“JODI”: A FILIPINA’S STORY


Interviewed by John Lillywhite
The following account is that of a Filipina house-maid in Amman who asked to be known as “Jodi.” The interview took place on 27th February 2010, four months after she ran away, in the living room of a mutual friend and university lecturer (the ‘professor’).

Only recently has Jodi felt comfortable with her story being told.  For her own safety many of the circumstances she describes could not be corroborated.  Readers can decide for themselves the extent to which they find her experiences plausible.

“I arrived in Jordan one year and five months ago.  I was twenty four years old.  It was my first time in another country.  I was meant to be paid 200 dollars a month.  I didn’t receive anything for the first two months.

There was an Indonesian maid there when I arrived who trained me to be her replacement.  She told me ‘they are good they are good.’  But the family were always quarrelling, always shouting.  The kids were at first very rude, but they became better, and we became friends.  There was one baby boy – who I could not touch until after a year – and two girls.

For the first six months I was not allowed to leave the house.  My madam – the wife of the husband – was very moody.  I tried to please her but she always wanted more and more.  I wanted to prove to my family I could make it.  On the seventh month they let me go to the supermarket, maybe twice a week.  Then it stopped after the husband said something, and I could only go when things were urgently needed.  When the family visited friends I would sometimes go to look after the children.  Other times I would be asked to wait in the car.

When I did go to the supermarket I would try to speak to maids, like me.  They told me that most of them get one day off, and that Friday was a legal holiday, unless the family had visitors.  They said I should have one day off a week to go to Church, but I never did.  The family said I could go on Christmas day but the weather was too bad and the grandma was sick.  On my birthday they forgot.  For the first year the professor was my only friend.  He came to teach the kids and was my only outlet.

In November madam started to go to work.  She accepted a management job.  For the past year she had spent all her time in the house because of the baby boy. I was always with her.  She used to say she would take me to buy clothes, but she never did.  She would leave at 10am in the morning, and return at 2pm for lunch, so she could check everything. At 5pm she would leave again, and return to the house at 7pm.

Her mother, the grandma,  was still there to help with the little boy.  She was always asleep in the living room.  The husband began to stay in the house, and to treat me not good when his wife was not around.  He was a business man and could do his work over the phone.  I used to make him think I would give him what he wanted when his mother-in-law returned to Iraq, because when his wife was nagging he would do favors for me. Sometimes when she woke me in the middle of the night he would do what she had asked me to do.  He was kind to me, but when he came near I would go to the bathroom and spend hours cleaning it, even though it was already clean.

The baba had two wives.  The first family were on the first floor, the second floor was vacant, and we were on the third floor.  He would sleep one night at the first family, and one night at the second family.  If an associate came to visit they would stay on the second floor.  There was another maid, like me, in the other family.  We were never allowed to talk, but would whisper with each other when we could.  She told me that the husband abused her.  The wife downstairs had no children to look after.  The youngest was in grade 10, so when she went away the maid was left alone, and he could do whatever he wanted.

The family had lots of visitors, and one day one some of them brought another Filipina.  Her employer was a friend of my madam.  She wanted to run away, so I said if you run I will come with you.  Her name was ‘Rose’.  We talked about meeting someone who could help us.
I began to SMS a Filipina I had met in the supermarket.  She had been here for eight years.  I asked her what life was like on the outside. She said I could stay at her house. At first I told Rose to go there, because she wanted to, and after a week she had found a job for me.  The month after Ramadan I never received my salary, so I had to wait until October.  I planned it well – the day after I ran away I started the new job, in housekeeping.

It was good.  We worked until 7am in the morning until 6am at night.  We received 165JD a month, which works out at 5JD a day.  The taxi was 3JD a day, which meant there was nothing left for us.  But we learnt there were many surviving in Amman without papers.  Sometimes we worked in events at hotels and received 10-12JD per party, and they paid the taxi.

The problem was the baba still had my passport, and although he wanted to return it the madam wanted me to finish my work with them.  I kept calling the husband to give me my passport.  Before I left the maid in the other family had completed two years work, and wanted to return to the Philippines. She was given 540JD to pay her overstay for the year, because she had no papers, for the exit fee.

But she was cheated by the doorman, the guard of the house, who instead of paying it for her kept the money.  She arrived at the airport with three months of pay which she was owed.  She thought the exit fee had already been paid, but it hadn’t.  She rang me in tears, because she no longer had enough money to reach her home once she arrived in Manila.  My family picked her up at the airport and she is staying with them right now.

I have to be very careful, especially around second circle, where there are lots of Filipinas.  The police can do whatever they want.  I met some girls caught by the police without papers.  They were forced into a patrol car and were waiting to see jail, but instead they saw desert… and the police did what they wanted… the agency told me I have a police report, that the madam reported me, but when I did get stopped my name was checked and nothing happened.  They were trying to scare me so I would return to them.

I have an ID from the company where I worked, so when I got stopped I told them that my passport is kept there.  They don’t speak English well, so I say ‘what, what’, and they sent me to the red cap, who talks okay, but just let me go.  My madam used to say I am clever.  I hear stories. Some Filipina are beaten, or don’t get to eat.  I said ‘you can’t do that to me, I have human rights too’, and that made them careful, because they know I know the law.

