A City in Gridlock

We were stuck in a gridlock on the streets of Jeddah that day. Our meeting time in the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah was 6:00 pm and we were already half an hour late. Our friend made a wrong turn and we helplessly looked at the traffic all around us. It was moving at a rate of… zero per second. On those moments I start to wonder what’s with Jeddah…

Shoegarfreeruby and I visited Jeddah exactly a year ago and I liked it in an instant; the roads are wide and smooth, the people are friendly and caring, the old seamlessly melding with the new, the city thrums with a steady, comfy pace that the go-getter city of Riyadh didn’t have. Riyadh is a modern city that vibrates in a fast-paced stride, always running for progress when it comes to infrastructure and roads. Today, Jeddah is seemingly in the race too with tall towers built here and there (the layout of the city almost an afterthought) and most of its roads being re-constructed, fixed, and made. Thus the gridlock. I look at my watch and sigh.

We reached the consulate in Um Al-Qurra street after an hour on the road and parked in front the beige building just behind a police car. We see the Tent City beside the consulate. There is a vacant lot beside the consulate building. Was vacant… because it no longer is. This was the tent city months before. Now, the lot is filled with camping tents of all sizes, people milling about like they’re in a place in Manila. It was hard to believe that the tent city is literally a tent city. After all, aren’t tents made for summer picnics, treks and hiking in the mountains, or camping on a shore?

Outside the consulate, a line of Filipinos snakes its way in all directions. There were many people waiting for their turn at this hour. The temperature, the last time, we checked was around 40 degrees. We were marveling at the patience of these people when we heard a loud rap in one of our rented vehicle’s windows. A man asked us what we want. We told him we’re waiting for someone. I choked back my thought… “We want to help.” But that didn’t seem right. Seeing this first-hand; the number of people inside the tent city, the number of people in line to legalize their status, the number of people coming and going… I came to realize, we cannot help… enough.

Our contact, Mr. Kenji Solis of PEBA Inc. ushered us inside. The girls and I carried whatever we could from the groceries we bought at a hypermarket. Some men from the tent city and volunteers of PEBA came to help us. The energetic Jasmin, PEBA’s volunteer and herself seeking to legalize her papers, directed where each box goes. A system where there was none materialized out of need. The packs of loaves, bottles of mineral water, and trays of eggs go to the Tent City. The huge packs of diapers, boxes of pastries, and sachets of coffee go to the shelter inside the consulate where a number of women and their children were housed.

We passed through the gates of the consulate and we feel the eyes of those in line on our backs. Uneasiness crept while we bypassed the long lines to enter. We climbed to the topmost floor and saw for ourselves what kind of life our distressed kabayans are currently leading. The top floor of the consulate is filled with women and children who Jasmin had lined up to receive the meager stuff we brought for them. Almost everyone lined up carrying their babies with them asking for a specific size of diaper, a piece of bread, and a sachet of coffee that can only serve one.

What are we doing here? That’s one of the first things that entered my mind when the giving began. It didn’t seem right to be here, to invade these people’s privacy, to act like we know what they’re going through, to pretend we understand how they arrived in these circumstances, and to radiate a positive energy assuring them that every thing will be all right. Being in the shelter, and also later on in the tent city, was a harsh snap into a reality that we didn’t know.
Our kabayans sleep on thin mattresses lying beside each other. Some of them live outside the building into the terrace that has only sheets of canvas to protect them from the heat. When a sandstorm strikes, they go inside and huddle like sardines into the rooms already filled with people. Fans battle the heat of day but they can only produce relief in brief intervals, blowing air that is as hot as the wind outside. There are rooms allocated for the pregnant and the babies; the air-conditioning going on-off, on-off on certain hours. (And we, the privileged ones, already complain of the hot weather after a minute or two of walking under the sun.)

