I heard with trepidation the supervising officer’s sharp voice, “Mollie Apuya, in my office this instant.”
I hastily wiped my hands in my large white working apron as I abandoned my hand washing sink and rushed to the other side of the large ‘classroom’ where the office of Miss Renata Vigo, my immediate supervising officer, was behind a glass panel.
I slightly curtseyed in front of her saying in my trained voice, “Yes Ma’am, you asked for me, Ma’am!”
“Yes, Mollie, I asked for you because I have news,” she looked at me as my legs started trembling, what news I started wondering. At this stage in my life any kind of news was scary for me. What next I wondered?
“There is a job offer for you from
She said that phrase looking at me expectantly. It was well known to all
students at Singapore Manila’s state-run Housemaids Academy
that to get a job in
was quite prestigious for a maid. Much better than those harsh Middle Eastern
Muslim countries. Singapore
I looked back at her confused; I wasn’t certain if I should be happy or worried. I had no idea what that meant for me. After three months in
Renata looked at me puzzled this time. “You don’t seem very excited girl, aren’t you happy that you found a job? They pay well in
and you will be able to
support comfortably whatever family you have here or abroad.” Singapore
I looked at her again trying to look excited this time, “Of course I am excited, Ma’am. It just came as a surprise to me. Does my employer here Mrs. Rodriguez know?”
By that stage my accented elementary English became like a second nature to me. I haven’t spoken proper English in months and I started wondering if I still could do it.
“Of course Juanita knows, I told her first, you know that she is a close friend of mine and you must always thank her that she convinced me to let you follow classes here, bypassing the rules that apply to most of the girls who come here to learn how to be proper domestics.”
“Of course, Ma’am, and I thank you once more for being so kind to me, I learned quite a lot here; those classes for nannies in particular were quite informative to me, I had no idea about babies before I came here.” I answered eagerly thinking at the same time that half of my savings, about $500, was given to Miss Renata as a ‘present’ from Juanita to facilitate my entrance to the
bending the rules slightly. Housemaids Academy
“That’s good to hear, Mollie, because the request I have here from the agency is that this family of four in
has requested for a maid and nanny, apparently they have two very young
Another wave of fear and anxiety went through me like an electric current. A maid and a nanny in
It sounded quite surreal to me, though I should have been used by now to the
sudden changes in my life without my consent. Singapore
I found the courage to ask Renata, “May I ask how I was selected, Ma’am?”
She looked at me as if I was an ignorant idiot. “The computer of course, Mollie, the computer made the match. The domestic agency you are registered with provides CVs for all the future FDWs to
It seems that your European background and experience made the difference. The
family that asked for you has clearly a European background.” Singapore
She stopped and then added sternly, “Of course you are going to be interviewed in a couple of days by the
Manila representative of the
domestic agency. I’ll let you know tomorrow about that. Now run back to
whatever you were doing and pay more attention to what you learn here, probably
you will be going within a week.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I said curtseying as I turned to run back to my sink to complete my lesson of hand washing delicate items.
Later as I was sitting in the jeepney’s bench going back to Juanita’s house I started thinking about the past three months in
Sitting among all those Filipinos going back home from work, feeling hot and
sticky under my uniform dress I realized that I still couldn’t get used to the
humidity of the tropical climate. Manila
Juanita proved to be a very stern and demanding employer and her son Benito, though superficially pleasant, had a rather difficult side. I soon found out that I had to work under strict rules in the house. I wasn’t allowed to use any internal bathroom or toilet and I only was allowed to use the washing machine once a week. I could rest and relax in my shed or ‘prison cell’ as I started calling it. Occasionally I was allowed to watch some TV programs only when the family was present and that was for the improvement of my Tagalog as Juanita used to tell me.
Every second day I spent several hours in Juanita’s hairdressing salon where I worked as an apprentice. Under Juanita’s guidance I learned how to do manicures and pedicures and how to wash hair.
I was quite amused though with Benito who at the salon was acting completely as Benita. Wearing a pink smock and with makeup and lipstick on he was acting like a competent female hairdresser. Even his mother and most of the clients were calling him Benita as if this was the most natural thing. I admired Filipinos for this rather unexpected lack of prejudice towards the effeminate lad.
And then Juanita announced to me that I had to join the
to improve my
domestic and childcare skills. She had to explain to me that she had to pay her
friend Renata some under the table money so I could be accepted as an ‘external
pupil’ for a period of four to six weeks. Manila Housemaids
As the jeepney approached my stop I let a sigh because I knew that I had to rush in, tidy up the house and start dinner for the family. A maid’s work is never done I thought to myself as I stood up from my seat getting ready to get off.
The interview happened faster than I expected. As soon as I arrived the next day to the Academy and changed to my working clothes Renata called me in her office where a skinny Chinese-looking man was sitting in a chair opposite her office.
