Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Life Stories: Stucked in Queshm Island, Iran

Place: Queshm Island, Iran
Year : 2001
I came to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates  last 2001, when I was hired as a test engineer by an agency to work in an Alcatel hybrid fiber broadband network project for Etisalat. It was my first time to work abroad and I was very worried and scared of whatever that may happen to me. I came to work as a quality test engineer even though  I don't have any experience nor knowledge on fiber testing. And what was more scary is that I am working on a Visit Visa, and I was appointed as Test Engineer. The agency that handled us, was telling us that we need to wait another 3 months before they will apply us for a working visa. Trusting them enough, we settle for a 3 months Visit Visa temporarily.  Visit Visa holders are considered illegal workers in the kingdom of Abu Dhabi, so working on field is quite risky. As for myself, being caught by the police, is just like taking a suicide, imagining the gory things that would happen to me in jail. We worked and lived in fear everyday.

With 6 days work in a week and Friday as the only rest day, I manage to learn everything about my job from scratch. I have to wake up at 6am, study the manuals, go to work by 8am, comes home at 9pm and study again until 12 midnight. We work on field, so we have to battle the scorching heat outside, especially when the Fiber Nodes are installed in a non air conditioned rooms.

 After 3 months, our Visit Visa has expired, and the agency have told us that we need to "exit" to renew our visa and to start the processing of our working permit. Yeah, it has been 3 months already and yet that elusive working permit has not yet arrive,as they claimed. There are two islands in Iran where most of the foreign workers traveled to process their visa. It is called Kish and Queshm Island. There is a remote hostel there in the middle of the desert where you can stay temporarily until your visa has been renewed. If lucky, you would be able to leave after days, or if not you might end up stuck in that place for quite a long time, if your employer decided to abandon you.

I was sent to Quesm Island, a far flung island in Iran. We boarded a worn and old, small airplane in Dubai. By the appearance of the plane alone, it could make you say a lot of prayers, the moment you come inside. It was this plane that you usually see in WW2 movies, It has 2 propellers on its wings. Before it takes off, a manual air conditioned pump has to blow the  air inside to make it cooler. Once the plane cools down, the door is shut down immediately, to keep the cool air inside enough for the 30 minutes flight. Tsug.. tsug.. tsug.. tsug..tsug! tsug! Yes, thats the sound of engine.The plane runs, and together with all the Pinoys with me, we said our prayers. History wise, the plane did crash before, killing a lot of passengers on board, because the plane had malfunction in midair. It was a scary flight.

We arrived in a small airport where most of its building are old and dilapidated. A man came to fetch us and distributed long dresses to the ladies. Jeans and shorts for ladies are banned in the island, and everyone was asked to cover their faces as well. We boarded a van and we traveled for almost an hour, seeing nothing but huge rock formations, cactus and a long barren desert.  We were housed in a compound which consist of several small two story bungalow. Ladies are separated from the guys, because it is their tradition that no woman and man had to be together if they are not married.Although some may try to break the law by bribing the guards at night.

I met a group of young teens of a Pinoy band based in Sharjah, in one of the houses. Feeling bored, I went with them for shopping. They have rented a van to take us to a nearby mall for 50 thousand rial. The mall was an old dilapidated building, which look more like a market than a mall building. Vendors were selling their wares from thousand to a million rials. A branded sounds system cost 2 million rials then. We ate in a food shop which took us 30 minutes explaining to the vendor that we want a cheeseburger without chili. Nobody could speak English in the mall except us and a few Indians also roaming around the area.

Then on my 3rd day, I was called by the receptionist that my Visa had arrived. I was so happy to know I am leaving the place. I was having difficulty eating because they only served Indian curry everyday and nothing else. We have to bribe the cook just to cook plain rice for us. The rest of the rice were cooked the Indian way, spicy and oily. There are times that I got so hungry that I am forced to eat the spicy curry they served in breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I came running to the receptionist and hurriedly opened the envelope. I had already packed up my bags, because we were told that once we received our Visa, we will be taken quickly to the airport for departure back to Dubai.

As I tore down the envelope, I breathe deeply and slowly read my name..Kristian .....Nationality : INDIAN!!  And yes, until now, I still don't know how it happens. My surname, sounded very Filipino, but the person in charge wrote Indian in my nationality.

I got back to my room, and waited again for another 4 days, to mail back my visa for correction. It was one hell of a week for me, considering that I have not even brought any food to last for a week. I tried to survive for another week by making friends with the newly arrived Pinoys so I could ask for any food aside from the curry being served in the restaurant. There was no other food in the hostel. It is exclusive to Indian curry only and nothing else.

There was one bungalow there which most of the occupants are Filipinos. A middle aged lady was running the house there which she uses to welcome newly arrived Filipinos there. The lady was living there for almost a year because her employer had abandoned her. She welcomes all the Pinoys there, and she would prepare the food for us. She will collect the money from us and she will use this money to bribe the kitchen staff, so we could get the ingredients for cooking and rice. My last 3 days then was not that bad, because I only know about that secret gathering after my Visa was sent back for correction. We also have to bribe the guards at night so that they would allow the ladies also to dine with the guys in the bungalow house.

After 1 week of stay in Queshm Island, I have heard a lot of sad stories about the plight of our kababayans who are trapped there. There were a lot of Pinoys who got stuck there for months because their employer has abandon them. Stories about prostitution to survive is the usual drama of the place, especially for the ladies. That was 2001 then, I don't know now, if it is still the same. Guys who have been there for a year has to settle down on begging from newly arrived Pinoys to survive.

Anyway thats my story back in 2001. :-) Keep the flame burning :-)


aileen arnejo said...

you have a lot of life changing experiences. bold and gutsy. kudos man!

Speed said...

Thanks aileen! God Bless.

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