Excerpts from ‘The Autobiography of the Other Lady Gaga’ by Stefani J Alvarez
Translated from the Filipino by
Alton Melvar M Dapanas
Read the translator's note "Transplanting the Báyot, Translating the Dagli"
Thursday night, I was expecting a call from an Arab man I met at the coffee shop. It was already 10:00 PM and still no word from him despite our agreement to meet at 8. So I dialed his number on the calling card. Three rings and someone picked up.
“Marhaba, habibi,” I greeted.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice said from the other line.
I listened for a little while.
I wasn’t mistaken. It wasn’t a voice of a man. I merely listened. I didn’t answer.
“Sharmota! Filipini! Sharmota!” furious scream of the woman.
I dropped the call. When it rang again, I turned off the phone. I changed my number the following day.
The next week, I hung out in the same coffee shop. Another Arab man approached me. He handed me his calling card.
I hope he isn’t married so that I don’t get cussed at and called a whore again.
But, “The whore shouts: We’re all the same whores!”*
*translation of the excerpt (“Sigaw ng puta: Pare-pareho naman tayong puta!”) from the poem “Lahat ng Hindi Ko Kailangang Malaman, Natutunan Ko sa Pelikulang For Adults Only” [All I Need Not Know I Learned From Adult Movies] by Jose F. Lacaba from his poetry collection Edad Medya: Mga Tula Sa Katanghaliang Gulang (Pasay City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, 2000)
There are beautiful parks here in Jubail especially along the stretch of the Fanateer corniche. I always pass through it whenever I go to Jarir Bookstore, my favorite hangout place at the Al-Huwaylat Mall. That park is near the beach. Very clean. Very orderly.
Once, I went there with an Arab friend I invited, Yasser. He was curious if it was as beautiful as the parks in the Philippines.
“Philippines is beautiful,” I answered.
“Like you…,” he whispered.
That made me smile a bit.
“But if Philippines is beautiful, why am I here?” I disputed.
Yasser’s face turned solemn. Seemed bemused with what I said. I recalled a time when my brother and I ran away because I had a fight with my stepfather. Where do we fit in? Even my biological father left and abandoned us.
“Let’s go home,” my brother said.
I was silent.
Whose house do we come home to? I asked myself.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Here, for now.”
He quietly sat next to me. We were on a bench along a street that we thought was the world. Very filthy. Very confusing.
“No. I don’t want to go,” I told him.
“What’s your problem?”
“If police or mutawah will see us,” I explained.
“You go back to the Philippines, then mafi mushqilah!” he said with rage.
Ahmad and I are having a fight because he was forcing me to come with him. He is our company’s training specialist and my boss’s nephew. I don’t want to go to his place because a whole football team will surely gang-bang me again.
“So?” he asked again.
I refused to answer.
“We will pay you. How much you need? You’re here because of money, right? You need money,” he said as if I was the one who’s testing his patience.
I still didn’t answer. I was just looking out through the windshield.
He parked at a convenience store and stepped out to buy a cigarette. I sat quietly in the passenger seat, thinking of the possible scenarios if I don’t yield to what he wants.
In the distance, the collision of two cars. I got out. I saw the aftermath of the vehicle accident at the intersection. The traffic light is red.
A furious Arab man was calling the police. And a few minutes later, the siren of the patrol closing in on the scene.
“This is your fault!” shouted the Arab. “Go out!” He angrily dared the driver of the car he collided with. A Filipino. “If you’re not here in Saudi Arabia, then this will not happen!”
I got back inside the car. I decided to go with Ahmad.
“How about you?” asked my Arab boyfriend when we talked about Jenifer Bedoya, a migrant Filipino worker who was sentenced to death in the murder case of a Saudi national.
He will not kill without a reason. Everything has a reason, was my thought.
I came near Yasser, I looked him in the eye, seemingly giving him a glimpse of what had happened back in Al-Khobar. The police impeded our entry at the checkpoint. And then, the unforeseen happened. I was gang-raped. I grudgingly tried to want what was happening. Sometimes, survival is not choosing to put up a fight or to take a risk. Sometimes, it means having self-restraint and letting things happen.