We had to duck low in entering the inner sanctum of the tent city. At the back is a kitchen where all donations are gathered and a group of kabayans lead and cook for the others. They’re huddled in makeshift mats in the floor while a few chop and boil the day’s supper. A table serve as a mini pharmacy where all donated medicines are stored. A man talks to us about the conditions of living in the tent city and what is the status of the illegal workers. The gist of it is… there are things being done, papers are being processed, but all eventually gets clogged in the agencies in-charge. There are so many of them but so little time.

I feel so present in the midst of this chaos but I also felt detached. I felt the suffering, saw it for myself, but a disconnection gnaws my inside. Yes, The Pink Tarha ladies are not in the shoes of our kababayans in the tent city. We do not know suffering in the kind they are experiencing right now. After this visit, we will all go back to Riyadh feeling far away, not only in distance, but also in mind. The faces and names of everyone we met creates a mishmash of hastily put directories in our brains, blurring as days go by. This is not our struggle, not our fight, but then again, we want to help in ways that we can. Remember what we most Filipinos are known for? Bayanihan.


Eyecandy remembers the time when we were lined up at the grocery. A fellow kababayan wondered and asked what all our trolleys of groceries were for? She answered, it’s for the people of the Tent City. He replied, “Ano yung Tent City?” (What is the tent city?) It caught her off guard considering that this man obviously lived and worked in Jeddah and yet he was not aware that such a thing was going on within his community. But for whatever reason that this person was caught unaware, Eyecandy believes (and we share her belief) that this is what we should work towards to: awareness. Let us not let our fellow kababayans suffer under the heat of the sun and the mercy of a faulty bureaucratic process without at least making it known. Because it is only through our awareness of the issue that our humanity can be triggered. 

The Pink Tarha ladies may as well be just bloggers. Just fellow OFWs. But we are all first and foremost, people. Our humanity lies in our compassion for others and for those in need. While we acknowledge that we don’t have any legal authority or influence to empirically change and alleviate the situation in the Tent City, we must more importantly recognize that it should not be a hindrance for us to help, in any way that we can. Be it in terms of donations of daily goods, medicines (which they badly need) and most importantly, our time. Yes, we may appear to be powerless in a problem such as this. And yes, we know that the best solution for them is to get these displaced OFWs back home. But if we believe that there is no power in the human connection, in having a heart that gives and shares, and in a prayer so deep and sincere, then what does that say about our humanity? What does that say about the Filipino spirit?

Hope and love.

If there’s anything that was etched in my memory, it would have to be the children; their faces smiling and full of hope and dreams, their innocence being eaten slowly by their dire circumstances, by their parents’ sacrifices and mistakes (whichever apply), by the action of the governments of two countries, and by the days swallowed whole by the unforgiving weather. If there’s any thing more we pray for other than the resolution of each case and status, it would have to see these children in an environment where they are free to grow as healthy and happy as they can be.

We continuously pray not only for our kababayans, but also for everyone — from Jeddah to Riyadh to other various cities and provinces — affected in these new labor laws in various ways than one. May these cities of gridlock be alleviated soon. 

A Sundrenched + Eyecandy collaboration entry

* Donations can be given through Mr. Kenji Solis of PEBA Inc. You can contact him at kenjebz@gmail.com or via the PEBA Inc. Facebook page.

** We would like to thank Jollibee KSA, Mr. Julius Alfonso, and Ms. Jou Pabalate for their sponsorship and donations making this gift-giving possible.

*** Photos will be added soon.

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About Author

Janelle
Janelle

The Editor-in-Chief speaks 7 languages: Filipino, English, Wit, Sarcasm, Truth, Creativity, and The Pink Tarha.

1 Comment

  1. i don&#39;t know how to react. it&#39;s really saddening; i&#39;ve heard of it bec of fb and getting updates. it&#39;s tough to fully wrap one&#39;s head around the subject; but kudos to you and your friends for helping out with their primary needs NOW. <br /><br />may god comfort them in this period of uncertainty while the situtation is getting sorted out.

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