Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Price Of A Pizza In Iraq: An Eye And A Leg

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Constantine Rodriguez had just fetched chilli peppers and was going out to get some onions when he heard the siren for an incoming rocket. All he remembers was a door blasting open and a loud explosion.

A quiet man from the former Portuguese colony of Goa in southwestern India, Rodriguez was working at a Pizza Hut restaurant at Taji, one of the main U.S. air bases in Iraq, when he was caught up in an attack.

He is lucky to be alive, said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Martin, the surgeon who treated him earlier this month at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. Shrapnel took out an eye, pulverized one of his legs and damaged his torso. He lost a lot of blood, but surgeons were able to save him.

As he lay recovering in hospital, all he could think of was the new wife he had left in India when he went to Iraq last year, and the 7 1/2-month-old baby he had never met.

"I had gotten the capsicum. And I was going to get onions," Rodriguez told Reuters from his hospital bed. "I heard the siren ... What happened after I don't know.

"I don't blame anybody. Just take care of me and my family. One leg. One eye. What can I do with my family now?"

The Kuwaiti firm that employed Rodriguez, Al Homaizi, operates 11 Pizza Huts, 13 Burger Kings and five Taco Bells on American bases in Iraq, said Joe Petrusich, who runs the firm's Iraq restaurants.

It employs about 300 workers, recruited in Kuwait but nearly all from poor countries in Asia: India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.

They are a small part of the vast army behind the army -- the tens of thousands of "TCNs" -- "third-country nationals" -- hired to feed U.S. troops, wash their laundry, build their compounds and clean their toilets, for salaries of at most several hundred dollars a month.

The U.S. military says that by contracting out tasks like cooking and cleaning, it can provide its soldiers with a better environment at a lower cost.


For poor countries, allowing their citizens to work in Iraq has been controversial and often politically sensitive.

India has told its citizens not to work in Iraq since 2004, when three Indian contractors were kidnapped and demonstrators took to the streets at home complaining the government did too little to protect them.

But there is little a country can do to prevent its citizens taking work that pays much better than jobs at home.

The Philippines now puts stamps in new passports saying they are not valid for travel to Iraq.

Petrusich said the firm still employed Filipino workers in Iraq, as long as they have old passports without the stamps.

Al Homaizi is Pizza Hut's franchise in Kuwait, with 45 restaurants in that oil-rich Gulf state, where nearly all workers are recruited from poor Asian countries. The firm offers staff at its Kuwait restaurants double pay if they go to Iraq.

For Rodriguez, that was the equivalent of about $450 a month, enough finally to find a wife and start a family back in India after 10 years of working in Kuwait. The average per capita income in Goa is about $1,100 a year.

Petrusich said Rodriguez would receive free medical care in Kuwait, including physiotherapy and a prosthetic leg, and one-off payments totaling 18,333 Kuwaiti dinars, about $55,000, if he is finally deemed permanently disabled.

"I'm very close to these guys. I've known all of them. I know we do everything we can," he told Reuters by telephone from Kuwait. "It's just an unfortunate situation that has happened."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tarantino goes local in Manila

MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino was forced to hop into a pedicab to escape flood-induced gridlock in the streets of Manila on Wednesday (August 15th) on his way to the presidential palace to receive a film award from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Tarantino said he and Filipino filmmaker Amable "Tikoy" Aguiluz were in a limousine that had been stuck for about 2-1/2 hours on a bridge close to Malacanang palace when Aguiluz suggested they leave the car and proceed on two separate pedicabs - one for each of them.

"It was a lot of fun. It's the way it is, I guess. ... It was wild," he told reporters later. "No worries. I've done more serious things than that."

Tarantino talks about his ordeal

About 15 minutes later, they reached a street corner near the palace gates where a car picked them up, he said.

Tarantino and Aguiluz were 40 minutes late for the scheduled ceremony but they were still 30 minutes ahead of Arroyo, who was a victim of the traffic jams in the Philippine capital's flooded streets Wednesday (August 15th).

Pounding rain from Typhoon Sepat flooded parts of metropolitan Manila, prompting authorities to suspend classes, briefly stopping a commuter train and slowing Arroyo's convoy.

