely intelligent and probably a once-in-a-lifetime synthesizer of opposing beliefs and groups.  Despite it being a very new and relatively expensive book, the fact that the public library system of the city we live in is both generous and well-stocked with new titles is a Godsend for us, in our coerced inactivity.
3rd day : after missing chat time with the kids, we try to beat our puny record in Mahjong Solitaire (casual games are slowly but surely outpacing games on traditional platforms like PlayStation and Wii, astounding), and when that bored us senseless, sampled random showbiz tidbits on Yahoo! Phils.  The news about John-Lloyd and Shaina got us taken aback, but not for the obvious reason, his vocal admission of love for Vina Morales‘s sis.  It was the fact that for a sustained period, this broad-appeal idol was linked to three, countem three women at the same time, with no violent objections from either the linkees or so-called guardians of moral values.  It indicates one of two things, in our simplistic view : first, that JLC is so popular that people can actually believe that he has honorable intentions for one, two or even three ladies and has the mojo to make it work.  Second, that the timeless double standard that exists vis-a-vis genders (what is acceptable for guys might not be the case for girls) extends to showbiz, and remains so today.
4th day : Work Permit miraculously issued, and not a second too soon : our name was already penciled in for regular shift the following week; and while we are as usual grateful to our hosts, we just the same continue to wonder why, if migrants are welcomed with open arms everyday here, we still look over our paranoid shoulder for any boot directed at our backside.
Thanks for reading ! 

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