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Friday, November 20, 2009

Housemaids in the Middle East - Their Grim Plight

"Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here."

One blazing afternoon, as we arrived from work, a dabab (small pick-up truck) was parked in front of our apartment building. A black African man could be seen struggling to offload a decrepit airconditioner. There was no way he could do it by himself. He had three or four women in abayahs surrounding him, looking anxiously but obviously shy. I can guess what they were up to. "We have brand new neighbours again. This is not a beautiful sight to behold". I said to myself, and a little annoyed. This will certainly exacerbate our compounding problem of daily water shortages. "Our landlord is really one hell of greedy flesh and fats!"

As we got down, the African guy asked for help for which I willingly obliged. "Don't you have any men with you to help?" I asked the guy. One of the women did interject. "We are all women, six of us." She said in Filipino. "I am the only Filipina and the rest are Indonesians", she narrated. All of them work as housemaids for different employers, and that they're not allowed to stay in. So they had to rent an apartment.

For them to afford the rent of an apartment, these housemaids pool themselves so as to make it more economical. Usually, their number exceeds the capacity of an average 2-bedroom apartments. However, the downside with this kind of tenants is that, their status draws suspicion of them engaging in illegal activities.

Days and months have passed, our new neighbours next door virtually become non-existent. Very rarely I could chance upon any one of them- except when it's night time, their supposed duty hours. However it didn't take long, when on a number of occasions, I've noticed some suspicious- looking Arab guys outside of the lobby's main door waiting anxiously. As I opened the door, he seemed to look uneasy and agitated, but coyly headed straight to a familiar door. He must have waited for someone else to open the door for him.

Housemaids are conspicuous features in every Saudi household. They are considerably larger in number compared to workers you essentially see outside. Their profession falls under the unskilled category, hence lowly paid. Despite their low wages, their job basically entails round-the-clock errands for their masters. Not to mention, the harshest of conditions most of them are being subjected to.

Their sad plight has become daily staples in any local newspaper. In most cases, the abuses they suffered at the hands of their employers are horrifying. Jealous Saudi wives would resort to locking the maids up when it's time for their husbands to come home. And countless have been reported being raped by their employers and sometimes offered to their friends. The most horrifying of all, some of them die from extreme physical abuses and just being dumped alongside garbages, still their identities unknown.

Until now I am still bothered by one incident that made me chill to the bone. On May 13, 2009, when I boarded a taxi on my way to Jama, this Pakistani taxi driver named Abdulatif confided to me, that he had witnessed a kidnapping of a Filipina woman a day before. The alleged kidnapper was a Saudi in his mid 30s, whose car was a GMC black Chevrolet with plate no. 3769 HKA. According to him, he saw this Saudi man dragging one of these two Filipina women into his car, as one of them was hysterically screaming for help. He could even hear the cries of the kidnapped woman as the car zoomed.

One of the women then hailed this taxi and asked for help. She narrated how her companion was kidnapped while they were waiting for taxi. He then volunteered to take her to the Philippine Consulate but she adamantly refused. She further stressed that they do not have proper documents [which means they are illegal workers] and that they would surely be apprehended and brought for deportation. This woman also refused to report this case to the police for fear of the same. She however prayed that her friend was unharmed. But she felt so distressed that she wanted this taxi driver to help them but not in a way he suggested to her. She nonetheless left her cellphone number to him.

Once I got to the shop, I immediately called our Consulate and reported to them all necessary details about the kidnapping of a compatriot. I also gave them the cell number of Shiela for information. But once they (Consulate people) introduced themselves to her, she replied it's a wrong number. So, what makes the situation all the more complicated is that, the refusal to cooperate by the victims made these cases difficult to resolve. This has become a Catch-22 situation with no resolution in sight. Because if ever they wanted to report the matter to the police, they will surely be apprehended and deported. While if they just keep silent, they can still keep their jobs without fear of being jailed and their loved ones going hungry. But the thought of a missing friend who could have been raped and murdered, remains a constant nightmare haunting them.

I already did what I was supposed to do, and I was ready to put this experience behind me. But after 9days to be exact, as I was watching Balitang Middle East on TFC, there was a report on a dead body of a woman found in Makkah in an advanced state of decomposition, allegedly that of a Filipina. Her identity was still unknown, for her remains carried no identification, except that she resembled that of a Filipina. God forbid! "Could she be the one?" Whoever did this to that unfortunate soul, may he rot in hell!

This is just one true story from a multitude of lives living as expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here. Not everyone who has dreamed of a greener pasture has found it. Sometimes, we even prefer not to tell our stories to our loved ones back home. Some stories that would make them worry about us. However sad it would be, we always tend to keep it to ourselves, because we don't want to lose focus from our goals.

To our less fortunate compatriots who work as housemaids, I fully understand why they have become what they are. They just want to live simple lives. Not wanting to enrich themselves, but to feed and send their kids to school is just their modest dream. Those who have absconded from their employers have their own stories to tell. And they had no choice but to fend for themselves through illegal means, and help their families get by.

As for my new neighbours next door, I could say they remain shy and aloof, very seldom to be seen-except when ushering some male guests that coincided with my routine. Surprisingly, after quite a time, a newborn baby has been added to their family, as the shrieks and cries of the innocent can be audibly heard. Does the landlord knows about this? Yes of course! As long as they pay the rent on time, it would be a non-issue. God bless the baby!

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Anonymous said...

It pains me to read such stories of our poor kababayans, especially of Filipinas.

If I can only have my one Christmas wish, I'd wish that our Pinays (o siguro tayo na rin) will no longer need to work abroad to earn a decent living.

Siock said...

Malungkot nga talaga ang nararanasan nila dito. But I heard that our gov't will push through with the complete banning of Pinay maids in the Mideast. But I just doubt it kung ito'y matutuloy, sa sobrang hirap ng buhay sa atin.

Anonymous said...

I agree that our female kababayans should not go to work abroad, ever, as maids. Most of our women are educated, and it's a shame that our poverty forces many of them to degrade themselves!

I lived in Saudi before, at hindi lang maids I'm sure alam po ninyo and nakararanas ng hindi magandang pagtrato. Mga nurses din po natin, lalo na sa mga private clinics, maraming problema din.

Whenever I read OFW's being hailed as heroes, I feel angry and sad. Among other things, the OFW's are proof of one thing: our government has failed to help provide ample and decent opportunities for the people. Hanggang kailan pa bang may mga Pilipinong nagpapakahirap sa abroad para lang mapa-aral ang mga anak? Hanggang kailan pa bang may mga namamatay na mga Pilipino sa abroad dahil sa kalupitan ng kanilang mga amo? Hanggang kailan pa bang magiging inutil ang ating gobyerno at taong bayan?

Minsan nakakasawa na. Kung minsan, nakakapagod na maging Pilipino.

Anonymous said...

*shudders* I have an aunt in Qatar *suddenly worries* My other aunt just got home and she works as a school bus driver. She's back for a couple of weeks.

They do this for their children. But sometimes, it's hard not to worry about their condition there.

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