For three years, Yuri Cipriano listened intently to the grievances of hundreds of migrant Filipino workers in the Gulf region. As the former chairperson of the UAE chapter of Migrante – a non-government organisation that promotes the rights and welfare of Filipino workers stationed abroad – Cipriano had encountered both the good and not so pleasant stories of his countrymen. These tales would eventually stir the poet in Cipriano, prompting the 37-year-old to present the experiences in verses.
“They would come to us for help and advice, and I realised that there’s not enough assistance being provided to them. So I thought of documenting these issues to give a clear picture of the challenges being faced by the Filipino expatriates,” said Cipriano.
Steadily, the words started flowing and what initially began as blog entries soon grew into something bigger and more ambitious. The result: a 112-page book titled Ang Mahabang Daan Pauwi (The Long Way Home) – a collection of Cipriano’s 51 poems all inspired by everyday life in the UAE.
“I haven’t read any literature that talks about the way of living of the Filipinos particularly in the Middle East and that also motivated me to come up with this book,” he says. “Also, if you would look closely at the poems, they all carry a connection back home although the situations are inspired by what’s happening here.”
Touching from a myriad of subjects, the poems reflect the many facets of emotions ranging from sarcasm, humour, heartbreak, love and hope – all told in mostly free-flowing style.
Cipriano branded his poems as “social commentary” concealed by the play of words. The Dubai-based health and safety coordinator loves to write in the moment, which, according to him, explains why most of the poems are concise and in a limited number of verses.
“I have to put it down in words instantly when inspiration strikes because I tend to forget them,” he explains.
A footnote mentioning the date and location where the poem was written is also listed at the end of every piece. Examples of this include Pikit Mata (With Eyes Closed) written while the author was on-board a Qatar Airways plane; Pag-ibig na Nagbibigay Buhay (Love that Gives Life) written in Kish, Iran; Ang Pangarap ng Pugot na Ulo (The Dream of a Decapitated Head) created in Ras Al Khaimah; and Balikbayan Box (Filipino Luggage), written in Satwa, Dubai.
Ten poems were translated from Tagalog to English. Cipriano admitted toying with the idea of translating all of the poems in English to complement the original. He eventually abandoned the idea.
“The problem with translation is that words and thoughts will surely get lost in the process, and it will be hard to connect to your readers anytime that happens,” he says.
There are plans to release the book in the Philippines. If that happens, Cipriano hopes that Filipinos back home will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers).
“Writing is like giving birth, it’s like you created a new life and my first tendency is to share it with others for them to know what I know and feel,” he says.
True to the book’s inspiration, Cipriano plans to donate the proceeds of the project to distressed Filipinos stranded at the consulate’s office. “I hope to buy them plane tickets so some of them can finally go home to their loved ones.”
For a possible next project, Cipriano is thinking of gathering a handful of UAE-based Filipino writers to contribute for a book project.
“We will compile all of their writings, and profits from the sale of the book will be channelled to Filipinos who are in need.”