I don’t want to go back with nothing, I have a little sister and brother who need something.  I have no regrets, because somehow it has made me a new person.  I have the courage to face life whatever it takes. With the help of friends I am coping”.

Epilogue
A month and a half after this interview Jodi became seriously ill, and was forced to stop working.  She had no medical insurance and no passport.  It soon became clear she was pregnant.  The father remains unknown.  According to Jodi she was told by medical staff that her life was in danger.

She held on for a number of weeks until the situation became serious.  With nowhere else to turn she contacted the professor to ask for help in paying her medical costs.  Although she couldn’t provide receipts or a number for a doctor, he eventually agreed, and also helped to secure her passport from the Madam.

At present Jodi works as a waitress in a restaurant.  She cleans the professor’s house every Saturday by way of thanks.  A short time ago she became engaged to a Jordanian man.  She now hopes to build a family, and a future, in Jordan.




  • ma7moodjo

    What a B.S ! come on mish ma3goool tir7aam 7alhaaa mish gi9a momken ti3milhaa film !

    peace

  • Omar

    The horror some housemaids endure in our societies is undoubtedly great! We are one hypocritical society and need some root changes in our mentalities.

    Nevertheless, this specific story doesn't add up! Despite the broken grammar and broken context; two wives in the same building? And one of the mama's got a managerial position? Is that Amman or Riyadh? As of the rest of the story, I seriously didn't understand many parts, it just doesn't add up!

  • wish101

    all these problems and she gets herself pregnant? doesnt seem very clever :)

  • kinzi

    Jodi's story is a very very common one. In fact, hers does not include regular, severe beatings or being used as a sex toy for three generations of Sirs, which is not rare at all. Non-payment is normal.

    I didn't follow the timeline, but she is likely pregnant due to the man she tried to avoid.

    She will find that marriage will not help.

  • Saed

    This is just sad. She is a human being and is being treated like shit, many families treat their maids like shit. There needs to be some more care about these people. And a lot of attention about the police abusing people.

  • Saed

    “We are one hypocritical society and need some root changes in our mentalities.”

    exactly.

  • diverdown

    I work in the Diving industry in Aqaba. Most of the people from Amman are very friendly… but the more money they have the more they expect us to do everything for them with nothing in return. They expect us to carry all of their heavy gear for them, etc. Of course even with all of this they are still more friendly than the customers we have had from the Gulf.

    One boy from Qatar, who spoke perfect English, looked at me, pointed at his scuba tank and said, “up!” while giving me a thumbs up, motioning that I was to help him with his gear. I don't mind helping people with the heavy gear and I ask for help in return. To this boy I said, “Sorry, it doesn't work that way! Do I look like a dog, or like your maid? Why don't you try that again.” He then asked politely and I clapped for him and exclaimed, “Bravo!” My comment was in no way to say it was okay to treat maids this way. I am glad to see this horrible treatment is being exposed.

  • MohannedA

    Modern day slavery. Trickle down schizophrenia. Justice and human rights are foreign.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IBLYDOX5P6MTRXAP2EMMSQQURA Tareq

    the story is a human tragedy in a way or another…however, ur comment Diverdown was superb… i really liked it.. maybe you can write us about what you face in your dangerous yet very interesting job… Please dont tell us about corals and fishes, we all have National Geographic :) telll us about the people u interact with…
    I really really liked ur reply to that Qatari guy… i give u a double thumbs up! :)

  • Yadondon

    “It soon became clear she was pregnant. The father remains unknown.”

    I hate to be a party pooper, but here is I think the story went like this; Jodi is a pathologic liar, she sneaked out of her employer's apartment and goes out to date guys. That's why she ended up PREGNANT. She might not have been treated perfectly, but she is no saint either, and not as angelic as she claims to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Lillywhite John Lillywhite

    @Yadondon – i agree completely that Jodi is no saint, and prone to lying, and i hope that was implicit in the narrative at times. But maybe, given her position, she has to be like that to survive? Also, does she still really deserve being treated the way she has been?

    @wish101 – that was exactly what i said. It seemed crazy to me that this girl, after escaping such an ordeal, would get pregnant. Perhaps the father was the husband, or a boyfriend. Someone else i told about the story said “what would you do if you'd been locked up for that long… it's completely normal”

    There are omissions and questions. Jodi was treated badly, but other Filipina are treated far worse. No doubt some are quite happy. Certain personal experiences informed this story.

    1. The Catholic Church's in Amman are packed with Filipina. They clap, and hug and sing their hearts out while everyone else sits there morosely – like it's their only escape.

    2. I was once in City Mall, in a high-end shop around 9pm. I saw a Filipina with her child looking after the children of a rich lady. The lady was buying expensive clothes for her own children, while the Filipina sat and watched and got shouted at. It was clear she was exhausted. Her own child was pulling at her dress.

    3. Last week i walked toward an electric door in Mecca Mall. A toddler was playing with the door, and as it opened, his hand nearly got stuck. Everyone got a shock. The mother ran to the baby, picked him up, then slammed her maid over the head, pointed at her, and screamed “Khalas”.