“Mollie, this is Mr. Li Cheng, the Manila representative of the Singapore domestic agency. He will ask you a few questions; please answer as truthfully as possible. You have nothing to worry about, Mr. Li has done that hundreds of times before and he can instantly tell how truthful you are.”
She turned to him as she started departing the room, “Mollie is yours, Mr. Li, do let me know when you finish, I have to do my rounds now and check what our pupils are up to, sometimes you can witness things in this place that are out of this world, those country girls as so ignorant sometimes and manage to do terrible mistakes."
Mr. Li nodded politely and turned to me as I was still standing awkwardly in front of him, dressed in the Academy’s morning uniform, short sleeved light blue dress with a white collar covered modestly by a plain bib white apron.
He never asked me to sit down, and without any small talk he looked at his laptop screen and started the questions in accented English that was hard to understand.
“Your name is Mollie Apuya and you were born in Romania Europe where you grew up in an orphanage, possibly the illegitimate child of a Filipino father and a Romanian Gypsy mother. Is that correct, girl?”
I nearly curtseyed to him as I answered, “Yes Sir, I grew up in an orphanage in
Romania and I was told later by my first
employer in Milan, that my father was Filipino
and my mother Romanian Gypsy.” Italy
“I can tell that your English is passable enough. Are you familiar with the English vocabulary that has to do with housekeeping, cooking and taking care of children, Mollie?”
“I think so, sir,” I answered truthfully, “I can also speak some Italian, sir, that I had to learn when I was working in
“Yes, I can see that in your CV, but it will be hardly necessary if you go to Singapore to work. You only need English there.”
“Of course, sir, I understand, sir” I said with a slight curtsey again. My God I was so intuned to that movement now; it became a second nature to me like addressing everybody as sir and ma’am, including occasionally people younger than me.
“Now, Mollie,” Mr Li continued, “Do you know how to cook? Do you know oriental cooking?”
“I learned how to cook first in
Milan where I was doing
more Western dishes and recently here in my current employer, Mrs. Juanita Rodriguez, taught me how to cook some Filipino
dishes, sir.” Manila
I paused briefly, then added, “I am sorry, sir, but I am not familiar with Chinese cooking, sir.”
“Ah,” Mr. Li said looking at his laptop again. “It won’t be necessary, girl, to know Chinese cooking; your potential employers are interested more for the standard Western cuisine.”
He looked at me again and suddenly opened a file and gave me a single piece of paper telling me at the same time, “Now, Mollie, I want to check your reading abilities in English. Read to me please this recipe.”
I took the paper and looked at it, it was a recipe in English for spaghetti bolognaise!
I slightly blushed as I started reading slowly, trying to maintain my funny accent, “Ingredients: 1 kilo of ground beef, 1 large onion chopped, 2 garlic cloves crushed, 2 table spoons oil, 2 table spoons…”
“That’s enough, girl,” Mr. Li stopped me with his hand; “I can see you manage to read even if you do it slowly.”
He then passed me another sheet of paper, this time blank, and a pencil saying at the same time, “Now, I want you to write something for me, come to the desk and I’ll dictate a few simple phrases.”
I approached the desk as he started his dictation, ‘My name is Mollie Apuya, I am a Filipina 26 years old and I applied to work as a domestic worker in Singapore.’
I am normally left handed but this time I thought of writing with my right hand which was difficult and slow for me, just what was needed for this peculiar test.
So I wrote in a childish manner with a few deliberate mistakes, ‘My name is Molie Apuya, I am Filipina 26 year old and I aply to work as a domestic worker in singapura.’
I gave the piece of paper to Mr. Li who smiled condescendingly, saying at the same time, “I guess that’s OK, Mollie, nobody expects anything more from a nearly illiterate girl like you and after all you are there to work as a maid, not a university professor.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered with a hint of a smile, thinking how surprised he would have been if he knew he was talking to a PhD.
He looked once more to his laptop and said, “I guess we are done here, girl, I’ll send an e-mail to Renata and your current employer Mrs. Rodriguez to let them know the details of your employment as a FDW. I’ll need your passport of course and you will have to sign certain papers for your work visa. I think that within a week you will be able to travel to Singapore.”
My feet were trembling again and my stomach was churning. Finally it was happening, I was about to start my first job as a Filipina maid and nanny for a family I never met before. I managed to answer to Mr. Li though, “Thank you, sir, I’ll have to let my employer know, she is the one who has my passport for safekeeping.”
“And that’s very wise girl, you wouldn’t want to lose such a serious document. And of course when in Singapore you will give your passport to your new employers; all you need there is a special work permit, something like an identity card. Singapore authorities are very strict with foreign domestics and you wouldn’t like to cross them.”
“Of course, sir," I answered feeling the fear mounting again inside me.
“You can go back to your classes or whatever duties you are assigned to and please tell Miss Renata that she can get back to her office, I’ll wait here to have another word with her. Bye girl and good luck.”
“Thank you, sir, good bye, sir,” I answered with a curtsey as I turned around to go.