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In Dubai, Filipina pulls no punches in jokes on Mideast life



DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Peering out into the darkened viewers of a Dubai bar, comic Imah Dumagay leaned into the microphone and addressed the mistaken notion that many individuals have throughout the Center East once they see a Filipina at a nightclub.

“I’m from the Philippines however I’m not taking any orders tonight,” she stated, drawing chuckles as her countrymen served beers and bar meals at this rooftop bar in sight of Dubai’s sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab luxurious resort. “The place is that man asking for water earlier? Sir, we aren’t all waitresses.”

She waited a beat and added: “However in case you’re searching for a maid, I am accessible on Saturdays. I am excellent at cleansing; I clear from the ceiling all the way down to your jewellery field.”

Tucked inside her barely risqué set, Dumagay’s rapid-fire punchlines supply an unfiltered glimpse into the life, sly triumphs and slights confronted by her 2.2 million compatriots. They care for youngsters, wait tables and in any other case energy economies throughout the broader Center East. These Filipinos present billions of {dollars} in remittances again to their households nonetheless dwelling within the Philippines, however face abuse and isolation in nations that always deal with them as a disposable, low-paid workforce.

“I wish to form of be a voice for them,” Dumagay advised The Related Press earlier than her latest set. “While you use your platform, you ship a message to folks. Comedy is a good methodology to ship your message throughout.”

Dumagay, 38, of Mindanao, Philippines, labored in Dubai for years earlier than deciding to depart her job to pursue comedy full time. That is not a simple process on this skyscraper-studded vacationer vacation spot the place most bars and nightclubs focus extra on drinks and music than selection reveals.

Town-state additionally focuses extra on importing A-list American, British and Indian comedy acts given town’s huge international workforce. Some subjects stay taboo on this hereditarily dominated nation of seven sheikhdoms, the place speech is strictly ruled.

However there’s a burgeoning native scene right here, as seen on Sunday on the Hello 5 Restaurant & Lounge. A United Nations of newbie comedians took the stage to various levels of success in units bearing on the scatological to the societal. An Emirati with dyed blonde hair even had 10 minutes, referring to his tight ripped denims and tattoos as a substitute of the normal robes and ghutra headdress because the rebellious “Emirati starter package.”

Then there’s Dumagay, who took the stage in a guffawing whirlwind and drew laughter when she described being first married to a Syrian, then her present husband, an Egyptian, earlier than shouting: “Howdy Lebanese!”

“I wish to tease, like sexual innuendos, nevertheless it’s probably not direct. … I received’t say that’s crossing the road as a result of it’s humorous. I could make folks chortle with out offending anybody,” Dumagay stated. “And I’m conscious of what I can discuss. Like, we don’t discuss faith, we can not do politics or the UAE authorities or any discrimination in the direction of any group of individuals. So we’re very conscious of that.”

Dumagay’s comedy springs from her experiences working throughout Dubai, from promoting to banking to being an govt secretary. That earlier crack about not being a waitress? It is an actual expertise she had earlier than taking the stage at one among her 200-odd appearances.

Sunday’s open-mic look comes as Dubai slowly revives its dwell leisure scene amid the continued coronavirus pandemic. When venues largely shut down over the virus, Dumagay turned to social media, providing performances resembling a never-flustered Filipina answering emergency providers calls, telling somebody reporting a homicide that they solely “want 4 cleaners” for the mess.

However there is a darker aspect to the Filipino expertise within the Gulf Arab states. Many maids face bodily, sexual and psychological abuse from their employers, who in some instances seize their passports and pressure them to work nonstop. In Kuwait in 2018, authorities found the corpse of a Filipina maid killed and left in a fridge for over a yr.

Tales like these have Dumagay wanting to include extra critical subjects into her new units.

“My fellow Filipinos sacrifice their time to be spent with their household again house,” she stated. “They’re right here struggling to simply present for them.”

However Dumagay, like others working abroad, shows that one Filipino trait even she notes she will be able to’t mock: relentless optimism and hope for the longer term regardless of the numerous challenges they face.

“Simply hold going and simply belief your self and experiment after which do one thing exterior your consolation zone. Don’t be scared,” she stated. “I imply, what’s the worst factor might occur? You fail and then you definately attempt once more.”


Related Press author Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


Observe Jon Gambrell on Twitter at


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