To Saudi with ‘Love’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Andy and Mabel in Polaroid

In Polaroid.

It was a crazy idea. She was already an up-and-coming manager in a Makati-based firm. Her husband was an architect abroad. They already had a house, a car, and two rowdy toddlers. And now he wanted them to live with him in a country she’d never been to?

Her hubby–they called each other ‘Love’–wasn’t away for too long anyways. He regularly flew home–but not for long. Like many wives in similar situations, she also earned her share in the family budget, took care of the kids, and eagerly waited for each letter, photo, or cassette tape that came in the mail.

She was already used to the state of things. Leaving that and practically starting a new leaf just didn’t seem right.

And yet in 1994, barely six years after getting married to Andy Bagaoisan, Mabel and her sons Anjo, 5, and Nico, 3, boarded a direct flight to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Alone in Las Pinas: Mabel, Nico, Anjo

Alone in Las Pinas: Mabel, Nico, Anjo

At the back of her mind, Mabel could not yet shake off her uneasiness. It was summed up in one question: What would she do there? Her parents had asked her the same. Her boss did too, as he tried everything just so a company asset wouldn’t leave. In Saudi, she knew, she would go from career woman to housewife. Was she ready for it?

Then again, this was her chance to live out married life with Andy full-time. He had flown to Saudi just months after they became an item, and came home 2 years later to get married. Since then, he only visited Manila a handful of times. It paid off: he was now in a stable post designing for a major developer in the capital, Riyadh.

Mabel was unsure where this new chapter would bring her family, but she trusted Andy and his plans.

Life in Riyadh was hot, boring, and restrictive, especially for women. Mabel had to get used to not being able to go out just any time, and whenever she could, going out wearing the black abaya, not getting to drive, and more so, not having maids around.

At least there, families enjoyed more benefits and preferential treatment than single expats. Mabel grew at home with her new routine. She and Andy learned to split and alternate housework with kid-caring duties. And she soon became pregnant with their first daughter.

First family pic in Riyadh.

1995: First family pic in Riyadh.

But in religiously conservative Saudi, Mabel and Andy found the biggest, most unlikely change–a deeper, renewed faith.

It came to Andy first–through other Filipinos who invited him to gatherings held clandestinely under the radar of the mutawa or religious police. These meetings in houses or in the desert focused on studying and living out the Bible and stressed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. With it he found a new direction and a new community of brothers and sisters.

At first, Mabel resisted Andy’s efforts to share with her what he had found. Again, it seemed crazy, and went against all she was long used to.

But love won out. He was faithful and patient despite their momentary differences. She gradually saw the bigger Love behind his actions for her. Soon, she decided that as she went where her husband went, she would love God as he had come to love Him. Their family became part of a spiritual family–a church.

What once were four now grew to six. Two more A’s added to the mix: Andrebelle and Andric Mark. As the older boys entered grade school, Mabel gradually got to work again–first as a pre-school teacher and later as an accountant. Between engaging their school’s PTA and a few Filipino community groups, the family’s life revolved around that of their church.

2000: From four to six.

2000: From four to six.

The 12 years that followed my dad and mom’s decision to live together in the land of sand and camels were not perfect or smooth, but they were surely the most memorable.

For my siblings and me, it was a coming of age, a steady growth in our awareness of life. It was also a chance to witness how our parents loved and respected each other and their decisions. If they had disagreements, they spared us from seeing that. We saw how faith led them in guiding how they managed our family.

My mother would look back on her uneasiness in going to Saudi with a smile. She’d long realized that she had followed a plan greater than my father’s. They learned to love each other more, and to bring one important person into their relationship–God.

Call it a crazy idea, but it was a trip worth taking the risk.

08092014406 copy

Shot in 2000.


This is the long-overdue follow-up to the love story of my parents, which I first wrote for their 25th wedding anniversary last year. Read about how they first met here.

Special thanks go to Sushmita Chim, Anna Marie Pagtabunan, Aljan Quilates, and Hiyas Villanueva, communication graduates of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) who found my blog and thought my parents’ story a fitting profile for their thesis on lives touched by the Light Rail Transit. I used a part of their interview with my parents as a source for this post.

It all started on a train

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Mom Dad Wedding day kiss compressed

I did not ride the country’s first Light Rail Transit line in Manila until I reached college, but the LRT fascinated me growing up.

Not just because I haven’t ridden, much less seen, a train before, but more so because I frequently heard about it each August. In a way, it was the reason why I and my siblings are alive.

The story is hardly heard in detail, but we all know the gist—that my parents first met on this train in 1987.

It wasn’t one of those romance plots where at one look, love struck. In fact, as my mom tells it, she was scared that some stalker had taken a fancy on her.

It turned out they both left the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran one Wednesday and boarded the train at the adjacent LRT station.

Ma. Bella Saquido noticed a man eyeing her from an opposite seat. The guy had a companion, so she ignored the gaze. When she got off the train, she found herself being followed by him.

Her walking became brisk before she broke off into a run, but the man caught up with her. Catching his breath, he told her that he just wanted to introduce himself.

He gave her his calling card and left. She was startled when she read it: “Andy P. Bagaoisan, Architect.” It was one of the qualities she had been praying for in a suitor.

