Posted on March 8, 2016
Cultural Coliseum- Spanish Vs. Filipino and Johnny Bravo El Gringo
Captians Log…Star-date 03-01-2016, I have always wanted to write that! Now that is out of my system…Let the scribbles begin!
Traveling and seeing different cultures is exciting and always a valued experience for me. I feel that it gives a person an education unmatched to any other formal education. I do have a formal four year degree that I have never used, nor has it been that qualifier for a certain magical job. I this case, traveling has paid forward!
A man that agrees with me is a Mr. Ron Barr. Ron, a long-time employee with Tropic Helicopters and an expatriate Mechanic by trade that has roughed it in South America, Papua, Africa, and many developing countries for the past 40ish years. Reading Moggy’s Tuna Manual and being fortunate enough to meet with this Irishman of many scribbles and good advice. He mentioned to meet with Ron Barr before right before I departed to the South Pacific.
The discussion with Mr. Barr on cultural differences both good and bad ensued. There are many differences in cultures but at the same time people are people and you have to recognize that. This is a conclusion that Ron and I came to during a chat in Ron’s air conditioned office that I had found refuge in one afternoon after escaping the 110% humidity and 97 degree weather..
In a company that is now primarily El Salvadorian or Filipino Expatriate workers with sprinkles of South American’s, US, and Australian expatriate workers it makes an interesting mesh of company dynamics. “Your not Spanish speaking nor Filipino, there are two strikes against you my friend” Ron giggled. Well this is true but not based on pure racial disintegration. I have many new friends here both of Latino countries and Filipinos or at least I hope so… However, notably both primary groups of people have a distant tolerated hatred between each other.
A competition as you can view it. For each of these groups of people the salary provided is good. Even so to justify working arguably the worst expat schedule of Aviation work in worldwide aviation. Well deploying to Afghanistan for a year might be worse… but you get my point. Leaving port for maybe 3 weeks or maybe 6 weeks, it is unknown, just depends on the fish catch of the Tuna Boat you are wirling a Helicopter off of! Then back to port for 3-10 days and then back out to Sea. Oh and you might not go back to the same port… So for an entire year CONTRACT you are a pirate essentially, except your gold is that Sunkist gold -Tuna-. I signed a contract, which is my word, I plan on fulfilling the year contract regardless.
The salary is good enough for both groups of people to justify an entire year away from their homes to provide and provide well for their families. Oscar, my first training pilot at Tropic, a retired El Salvadorian Major after twenty-three years of service for their Air Force. In the El Salvadorian Airforce he was making the equivalent of $1,500 USD per month before he left the military pilot occupation (He even flew VIP for their Government -El Presidente!) While the salary for Filipinos in their military to me is currently unknown, I imagine it is similar. I had seen in a few countries like Dubai that all of their mechanics where Filipino and from my observation extremely hard working.
The difference with the Spanish speaking group is… they are very open and accepting to new people from first sight. The hospitality, and respect was tremendous when I arrived. Seven helicopters were squeezed on the base ramp and the place was hustling and bustling with maintenance operations. The pilots were resting about and describing their adventurous tails on in the Tuna fields before embarking into the open sea again for weeks upon weeks.
The pilot accommodations had only spots for four in bunk beds and there were six of us staying in the room. They found extra-mattresses and used someone’s inflatable mattress and refused to let me sleep on the ground. “No, no Mi Amigo. You, you take bed.” A rowdy group – con mucho cervesas- and laughter as they socialize but always conscious and courteous to the El Gringo. A group that talks with exuberant movement and is always loud and dramatic with the flying hand gestures during conversations. Such personalities in this group!
Mi Familia is strong and prevalent within this group. Almost all of these El Salvadorian expatriate workers had families with kids and pictures of the most prized thing in their lives, their families. I come from Albuquerque, NM and can roughly stumble brokenly through Espanol which I viewed this as a grand opportunity to brush up and ‘habla en espanol!’ Some of these men however do tend to find ways to keep themselves entertained from the loneliness at sea and at port. I will decline to comment on friendships they may develop on the side -none of my damn business-.
Oscar a man that was very hospitable to this Gringo one day distant from the outside dining table had a grimace, and a sign of little unfriendly words towards ‘the other side.’ “The other side? Huh, what do you mean the other side?” “Them” Oscar gestured towards a group of Filipino Mechanics happily playing Ed Sheeran on a guitar and singing.
The music talent was actually very good and they seemed happy. I never passed judgement especially because I was at the time the only Caucasian transient expatriate at the compound. However, at first, the group of Filipinos were much less extraverted and inviting to join in the festivities. It seemed more like a secret club, where the shifty eyes would happen towards you more often than not. Well, a way to break the ice came from them ‘Hey Johnny Bravo.’ As they gestured towards me. I laughed, thought “maybe I should not skip leg day again?” Anyhow, I gestured towards them snapped both fingers into pointing fingers “alright.” They all laughed and this joke would continue into my name. It took about a week to get more social interaction among them. Being very polite and going out of my way to say hello. Most of the time they would not really acknowledge with the shifty eye look of ‘can this guy be trusted.’ Well I had a conversation one on one with a few different individuals and they had a very similar commonality as the Spanish speaking compadres. Most of them had families as well and explained their plan to get ahead to provide for their families back in the Philippines. The interesting thing is, the Filipinos have more of a focus on being able to provide well, so for some of them they did not know when the ‘permanent’ coming home exactly was.
I was next propositioned with an invite to play basketball, on Sunday! The only day off for these Mechanics. I accepted and was excited to get out and about in the Island. However, I was running late because of a café meeting with a friend of mine on this scorching sunny day. I showed up at the Donnie Brasco school, I think it was. “Thank goodness” Everything was enclosed in an actual basketball court away from the blistering sun. Jerseys and everything were being worn! Oh man, did I feel like an asshole. It was an actual league game. I thought it was a pick-up type game, just for fun. They ushered me over to sidelines and stated I could use someone shoes and they had an extra jersey. Oh man. “I have not played basketball in years and I am white on top of it!” I had to decline because I would have been the worst player on the team that day. I described that I was very sorry and did not understand the seriousness of the game. I wanted to get a picture of the team and definitely practice for next time because begin invited onto a league team is such an honor and I explained that with my deepest apologies. Later that evening they invited me out. We went to another Filipino man’s house, ate, and played music. I had a long conversation with this man, an expat working on the Island. He explained his plan for working overseas and his expertise. He has a wife and two kids. He explained his goal for his distant working was to support his kids through school. A delight in his eyes and smirk of pride would appear from him during the conversation. Through all of his complaints of working overseas and dealing with the third world corruption running this company for an unappreciative China man. He was proud for his kids, providing an education for his kids. A post-secondary type, which means he will be working to provide for another 12 years or so because his oldest was 7 years of age.
So both the El Salvadorian and Filipino expat workers have a common bond found in humans. However, I think they feel they are chasing the same opportunity which provides for tension and lack of understanding of each other’s commonalities. To be the minority in-between this tension is a blessing I think. A wanderer, a rogue, and that white guy! The Gringo to the Spanish speaking expats and Johnny Bravo-the token white guy to the Filipino’s who they assume is good at B-ball because of my extreme height of 5 ft 10 and ¾ inches… At the end of the day, family is family. Working in this company in the South Pacific you better be sure to keep clear of anyone’s family and you will probably get along just dandy.
Last edited by mrocksma on March 10, 2016, 8:22 pm