I know I haven't been a frequent poster and I apologise profusely. Please watch this space for several new stories that I will publish in coming weeks. There is a prequel to T.H.Enerdly's marvelous Interview With Madame Nguyen, stories by Jackie J, the author of The Demise of Lady Charlotte Rhodes, as well as a lady-to-maid story of my own that is set in 1880s England.
Molly in Singapore. Part 1.
by Monica Graz
The female flight attendant’s voice of the Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore woke me up from a disturbed sleep.
“Ladies and Gentlemen we are approaching Changi airport. We’ll be landing in 20 minutes. All the non Singaporean nationals are required to complete the disembarkation card provided.”
The announcement brought back all my fears and worries and once more I felt the familiar butterflies in my stomach.
I took out of my handbag all my documents including my Filipino passport and I started filling the card with a slightly trembling hand. Another big step down the social ladder I thought, since I was about to enter this country as a Foreign Domestic Worker, FDW for short. This time everything was going to be very real. I was going to be employed as a maid and nanny in Singapore following all the formalities and rules of this very strict and organized country.
As I was filling my card I went through all my documents again, my Filipino passport of course, a certificate from the Manila based ‘Housemaids Academy’ accompanied by an educational High School Diploma certifying that I, Molly Apuya, had attended school in Philippines for the 8 obligatory years! Another false document produced with ease, as I have noticed, by my supervisor in the Academy, Miss Renata Vigo. My employer in Manila Ms. Juanita had to pay her another 500 US$ for that, the remaining sum of my savings.
I sighed as I finished filling my disembarkation card. I felt that I was going to become an indentured servant, a step before being a total slave. I was landing in Singapore completely penniless, I just had in my purse 50 US$ that Juanita gave me as I was departing from Manila, for ‘pocket money’ as she said. She reassured me of course that my new employers would take care of everything adding meaningfully that for as long as I was a good and obedient domestic servant I would be all right.
I looked at my shabby clothes, my cheap shoes, my rough hands. Even my skin was rougher and darker after three months in Manila living and working in very harsh conditions. I couldn’t fool anyone anymore. I was a Filipina domestic worker and I looked the part. After three months in Milan and another three in Manila I was a totally different person from the middle class English girl who arrived at the doorstep of Signora Mattei’s mansion to fulfill a sinister dream and become a lowly maid.
I looked again at the paper with instructions that was given to me by Mr. Li Cheng the representative of the domestic agency that hired me.
The instructions were written in simple English. I read again trying to memorize all I needed to go through the passport control and the customs.
“As soon as you land you join the queue of foreign nationals having ready your passport which as you know has a Singapore electronic visa attached which qualifies you as a FDW. Together you must have ready for inspection the Housemaids Academy certificate and your education High School diploma. Without those papers you can be sent back to Philippines on the spot.
After you clear with immigration and pick your luggage you proceed to the exit where someone holding a card with your name will be waiting for you. This person is the driver of your new employers. He will take you directly to the house where you will be employed as a maid and nanny.
Your employers will assist you with the other formalities which you have to do before you obtain your work permit.
a) The ‘Settling-In Program (SIP) which is a one day orientation program for first time FDWs to educate you on safety precautions and living in Singapore.
You have to attend that within 3 working days of your arrival.
It will be in your own language, Tagalog in your case.
b) Complete medical examination to a Singapore-registered doctor within 2 weeks of your arrival. He will check you for 4 types of infectious disease (TB, HIV, syphilis and malaria) and of course if you are fit to work.
After you get the all clear then and only then the Singapore authorities will issue your work permit as a FDW.
You will sign a one year contract renewable for two more years if your employers are satisfied with you. For the first two months you are on a trial period and your employers can terminate your employment if they are not pleased with your performance and send you back to Philippines. So it is to your total interest to be on your best behavior in the beginning of your employment.
Your employers will provide all your working clothes, uniforms etc including some basic underwear but you will be buying the rest of your clothes and toiletries using your wages money for that.
Finally a few words for your new employers. They are very important people, a European couple with diplomatic status in Singapore. They have two children, a five years old girl that goes to nursery school and a seven years old boy who attends primary school. The driver takes them to school every morning and brings them back in the early afternoon. After they are home you will be responsible for them.
Your new employers asked specifically for you because of your European connection, being born and raised there etc. So be careful not to disappoint them.
Good luck to your new work girl.
Singapore Domestic Solutions Agency LTD
The fluttering increased in my stomach. I felt totally vulnerable. I was alone, penniless, going to a completely new menial job in a country notoriously strict to FDWs.
I looked again at the papers given to me by the Agency. Women from eight countries were allowed to work in Singapore as FDWs. The countries are in alphabetical order, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. All third world countries with large numbers of young or older women married or not, ready to take employment abroad as domestic servants. I was one of those women now and I felt a sinister pleasure combined with fear for being in that position.
Suddenly I felt the jolt of the plane as it touched ground and at the same time the flight attendant’s voice, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Singapore!’
This time I landed to the unknown. In my previous trip to Manila I was expected by Juanita, the sister of my fellow maid Conchita back in Milan. This time I was on my own. ‘Good luck Molly’ I whispered to myself realizing at the same time that I was thinking fully as Molly Apuya now. My old Julia side has gone missing and was becoming more and more a distant memory.