x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Life under the volcano, the story of Bicol

A group of Filipino expatriates in Abu Dhabi are working on a book about the culture and heritage of their region, where the Mayon volcano is located.

Mariam al Azizi, right, president of the Abu Dhabi branch of Pag-Iribang Bicolnon, is working on a book about the region.
Mariam al Azizi, right, president of the Abu Dhabi branch of Pag-Iribang Bicolnon, is working on a book about the region.

ABU DHABI // Mariam al Azizi acquired Emirati citizenship seven years ago but the Philippines-born bank employee still has strong ties with her home country. She is president of Pag-Iribang Bicolnon sa Abu Dhabi, a Filipino organisation made up of 100 members who are originally from the Bicol region, about 400 kilometres south of Manila.

The group is working on a 100-page book about the rich history and culture of Bicol, including the Mount Mayon volcano in Legazpi City that put the whole country on alert in December and January. Tens of thousands of villagers within Mayon's danger zone were evacuated when the volcano threatened to erupt. In early January, the provincial government of Albay allowed the remaining 2,000 residents to return to their homes after a lull in volcanic activity.

"Mount Mayon will always hold a special place in our hearts," said Mrs al Azizi, 45, who has lived in the Emirates since 1989. "It is one of our tourist attractions and will be featured prominently in our book. Mayon is derived from the word Daragang Magayon which means a beautiful maiden." In 2008, the members of Pag-Iribang Bicolnon encouraged her to take over the organisation which now has about 100 members.

"But we want to make a difference by launching this book," said Mrs al Azizi, who is originally from Pio Duran, Albay, in the Bicol region."We would like to let people know how proud we are of Bicol and our compatriots." About 50 per cent of the group's members are from Albay province, the rest of the members come from five other Bicol provinces: Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon.

"Mount Mayon is the pride of Bicol," said Christian Hayagan, 25, a nurse from Legazpi, about 18km from Mayon. "People even love to look when lava flows from its crater. But the region has so much to offer and we would like to promote tourism through our book." Mrs al Azizi said she would edit the book, which will be written in English. It will serve as a resource for their organisation, the Bicol region, and the Emirates, and include the history and culture of the UAE, tourist destinations in Abu Dhabi, and employment guidelines.

Mrs al Azizi said they would initially print 500 copies of the hardcover book, to be launched before the end of the year, which will be sold for Dh30 to Dh40 each. Profits from sales will go to six public schools in the remote villages within the Bicol region. rruiz@thenational.ae