"I felt like a slave"

Monday, June 1, 2015 - 15:02

Making coffee and cleaning an office in Amman for a reasonable salary; that was the job offer, Mary (not her real name) accepted when she left her house, family and son in the Philippines and went to Jordan. But the job offer was far from the reality, Mary met in Jordan.

"I felt like a slave," is the words that comes out of Mary's mouth when she describes the pain she went through during her first two and a half years in Jordan.

When Mary arrived at the airport in Amman in June 2010, her passport was immediately being taken away from her by the agency who was in charge of her work and stay in Jordan. That was the first of many types of freedom deprivations that Mary was going to face in Jordan.

Another surprise waited Mary who thought she was going to work at an office. "The office" turned out to be a family building consisting of five floors with a family member and his family living on each floor. Mary did not only have to work for one family, but for five families.

She describes the building as 'a big castle' that she had to clean every single day. The workload was too much for Mary who got skinnier every day and the horrible days was accompanied by horrible nights.

"Every night the madame locked me in. And there was not even any water or a toilet in the room, so I had to hold my pee. And when I asked the madame 'why do you have to lock me in, I won't run away from you', she said it was for my own protection," Mary told.

For Mary it was hard to understand why the family found it necessary to lock her in.

"I was crying because I felt like an animal in a cage. I was doing what they wanted me to do; I was cleaning the stairs for the whole family, babysitting and cleaning all the houses every day, but they treated me without any respect," she said.

Mary didn't even dare to think about running away from the family, because she had been told horrifying stories about the world that waited her on the other side of the locked doors.

"One day I asked if I could get a day off, but the family said that it was not allowed for me to have a day off; that that was the rules here in Jordan. And then they told me that if I would leave the house I would end up in a trash can and would be found dead. I felt so terrified and I believed that this would happen to me if I went out of the house," Mary said.

Mary kept on working in the house even though she didn't like it and she kept on telling herself that it was only for two years and she was doing it to support her family in the Philippines financially. But the salary was different than expected. Upon her arrival in Jordan, Mary was promised 400 US Dollars as a monthly salary, but she was only paid 200 dollars and sometimes she wasn't even paid for several months.

"I had to beg… I had to beg to get paid for my work so I could send money to my family," she said stumbling over her own words while the tears started running from her eyes.

For Mary it was difficult to be far away from her family. Her employers in Jordan didn’t allow her to have a cell phone, but Mary had been hiding her phone from them so she could call her family. And the phone started to have another purpose too.

"The old man in the house tried to kiss me and embrace me. So I protected myself and used my cell phone to record his voice saying that he wants to kiss me.  I said 'baba why are you doing this to me' and he  said 'I don’t want to treat you like a daughter,'" Mary told.

Finally Mary understood why the madame was locking the door to her room every night.

"He was the one, she needed to protect me from."

Mary showed the madame the recording and suggested to go to the police, but the madame deleted the recording after confronting her husband. After the incident, Mary never questioned the locked door again.

Working to get her ticket home

When the two years contract was over, Mary was tired and wanted to go back to the Philippines, but the agency didn't want to pay for ticket back; she had to work for it.

"We are not human beings to them, we are like things. So he told me 'if you want to have your ticket, I will sell you.'"

Mary agreed to work for a family for three months for 250 US dollars in total, but when Mary finished the three months where she had been working for the new family, they refused to pay her the 250 dollars.

"On the day last day of the three months, I told them 'I will leave your house and it is not a runaway, but I will leave because you didn’t give me the salary,'" Mary said. 

The family left the house and locked Mary in as they did every time they had to leave the house.

"They didn’t think that I had a copy of the key, but I had kept a copy with me since the first day, because I knew that I couldn’t trust anyone. So when the madame left the house, laughing  and telling me 'no, you can't leave the house', I said 'this is it; I will go out of this house today.'"

And Mary left the house. She stayed with a Philippine friend and called the agency, who still had her papers, without result. She started working part time and was seeking help at her embassy and other offices.

"One day I got so tired and I went to the human rights office. I burst into tears and told them 'I will not leave your office; I am going to stay here, even after you are closed. You have to listen to my problems, I don’t have anywhere to go, and you can get the police, but I won't leave your office'. And then it took them just one phone call to the agency to get my papers and my passport. Before that the agency was asking for 3000 JD for giving it to me," she explained.

Since the day in January 2013 when Mary finally got her passport and her papers back she has been living in her own house in Amman and working part time for different families that threats and pays her well. And the first thing she did when she got her passport back was to travel to the Philippines to visit her family. But before Mary was given back her passport she promised herself to help others in the same situation.

"I promised myself that if my passport would ever be given back to me, I would help someone else. There are still many out there who don’t know how to fight for their rights and they don’t have any idea where to start, and that is why I am still here holding on to my promise," she said.

Mary has been one of the leading powers in organising the Rights Education Seminar for Foreign Domestic Workers held in ActionAid ARI's office in Amman in the end of May. Representatives from National Center For Human Rights and ARDD-Legal Aid were attending the seminar to answer the questions from the foreign domestic workers and inform them about their rights.