    This piece, with all its faults, illustrates a simple point: in certain circumstances, in certain families, within Amman, Filipina maids are treated badly – sometimes as less than human. They're entitled to their dignity.

  • Know Your Rights

    @John Lillywhite , thanks for the beautiful piece.

    Although it might not be completely true what Jody said, but it still sheds light on a gloomy social phenomenon that needs more courageous voices to shout it out. We, as a Jordanian society (and Im not generalizing here) tend to forget that modern day slavery is not only unethical and inhumane but also internationally condemned. As a human rights activist, I so much admired Jody for her lack of fear to voice out that she has rights and she is well aware of them. The problem in our society, putting maids aside now, is the shameful ignorance of our rights. I have recently resettled in the country to work as a journalist and a development specialist. Through my work, I got the chance to visit areas where people were even unknowledgeable about their basic civil rights. Many of them don't send their kids to primary school because they cant afford it. Had these people known that primary education is a right to every child according to the CRC, they wouldnt be so silent about it but instead voicing out their demands to get a lost generation into getting a descent education.

    The issue of rights is still a major barrier facing our society. Efforts to spread awareness about it are still very minimal. In a country where democracy is claimed to be one of the citizen's main supporting notions of the government, the right of assembly (take the example of the lettuce lady who had no intention but to spread the word of vegetarianism) is still not allowed until you get a permit. I tried several times to work on ma own and spread awareness on the streets but I found strong opposition from the authorities. I am now looking deeper into something smarter to promote my cause.

    I salut you efforts for conducting the above interview. Great job.

  • Saed

    Reading the stories really brought tears to my eyes. The whole situation is so deep. Especially the church part, maybe we never lost our freedom and therefore don't appreciate it.

    Anyway, they are human beings and really should not be treated as mindless creatures. Some people just don't deserve their blessings. story # 3 really ticked me off. It's just sick how these people treat others.

    Cheers to you for the great interview and for bringing this into perspective.

  • am-pm

    Thanks for posting this story, John. What is equally as interesting as the story at hand is the variety of responses this is receiving from it's readers. The issue with immigrant workers is unfortunately pretty sad not just here in Amman but around the middle east. The construction workers (usually from India) of Dubai are no less better off, and neither the Egyptian workers who come here. There are so many angles at looking at this from that the subject really needs some attention. I must acknowledge that though in the minority, I have met a few workers here who have happy stories to tell. I'm also glad that Carol Mansour gave a fair and unbiased story in her documentary Maid In Lebanon, which I hope you checked out.

    The first documentary of this was on Engage Media's website in full, but it seems you have to register to view it now. Theres a youtube clip here anyway.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rY91LCyY4s

    The issue with stories that corroborate is also very interesting. I've heard worse that sounded totally plausible, and I have also heard stories where you know critical information has been omitted, much like the 'how-did-jodi-come-to-be-pregnant' scenario. Hmm.

    Questions that strike me most though –

    1) How bad are things at home, be it socially, economically, in terms of ones gender and status, etc, that they are driven to travel 3000+ miles away from their families to do the kind of work they do in the conditions that they do? And is it better here, or home?

    2) Solutions to this are not manifesting because the acknowledgement of the issue is minimal to non-existant. It's not really in anyone's interests though – whether here or in London, cheap labor is always going to be sought after, and usually, at the expense of the most vulnerable.

    I will reply again if I find the full documentary. You might find it interesting. Cheers x

  • am-pm

    On another hand, this may be of interest, Ben Anderson's mini docu for VBS tv (Vice Magazine's online tv chnnel).

    http://www.vbs.tv/watch/vbs-news/the-slaves-of-

    He also did a much longer documentary on this as part of BBC's Panorama series, titled Slumdogs and Millionaires that covered this in more detail. I can't seem to find it though.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/ne

    Maybe if you can access iplayer you might come up trumps..good luck anyhow.

  • Dina

    6b hl2 ma fhmet, kef heek 9art pregnant? Lykoon el safel el husband?! Allah yhde.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Lillywhite John Lillywhite

    Thanks for links @am-pm and for your point about human rights @Know your rights – to be honest i was pretty cynical about Human Rights law until i met Jodi, who completely changed my thinking…

    @am-pm:

    The fact after it all Jodi still didn’t want to go i think says an awful lot, and makes you wonder just what she left behind…

  • Robn_4

    just a quick thought .. assuming that the maid’s life was filled with physical and emotional humiliation,abuse and imprisonment, but still she was able to buy/get a mobile and cards..i don’t get the intellectual well-educated professor’s intention of hosting her in his home!! Does he really feel that this is the way maids in need can be helped? Send her to the embassy for God’s sake! If she was able to miraculously run away from her sponsor’s home, she’d be able to get you in trouble once the flame is gone. Yes there are cases of maid abuse, but we can’t always blame the sponsors. It is becoming clear that so many maids are running away for the sake of easier less stressful lives especially Filipinos who prefer to work till midnight in different places as long as they are free!! not within houses..

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