Throughout our lives, we adorn many hats. But we are usually known by just one name. The Bamboo Stalk is about a boy who has two names. Isa in his birthplace Kuwait and Jose in his boyhood home in the Philippines. A mixed heritage child, Isa is shunned by his Kuwaiti family. The Filipino half of him proves to be too much to bear for his Kuwaiti grandmother who immediately commands her son to disown him or suffer being disowned himself. And so begins Isa’s journey around the sun.
We meet Jose in Kuwait where he narrates the events leading up to his birth and the aftermath his parents face due to his existence. His mother moves back in with her family and raises him in the village where she herself grew up.
The Bamboo Stalk is not just a story of identity and belonging. It also sheds a bright light on the circumstances of migrant workers in richer nations. Driven out of their own countries by poverty, in search of work, many arrive in the Gulf nations where they are mostly held in contempt and expected to blend in with the furniture. If they choose not to leave their home countries they run the risk of being exploited and in some cases held in contempt by their own family.
Through Isa’s narration, we get a glimpse into the inner workings of Kuwaiti society. In this affluent country tradition still plays a big role and everything revolves around familial ties and reputation. The disenfranchisement of the Bedouin is a theme in the background as well. Expected to defend and fight for the nation, they are not considered full-fledged citizens and hence, live like second-class citizens without representation.
This book is a real tear-jerker. Isa’s naivete is endearing and one can’t help but root for him. With each turn of the page one hopes that Jose will find happiness and acceptance.
Further Reading & Information:
The Plight of Migrant Workers in the Gulf States. fanack.com. Retrieved from https://fanack.com/economy-en/the-plight-of-migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-states~49951/. Retrieved on August 10, 2022
The Bedoons: Kuwait’s stateless minority. dw.com. Retrieved on August 10, 2022