Yasser confessed that he was too helpless during that time to defend me. But that doesn’t matter anymore. What’s important is that he never left me.
He beamed at me. “What?” he said, like a whisper.
“What do you think?” I returned the question.
He stroked my cheeks. “I still believe, Filipini are gentle and very kind.”
“Aiwa, habibi. And so are you …, ” I said with a smile.
In 2008, overseas Filipino worker Jenifer Bedoya was tried and convicted of murder in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Despite appeals by the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, Bedoya was sentenced to death. Bedoya believed he was to be released until the final moments before his execution.
Excerpts from Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga
Huwebes ng gabi, naghintay ako ng tawag ng isang Arabong nakilala ko sa coffee shop. Alas-diyes na ngunit di pa rin siya tumawag gayong sabi niya alas-otso kami magkikita. Kaya idinayal ko ang kanyang numero na nasa calling card. Naka-tatlong ring muna bago may sumagot.
“Marhaba, habibi,” bati ko.
“Hallo?” Boses ng babae ang nasa kabilang linya.
Pinakinggan ko sandali.
Hindi ako nagkakamali. Hindi boses-lalaki. Pinakinggan ko lang. Hindi ako sumagot.
“Sharmota! Filipini! Sharmota!” galit na galit na sigaw ng babae.
Pinutol ko ang tawag. Nang tumunog uli ay pinatay ko na ang telepono. Kinabukasan din ay nagpalit ako ng numero.
Nang sumunod na lingo, nasa coffee shop uli ako. Lumapit sa akin ang isang Arabo. Inabot niya sa akin ang kanyang calling card.
Sana walang sabit nang hindi ako mamura at matawag na puta.
Pero, “Sigaw ng puta: Pare-pareho naman tayong puta!”
May magagandang park dito sa Jubail lalo na sa kahabaan ng Fanateer corniche. Parati kong nadadaanan iyon sa tuwing pupunta ako sa Jarir Bookstore, ang paborito kong tambayan sa Al-Huwaylat Mall. Ang parkeng iyon ay malapit sa tabing-dagat. Napakalinis. Napakaayos.
Minsan, nagawi ako roon nang yayain ko ang isang kaibigang Arabo, si Yasser. Tinanong niya ako kung kasingganda ba ito ng mga parke sa Pilipinas.
“Philippines is beautiful,” sagot ko.
“Like you…,” bulong niya.
Napangiti ako nang bahagya.
“But if Philippines is beautiful, why am I here?” balik-tanong ko.
Sumeryoso ang mukha ni Yasser. Tila nahiwagaan sa sinabi ko. Naalala ko noong naglayas kami ng kapatid ko dahil nag-away kami ng aking stepfather. Saan kami lulugar? Kahit tunay kong ama ay nagawa kaming iwanan at abandonahin.
“Uwi na tayo,” yaya ng kapatid ko.
Hindi ako sumagot.
Kaninong bahay naman kami uuwi? Naitanong ko sa sarili.
“San tayo pupunta?” tanong niya.
“Dito na lang muna.”
Tahimik siyang naupo sa tabi ko. Nasa isang bench kami sa kahabaan ng isang kalye na itinuturing naming mundo. Napakarumi. Napakagulo.
“No. I don’t want to go,” pahayag ko sa kanya.
“What’s your problem?”
“If police or mutawah will see us,” paliwanag ko.
“You go back Philippines, then mafi mushqilah!” galit na sabi niya.
Nagkasagutan kami ni Ahmad dahil pinipilit niya akong isama. Isa siyang training specialist at pamangkin ng boss ko. Ayokong pumunta sa bahay niya kasi magiging pulutan na naman ako ng isang football team.
“So?” tanong niya uli.
Hindi ako sumagot.
“We will pay you. How much you need? You’re here because of money, right? You need money,” iritado na ang tono ng kanyang pananalita.
Hindi pa rin ako sumagot. Nakatingin lang ako sa labas ng bintana ng kotse.
Pumarada sa isang convenience store. Bumaba para bumili ng sigarilyo. Tahimik akong nakaupo sa passenger’s seat sa harapan. Nag-iisip sa maaring mangyari kung hindi ako papayag.
