Life From A Filipina Girl’s Point of View
In a previous submission I mentioned a former Filipina girlfriend (28 going on 13) and I also told of how she was to be married on Valentine’s Day to her new boyfriend of just three weeks. My reaction to the news was first, relief (for me) and second happiness (for her).
But she called me yesterday, just for a chat and we had a good talk. Maybe I am soft, but if at all possible I would prefer to be able to stay as ‘friends’ with former girlfriends and certainly hope that I didn’t treat them so badly that hatred replaces what was once mutual affection.
The wedding is delayed. She has received all the papers from PI she needs, and her fiancé has got his papers. With the help of their lawyer, things will go ahead (she believes) but just not as fast as she had hoped. And she is a little concerned about the relationship anyway.
Her fiancé is younger than me, better-looking, doesn’t smoke (I do), drink (I do) and she ‘really loves’ him. But he is, apparently insanely jealous. Not much cause for this, in my opinion, because whilst she is a lovely girl she wouldn’t be first choice on looks or physique. But from what she told me he is bordering on the paranoid. He takes her to work every morning, picks her up each afternoon. She told me that the other day, as she stood waiting for him a car was parked nearby. She had to convince him that the guy in it hadn’t been trying to pick her up.
Is he looking for an Asian girl he can completely control and dominate? I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound healthy to me.
She is a very genuine girl, very young and naive in her ways and she is looking for nothing more than a man who will treat her well, ‘take care’ of her and she in return will take care of him. Work, cook, clean, the whole package including cleaning ears, cutting toenails, etc., and of course working hard to keep him happy in bed. For some men she would be an ideal partner but I need more of an equal partner than that.
But her call got me thinking, and because I have a genuine affection for her I am concerned for her. I thought about her life so far and – I must be honest – I have nothing but admiration for her, despite the grief she has given me in the past. So here’s her story, as far as I know it.
She is the youngest of ten children, born to poor folk (still alive) in one of the provinces of PI. The family home is really just a shack. She was an unplanned surprise, her Mum having apparently gone through menopause. When she started school they thought that she was too slow or thick to write her real name (7 letters) so they changed it to something simpler (3 letters). Many days the family could not afford the few cents for a tuktuk, or trishaw to get to school so she walked. During breaks, her family could not afford to give her snacks or drinks, so she sat on her own and drank water.
From as early as she can remember she worked at weekends to bring money into the family. Two days cleaning or washing for a few cents.
But she stuck at it, went through school, and finally to a regional college where after four years she got her degree in food technology and domestic science. I have no idea what this is worth, but having seen her final papers and reports it seems to me that she worked harder, and was more closely reported on, than my son was when he got his B Sc (Hons) in a respected UK university. Her standard of written English is higher, I believe, than many graduates of UK universities.
So she graduated (she didn’t attend the ceremony because the family had no money to attend and she couldn’t afford to hire a cap and gown) and then had to decide what to do in life.
She had no choices, really. She found an agency to work overseas, saved and borrowed money for their commission (more than a year’s salary) and came here to Cyprus to work.
At this point I must record my respect for her. She had never travelled far but now she was going to go to Manila, board a plane, and travel to a country she had no knowledge of. On her own. To work and send money back to her family. I have seen her little notebook where she wrote down the details the agency gave her about how to find check-in, how to check in for the flight, how to show her new passport and visa, and all that stuff. I was humbled.
And now my understanding of how things work here in Cyprus for Filipinas. Combined work permits / residence visas are valid for four years. Only two categories of work are allowed – housemaids or ‘carers’. The employer is specified on the visa and if she wants to change employment she has 30 days to find a new job (in the specified categories) and register it, and pay a bond, or the papers expire and she is illegal. It is not difficult to understand how this can lead to abuse, especially as (in my opinion) some Cypriot men can be misogynistic, sexually abusive and just plain shits.
Minimum wage for a ‘live-in’ housemaid is about €260 per month. Hours can be 7 AM to midnight six days a week. Sunday is nominally a day off, but she may have to clean the house and prepare food first and be subject to a 5 PM curfew. Accommodation may be as basic as an unrendered concrete block room with a mattress on the floor, and meals may be what’s left over from the family meals she has cooked.
(Some Filipinas, in my experience, have learned to play the system and have ended up as mistresses of their employers. And some play it well. A friend of mine, who has a husband back in PI, a Filipino boyfriend here and is still shagging her employer threw a wobbly recently. He bought her a scooter and a new phone for her birthday but apparently the phone was not the latest model …).
After her first couple of months here, my friend had suffered some of the above. Through a friend she was offered a job as a carer in an old people's home. She enjoyed it, and was good at it, but there was a snag … After three months she found that the new employer had failed to register her here (as promised) so she was illegal.
So she was off into the murky world of ‘part time’. That means cleaning (as opposed to ‘short-time’ and ‘long-time’ which as we know means something else). And that’s how I met her, through a Filipina friend. She came to clean my apartment for what I thought was a ridiculously low rate per hour. We sat and drank coffee and talked about her life. (She wasn’t happy about the drinking coffee bit because it was included in her paid hours).
And I got to know her pretty well, especially after she moved in. She was supporting her whole family – even her sister and brother-in-law who are both teachers and who are putting five children through private school.
And her niece, who is going through nursing college (she graduates next month). Niece’s Mum (my friend’s sister) was diabetic and my friend was always sending money back for medicine. I was a little sceptical about this until, a few months ago, we got photos via the internet of her funeral. I could and should have done more there. The niece was going through college on about £40 sterling a month, including room, tuition fees, food, the lot. Once or twice I chipped in with help for her and received a very grateful e-mail in reply.
Last week I happened to ‘bump into’ the niece on the internet and found out that she was graduating next month. I sent her £100 as a gift and to help her get established until she finds a post. Not much to me, a big ‘help-up’ to her, but unwisely she told her family about it and she (and I) have been criticised for it.
My friend doesn’t really fit well into the ‘Filipina scene’ here. Many of the girls are from cities and street-wise. She is not. Her ‘friends’ here have borrowed, stolen, from her (they worked out a way to steal credit from her mobile phone) but worse than that, her family back home (and she used to keep her bank account there in a family member’s name – and it was plundered) have used her as well.
Since she has been here she has been physically, sexually and financially abused. She is 28, going on 13. But she smiles, she laughs and she carries on working.
I have no idea whether the planned marriage will work. For her sake, I hope it will and that she will be happy. She certainly deserves it and I wish her all the best. She has had enough shit in her short life.
I salute her and –as she smiles and laughs – I envy her resilience. I wish I was as tough as her.
Some of these girls have had horribly rugged lives and I bet the elements of this story are common to many.