This time I was not pushing a cleaning cart at the airport, this time I was about to travel and I was simply pulling a rather gigantic and cheap suitcase towards the check-in point. This time I was really and truly departing from
Of course I was scared to death. I was carrying a false Filipino passport, pretending to be someone else. Conchita came with me trying to make me feel better, talking to me all the time in Tagalog trying to build up my confidence.
The check-in was easier than I thought. They simply asked for my passport which had an entry visa stamp less than three months ago so for the authorities I was a legitimate tourist and not an illegal immigrant. That was another one of Signora’s accomplishment. Not only did I obtain a passport, but I had all the necessary stamps in it.And of course, as Conchita said, ‘they don’t care when you leave the country, Molly, they care much more and check you when you enter the country, then you must have a proper visa and an invitation from an employer if you are going to be imported as a domestic worker.”
Once more Conchita reminded me that I was departing from the ‘first world’ as a third world citizen and it wouldn’t be that simple to return unless I had an employer’s invitation. I cringed with fear as I was completely at Signora’s mercy now. My British passport was still locked in her safe and my only legal documents now were those of a Filipina.
I was travelling with Air Emirates with a stopover of a few hours in
Dubai, followed by a direct flight form Dubai to . Manila
Conchita was revising the situation with me as we had a cup of coffee together before I started walking towards the hand luggage check and passport control and then to my departing gate.
She was talking slowly in Tagalog with occasional English or Italian words, “I tell you again Molly, everything is fully organized for you so you shouldn’t worry. When you land in
my sister Juanita will meet you at the airport. She will hold a small placard
with your name written on it ‘Molly Apuya’ so you can recognize her. After that
you are in her hands. She will guide you through your new phase in life.” Manila
Feeling increasingly nervous I asked, “I never understood what this new phase is going to be Conchita. I know Signora said this trip will make me a better domestic worker, but in what way? She never explained to me.”
Conchita looked at me sympathetically saying, “I already told you many times before, Molly, that in order to become a proper FDW you have to go through that so called ‘new phase’ in your life, you have to see how people live in poor countries, you have to become one of us, as I keep telling you.”
She saw me looking at her puzzled and added, “If you wonder what FDW means it means ‘Foreign Domestic Worker’ girl. This is what they called us in
where I spent two years
working as a housemaid and a nanny. This is what you are now girl, a FDW; you
better remember that.” Singapore
The more I heard Conchita talking, the more I was getting worried and scared. It was nearly impossible to back off now, I felt completely trapped.
Conchita, oblivious of my worries and clearly very excited herself, continued talking, “My sister will be very happy with the various presents I send to her plus the money of course.”
I instinctively checked my purse where I carried $2000 in cash. Half of that was what Conchita was sending to her sister, the other half was my own wages from my work at Signora’s house, the only money I had since I had no credit or debit cards, no ATM machine to go in case of emergency.
Conchita noticed me looking at my purse and said in a rather strict way, “Be careful with that cash, Molly, and as soon as you go through the passport control make sure that you hide the money inside your clothes, probably inside your bra or even your knickers, I’ll never forgive you if you lose it or they are stolen, Juanita is relying on that money for her practice, she has to buy some equipment.”
“And what practice could that be?” I asked with a hint of irony in my voice, wondering what sort of "practice" an uneducated woman could possibly have. As I said that, I suddenly realized how right Conchita was. I was still thinking like a first world citizen putting down the poor Filipinos, thinking that all of them were vulgar and uneducated.
She looked at me accusingly as she started explaining, “Juanita has a hairdressing salon in the Manila suburb where she lives, practically next door to her house. She is also doing manicures and pedicures and she trains her older son to become a hairdresser, he is very good at that, he is the ‘feminine’ son in the family, almost like a girl now.”
That really intrigued me now, “Please tell me a bit more about Juanita’s family, Conchita. What do you mean a feminine son, you mean gay? After all I’ll live with them for a while, I should know.”
“Juanita is my younger sister and the only one of my siblings in Philippines. I have two brothers, both working as construction workers in Qatar. Juanita’s husband is working in Qatar as well; lots of Filipinos are there at the moment,” Conchita answered, as she was expecting my question.
I looked at my cheap wrist watch, I still had time to kill before walking to my gate so I eagerly said, “Go on then, I want to know more.”