Andy, an associate at a retailer of locally-made furniture, was simply struck by the fair-skinned 27-year-old office manager.

But they would not meet again until Mabel’s brother Art arrived from abroad. They were furnishing a house and he was looking for narra fittings. Her store recommendation came instantly.

Aside from finding that he and Art came from the same university, Andy soon learned that courting Mabel also meant courting her conservative Albay-based family.

The son of Ilocano parents from Isabela, he began studying Bicol to gain an edge. It backfired though when it turned out that he learned a slightly different dialect of the tongue.

Nevertheless, his courting gained fruit. Mom says what got to her was seeing dad’s faith. When he visited them, he did not shirk when mom’s father Blas had him lead the rosary.

Soon, the two were engaged, but Andy went abroad to work. So his father Benjamin went down from Isabela for the “pamamanhikan” and met Mabel’s parents for him.

Andy returned for a short period just for the wedding. The place: Ermita Church. The well-chosen date: August 8, 1988. They were both clad in white, both their parents bringing them to the altar, and both of them vowing a promise of love through thick and thin.

My parents’ love story is a journey that flew them half way across the world and back, took them to a deeper faith in God, and brought out their devotion to their vows and to each other.

Their spirituality would define that journey. After all, before they took that train, they were offering separate prayers at a church nearby. Little did they know there was a bigger plan for them.

This August marks my parents’ 25th year as husband and wife, and this story begins my own Agosto series about them (after a friend who pens condensed short stories in Filipino dubbed as such for his blog). A personal way of honoring them in their silver anniversary.

Mom Dad Wedding day doves compressed

Because He lives

CABATUAN, ISABELA–White lights. Photos. Bouquets. Candles. A cross. A casket.

In the brightly-lit room, a service every night. After each, coffee, candies, nuts, soup, and biscuits. And singing onto the wee hours.

It’s the image of loss, one I did not see in this wake-slash-vacation-slash-reunion with my father’s clan up North.

Sure I saw occasional tears and reflective looks from my aunts and uncles as they gazed at the coffin. Yet with the eulogies interspersed laughter; and with the solemn songs, songs of praise. In the midst of games or stories, we would mention her–even call to her–and smile as we remember.

Our Mamang herself could smile at such a tribute.

Mamang Pilar Bagaoisan

Mamang Pilar Bagaoisan (1930-2009)

I remember her as grandmothers are–mild, quiet, and with a smile that reflected a fount of experience. She doted on the whims of 22 grandkids–usually the play of youngsters and the joking of teenagers. Like her name, she stood as a pillar of faith and silent strength to 11 children and us who followed.

For all I recall, I only regret not knowing her more as a young adult, she being the last living among my grandparents. Growing up abroad, I only saw her once a year. And when I stayed here for good, she moved to the United States to live with my aunt’s family.

She would have made a great interview subject for this journalist-to-be. I could have asked her how they survived during the war, how she dealt with the turbulent 70s, and how my dad was at my age.

Now I can’t remember having played a song especially for her, as I’ve played the night away during the wake. I wish I could have told her my own stories and dreams, as I’m now telling my relatives.
Like my cousin Marvin in the States, I could have even debated with her on which between ABS-CBN and GMA 7 was the better station.

Her children call Mamang’s passing a sacrifice somehow. She and our relations in the US and Saudi Arabia were to come here early this year for the clan reunion. They put off the trip for financial reasons.

Yet she still came back here and all of us reunited here in Cabatuan–something that might not happen again. The reasons, though, were less than jovial.

In one of those nightly singing sessions, our eldest aunt had me play the classic gospel “Because He lives” over and over. Until the singers got the harmonies right, she said.

The song spoke of the hope we had and why we were joyful while we mourned:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just
Because He lives.

With gratitude for her life, we know that because our Savior lives, Mamang still lives.

It tells me too that somewhere in the future, I’d get to have my interview with her.


Together in life and in death. We might even see them together in our 500s. (From

Cory and Ninoy: together in life and in death. We might even see them together in our P500s. (

Of the many eulogies given former President Cory Aquino this week, one stands to memory. Simply put (was it by Kris or someone else): Our nation found in Tita Cory the qualities it wished for its mothers, and loved her for it.

The first Filipina president’s passing somehow has given Filipinos a chance to think about their own parents. Cory has been honored most with filial titles as “ina ng bayan”, and as “the only true queen we had.”

My mom and her sister fondly remember Cory as their late mother’s lookalike. A teacher by profession, Mama Lola was marked by her curls, wide-framed glasses, and simple smile–akin to the lady in yellow.

I can’t vouch for mom and auntie’s nostalgia, but I find it proof that Tita Cory will best be remembered as an embodiment of our own parents.

In the frequent replays of Cory’s story during the marathon TV coverage, it’s her devotion to her husband and children that never fails mention.

We hear how she dutifully stood by Ninoy Aquino’s side when he was jailed and exiled. How she stood strong for her children when Ninoy was killed. And how as Citizen Cory, she still kept watch over her offspring’s lives and careers.

Among her virtues, it is love that marks her for many. Her bunso Kris tearfully told all last Wednesday how Ninoy was “the only man she ever loved.”

Then, in the August rain, my mind goes to my mother. Continue reading