Tarantino _ well-known for his films "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill" _ was in a traditional Filipino formal shirt called Barong Tagalog but wore sandals. He was handed a size 13 black leather shoes because sandals and rubber shoes are not allowed inside the palace during presidential ceremonies, a staff of the National Commission on Culture and Arts said.

Tarantino, who is writing a book about the Philippine films, particularly the horror and action films he saw in his youth, was one of the three Lifetime Achievement award winners in the 9th Cinemanila, a film festival featuring foreign and local movies.

Chatrichalerm Yukol, a member of Thailand's royal family whose historical epic "King Naresuan" was shown during the festival, and Belgian independent film director Robert Maleangreau also received the same award from Arroyo. (AP)

CineManila Ad:

MANILA, Philippines -- Quentin Tarantino would not eat fish, even something as tempting as crisp-fried tilapia served at dinner on Saturday at Café Havana at Gateway Mall in Cubao, Quezon City, where the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival is being held from Aug. 8 to 19.

He was a hearty eater and merry drinker, though. He polished off a serving of pancit luglug along with his medium-rare steak, pizza and gambas, which he mixed with his noodles. He said he had tapsilog (a combo meal of eggs, fried rice and beef) at breakfast.

It was his fourth day in the country, and he was having dinner with Wieland Speck, director of the Berlin film fest's Panorama section and chair of Cinemanila's International Competition; Robert Malengreau, founder of the Brussels independent-film fest and chair of the Asean Competition; and Tikoy Aguiluz, Cinemanila founder-director.

Tarantino, the international film icon behind such relentless genre-benders as "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill," is here to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival. He is also premiering his latest movie "Death Proof," which could have been inspired by Russ Meyer's raunchy and foxy female posse.

In a strange twist, he brought for screening at the film fest a few films from his collection of Philippine B-grade movies: Cirio Santiago's "Ebony Ivory & Jade" and "The Muthers," and Robert Vincent O'Neill's "Wonder Women."

This is Tarantino's first trip to Southeast Asia, which he had promised Aguiluz three years ago he would undertake, saying he wanted to meet his movie icons Santiago and National Artist Eddie Romero. He finally met them on Friday in a film forum they moderated.

Another icon was the late National Artist Gerry de Leon. "I'm a huge, huge fan of Gerry de Leon," he revealed to film students in the four-hour master class he conducted before dinner.

He could hardly contain himself from raving over De Leon's "soul-shattering, life-extinguishing" movies on vampires and female bondage, particularly "Women in Cages."

"It is just harsh, harsh, harsh," he said, and described the final shot as one of "devastating despair."

Asked why he was so deep into B-grade movies to the point of making his own appear like one, he said those movies he enjoyed in his youth were no longer being made so he was just giving back to a generation that had missed that stuff.

"My relationship with Filipino cinema is that I find the movies beyond interesting—they're fascinating," he said. "Nowhere else in movie history can you find this kind of cinema. There are two Filipino movie industries—the movies of Bernal, Lino Brocka, Tikoy, and the alternative film industry that produced the movies of Cirio Santiago not intended for the Filipino public, those war movies and vampire movies of Gerry de Leon and Eddie Romero made for American viewers. In this, Philippine cinema stands alone."

The most exciting revelation Tarantino made at dinner was that he was now starting to write a book on these B-grade Filipino movies, to be called "Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Wonder Women."

We thought he was just in a jocular mood after several drinks, but he added he had just finished writing the introduction that morning. (So that was why he didn't arrive for lunch at Cibo.)

He even found the time to watch Weng Weng in "For Your Height Only." The screening of such movies at Cinemanila was just his way of giving back to Filipino audiences this rich film heritage they had missed. And, in a kind of symbiosis, he said he was taking home DVDs of the films of Brocka, Bernal et al.

"To further immerse myself in Philippine cinema," he said. "I'm taking my lifetime master's in cinema, and the day I die is the day I graduate."

Philippine Inquirer

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Quote of the day

"If you're watching "Rush Hour 3," you obviously didn't have anything better to do."

-Roger Ebert