Narinig ko sa di-kalayuan ang salpukan ng dalawang kotse. Bumaba ako sa sasakyan. Nakita ko sa may intersection ang nagkabanggaan. Naka-red light ang signal ng traffic.
Galit na galit ang isang Arabo habang tumatawag ng police. At ilang minuto pa ay umalingawngaw na ang sirena ng papalapit na patrol.
“This is your fault!” sigaw ng Arabo. “Go out!” Galit na galit niyang hamon sa driver na kanyang nabangga. Isang Filipino. “If you’re not here in Saudi Arabia, then this will not happen!”
Bumalik ako sa kotse. Sasama ako kay Ahmad.
“How about you?” tanong ng boyfriend kong Arabo nang mapag-usapan namin ang kaso tungkol kay Jenifer Bedoya, isang OFW na nahatulan ng kamatayan sa kasong pagpatay sa isang Saudi national.
Hindi siya papatay kung walang rason. Lahat ng bagay may dahilan, nasa sa isip ko.
Lumapit ako kay Yasser, tiningnan ko siya sa mga mata. Tila pinapasilip ko sa kanya ang mga nangyari noong magkasama kami papuntang Al-Khobar. Hinarang kami sa checkpoint ng pulis. At nangyari nga ang hindi inaasahan. Binaboy ako. Labag man sa kalooban ay pinilit kong ginusto. Kung minsan ang survival ay hindi paglaban o pakikipagsugal, minsan nangangahulugan itong pagtitimpi at pagpapaabuso.
Aminado si Yasser na wala siyang nagawa sa mga panahong iyon upang ipagtanggol ako. Hindi na mahalaga iyon. Ang importante, hindi niya ako iniwan.
Ngumiti siya sa akin. “What?” halos pabulong niyang wika.
“What do you think?” balik-tanong ko.
Hinaplos niya ang aking magkabilang pisngi. “I still believe, Filipini are gentle and very kind.”
“Aiwa, habibi. And so are you...,” nakangiti kong sabi.
Stefani J. Alvarez (she/her) is a transgender woman and from 2008 until 2022, a migrant worker based in Jubail and al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. At the annual Philippine National Book Awards, her Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga (VisPrint, 2015) [The Autobiography of the Other Lady Gaga] won Best Book of Nonfiction Prose and her coming-of-age novel Kagay-an, At Isang Pag-ibig sa Panahon ng All-Out War (Psicom, 2018) [Cagayan, and a Love in the Time of an All-Out War] was a finalist in the Best Book of Short Fiction in Filipino category. She edited the anthology Saan Man: Mga Kuwento sa Biyahe, Bagahe, at Balikbayan Box (PageJump, 2017) [Elsewhere: Stories from the Trip, Baggage, and Balikbayan Box] and co-authored the illustrated children’s book Si Mimi at si Miming (Vibal, 2020) [Mimi and Miming]. Currently in an artists residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany, her latest books include Lama Sabactani: Isang Nobela (Psicom, 2020) [Lama Sabactani: A Novel]; the sequel to her first book Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga: Ang Muling Pag-ariba (Ukiyoto, 2021) [The Autobiography of the Other Lady Gaga: The Resurrection]; and Ang Liwayway at Sandekadang Dagli (Sanctum Press, 2023) [The Dawn and a Decade of Dagli]. Visit her website at https://stefanijalvarez.com.
Alton Melvar M Dapanas (they/them), a native of southern Philippines, is the author of Towards a Theory on City Boys: Prose Poems (UK: Newcomer Press, 2021) and In the Name of the Body: Lyric Essays (Canada: forthcoming). Their latest poetry, essays, and translation have appeared in World Literature Today, BBC Radio 4, Oxford Anthology of Translation, Sant Jordi Festival of Books, and the University of Alabama Press anthology Infinite Constellations. Their lyric essay has been nominated to the Pushcart Prize and their prose poem was selected for The Best Asian Poetry. Formerly with Creative Nonfiction magazine, they’re editor-at-large at Asymptote, and assistant nonfiction editor at Panorama: The Journal of Travel, Place, and Nature and Atlas & Alice Literary Magazine. Find more at https://linktr.ee/samdapanas.