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Erwin Balitaan: Engineering in Turkmenistan Part II

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Fortunately, a friend of his father whose son was working at CBI asked him to submit his résumé to the company; and the rest was history. He was to stay with CBI for almost thirteen years from 1998 to 2011.

“Work at CBI was hard,” Erwin describes the experience with the company. “Although I was an engineer, I had to operate grinders and other equipment that were not really my line. I needed to learn a lot of new things, which was hard but also interesting. Most times, I would go home with my clothes covered with rust.”

He was with CBI’s Engineering Department for three years but was subsequently moved to the Health, Safety and Environment Department. “The work was interesting but challenging,” Erwin says. “I was learning something new everyday.”

Abu Dhabi was just one of his assignments with CBI. He also had stints in Dubai, Qatar and even in Mindanao. The Mindanao assignment during his early years with CBI Erwin recalls with fondness.

“The people were nice and the culture quite different from what I was used to having grown up in Luzon,” Erwin says. “Tagalogs and other people from Luzon were also made to feel welcome and generally treated very well.”

Although Erwin now works in exotic places, Civil Engineering was not even his first-choice career. “I wanted to become a military pilot and wanted to take up Computer Engineering as a stepping stone towards that career,” he explains.
Although Erwin now works in exotic places, Civil Engineering was not even his first-choice career. “I wanted to become a military pilot and wanted to take up Computer Engineering as a stepping stone towards that career,” he explains.

This was hardly surprising because this was among the emerging degree programs in the late eighties; and anything about computers was a hit among graduating high school students. “My uncles and cousins prevailed upon me to take up Civil Engineering, instead.”

The first two years of college, Erwin confesses, were difficult. “Afterwards,” he says with a laugh, “it was the usual iskul bukol.” (This is a reference to a classic Filipino television sitcom that made satire out of life in school.)

So, did he graduate on time? “A big NO!” he laughs. Indeed, it is said by some who went to the school that there is something not quite right about you if you graduate from Mapua on time, a humorous take on how trying to get a degree from the college is not unlike trying to pass through the eye of a needle.

Erwin, a star volleyball varsity player in high school, did suit up for the Mapua Cardinals during his sophomore year. Going into his majors, however, required so much more of his time for studies; and this made playing volleyball not advisable anymore.

Despite the Mapua pedigree, Erwin did not get his license to practise his profession at the first attempt. Undaunted, he kept the faith and was rewarded for this at what he calls “the second serving.”

Erwin is the son of Antonio – now deceased – and Gloria Balitaan. He has great admiration for his father, who was originally from the city of San Pablo in Laguna but eventually settled down and raised a family in Lipa.

Erwin has an elder sister in Shirley, who was not only in my History class but was also in my advisory class during my first year of teaching. Her husband Rico also used to be in my History class.

Erwin is married to the former Arlene Cabigon, who he says used to be barkada (part of a peer group) but that they fell for each other like characters do in romantic movies. They got married in 2008 and have two children in Karl and Arianne. The family calls Lipa City home.

While Erwin gets to go home to Batangas every three months, the most he has taken his family to has been places close to home. This is something that he hopes to remedy soon; and plans to take his family out to a foreign destination for a well-deserved vacation.

It is a good thing that Erwin gets the chance to fly back home every three months. Living alone in a foreign country where there are not too many Filipinos is a challenge that he has to live with.

Having worked in Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and now Ýolöten, Erwin still considers the Philippines the best country to be in for all its shortcomings. To him, the country is and will always be home. “More than anything,” he confides, “it is playing with my little girl that I miss the most when I am away.”

At the moment, though, life is mostly just work for Erwin. Working ten-hour shifts out in the field leaves him with no time to indulge in any other activities. “All I want to do is rest and open my computer to chat with friends,” he confides.

This can be something of a challenge, he says, because for all the perks that the citizens in the country enjoy from their government, communications technology is something that lags behind. “No roaming services,” Erwin explains, “so you can’t call outside the country.”

“We are, therefore, dependent on the Internet,” he continues, “but the connection here is slow compared to back home in the Philippines.”

It does not matter, though. Erwin returned to Ýolöten after his customary break in Lipa just last Sunday. He may miss his family as can only be expected; but work is and will always be therapeutic. The good thing is that returning back to Turkmenistan means that he already has something to look forward to again.

In fact, there are just eighty or so more days before he can board a plane to fly out of the Central Asian nation to head back home to a loving wife, two children and an extended family that makes the loneliness while away in Ýolöten so much more bearable.

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