“Juanita has three sons. The eldest, who helps her in the beauty shop, is 18 and is called Benito or Benita when he is in his girl mode, the other two are 10 and 12, still at school and very naughty boys, they are called Alphonso and Ruperto. Benito is the one who is looking after them, their mother is too busy with her work.”
Now I really was thinking that Conchita was making fun of me. In the Filipino Catholic and conservative society a boy acting as a girl using a girl’s name is a bit far-fetched I thought.
She looked at me amused. “No Molly, my nephew Benito is not gay, he simply is the one selected to help his mother with housework and other activities that are traditionally woman’s work. That’s very common in families with no girls. The mother from the beginning watches which son is keener in helping in the house, more susceptible to feminine tasks. This one is often chosen to be the house helper, the one who assists the mother. He is the one, who is encouraged to wear feminine items of clothing like a pretty apron when doing the housework, and in some cases he is allowed to go all the way and completely dress as a girl. This is our Benito’s case, he loves to become Benita and he loves all his feminine tasks, including learning how to be a proper hairdresser and manicurist.”
“Wow!” I said open mouthed. “I never expected something like that in a conservative and rural society; Filipinos are more advanced socially than people tend to think in the West.”
“They simply are practical. When you are poor and have a large family without outside help you tend to look for solutions,” Conchita said, smiling broadly and then added, “And something that I haven't mentioned before, you are going to work as an apprentice in Juanita's shop. You can’t be a proper FDW without some knowledge of doing hair and manicure/pedicure. In Far East and Middle East countries this is a requirement for employment as a housemaid.”
In a second I forgot all about Benito/Benita and looked alarmed. “I always thought that I was going to Philippines in order to become more real as a Filipina, but no one mentioned to me that I could work in the Far or Middle East as a maid. I always thought that Signora was going to ask for my return to Milan.”
Conchita looked shifty when she answered with a false smile. “I really don’t know, Molly, what Signora thinks. All I know is that she wants you to become more real as a Filipina and to be treated exactly as any poor Filipino girl who is prepared and trained to travel abroad and work as a FDW. You have to be patient and let life take its own course.”
I was about to say something when she added, “And of course another requirement to get a job abroad as a maid is to have some experience with children so you can be a nanny as well if necessary. I already asked Juanita to enroll you in a local school for future nannies where you will learn the basics.”
Conchita was full of surprises. Most of what she said the past few minutes was big news to me.
Benito’s case came back to my mind, I really was fascinated by that story so I couldn’t help myself asking, “But how people face Benito? Neighbors, friends, relatives? Isn’t he teased or even worst, bullied?”
“No Molly, he isn’t. On the contrary, he is respected for what he is doing to help his mother. Ok, men sometimes can tease him a bit but women love people like him, they find them very brave individuals and they often encourage them to become more presentable as women.”
“What can I say, I am impressed!” I simply said looking again at my watch.
At this moment my flight was announced and I was asked to proceed to my gate.
We both stood and I nearly cried when I started saying goodbye to Conchita. We hugged and she said to me, “You know, Molly, I said that Benito is brave for what he is doing by I think you are braver by far. You abandoned the luxuries of your world to become a humble and lowly maid. It does take courage for that, you must have a terrific drive inside you, and you are like a nun pursuing her own destiny. Good luck to you, girl.” She said those last words with tears in her eyes.
I had tears in my eyes by that stage too, I hugged her once more and said, “Good bye, Conchita, you will hear from me very soon, I’ll get a cheap telephone card and I’ll try and call you when in Manila. I am looking forward now to meet Juanita and Benito.”
We parted and I started walking fast towards my gate. I went through passport control and hand luggage check without any problems, Conchita was right. I was a Filipina departing Italy; they couldn't care less about me anymore.
I boarded the plane, took my window seat and closed my eyes, trying to relax. Too many thoughts in my mind wouldn't let me relax but after a good meal and a sleeping pill that Conchita gave me I drifted to a disturbed sleep until I heard the announcement that we were about to land to Dubai.
My new phase in life, as Conchita called it, was on its way with a completely unknown future. The only certain thing was that I was out there on my own with all the disadvantages of a third world citizen. I had to survive for now as a poor uneducated Filipina with no other means, but my own hard work as a FDW, as I was called now.