Apparently wanting to stay in touch with his former staff, Khaled Almaeena, a well-known Saudi journalist and editor, reacted favorably to an article I wrote about Syrian surgeon Dr. Ahmed Chabalout.
Almaeena’s remark was brief but evoked memories of my stint from Jan. 13, 2004 to Oct. 2011 at Arab News, referred to as the “green newspaper”, while he was the editor-in-chief.
When Riyadh Daily— my first newspaper and employer when I arrived in the Kingdom on July 22, 1986—folded up on Jan. 31, 2003 I did not leave to go home for good.
I felt strongly that there was still a job available for me in the Kingdom. The reason was I was editing Tagalog, a four-page supplement in our national language that enjoyed a warm reception in the Filipino community.
It was coming out with Riyadh Daily on Wednesdays and it had started to pull in ads.
Aside from Kruathai, a Thai restaurant, Xtra, a big retail firm dealing in electronics with a big showroom in Mursallat district in Riyadh, took out a half- page-color ad weekly for one year, with the condition that Riyadh Daily gave 2,000 copies to be given free of charge to Filipino customers.
At that time, Arab News, the first Saudi newspaper in English in the Kingdom, was also interested in coming up with its own Tagalog publication.
Javid Hassan, then Arab News bureau chief in Riyadh, told me this.
So I, along with Chito P. Manuel, sports editor, stayed. Initially, he joined an insurance firm, then joined Arab News first as reporter in Riyadh then as editor in Jeddah in 2007.
I started with Arab News as contributor on Jan. 13, 2004.
The problem, however, was my sponsorship couldn’t be transferred. I had been given three months to get another job , otherwise I would be sent home. It took all of eight months before my sponsorship could be transferred.
Thanks to Al Yamamah Press Est. for not sending me home when I could not get a regular job in three months.
Based in Jeddah, Almaeena was in the Riyadh office when I informed him about my successful transfer of sponsorship.
On hearing it, he said “Thanks God!” and held his arms sideways, and looked up with tightly closed eyes as indication he had worked hard for my transfer.
In the fall of 2010, before the winter holidays, I was due for my vacation. For one reason or another I wasn’t asked to prepare advance Pinoy Xtra issues which came out with Arab News on Sundays.
It came on stream on June 12, 2004.
I told Almaeena I was going on vacation but there won’t be Pinoy Xtra issues while I was away.
“Why don’t you go to Cairo instead for a short vacation. Before you leave, prepare extra issues to come out during your absence,” he said.
So, I prepared two issues for the next two Sundays. Before I left he asked me to bring a copy of Al Ahram, Egyptian newspaper in English, and visit Khan El Khalili, a famous bazaar or souk in Gamaliya district in the historic center of Cairo.
It was established as a center of trade in the Mamluk era and named for one of its historic caravanserais ( roadside inns along major trade routes like the Silk Road that doubled as hubs for the exchange of goods, ideas, and culture.)
Before I left Riyadh, I also informed then Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the late Antonio P. Villamor, regarding my trip and he called his counterpart in Cairo, Ambassador Oscar Valenzuela, about it.
On arrival there on a Saudia flight, I paid Valenzuela a courtesy call. He was reported to be a relative of the famed Pio Valenzuela in Philippine history.
He asked the Philippine Embassy’s driver to take me to the Khan El Khalili. Arriving there, glimpses of Batha and Divisoria crossed my mind although it was much cleaner in keeping with its being a tourist destination.
Tourist guides in a certain area were waiting for foreign visitors. A relatively young man approached me and I asked him to take me to the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe, named after the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature winner.
When I asked the guide how much I should pay him, he kept quiet as if he was hesitant to charge me any amount after knowing I was there on assignment.
Wanting to project a good image for the historic city, he said , “Just give me your pen as a remembrance.”