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The following story is an extract from a journal written by a foreign domestic worker in Singapore. This is the first of the series.
For their privacy, TWC2 has replaced names and removed references to dates and places. Only major spelling mistakes have been corrected; otherwise the text is what was written by them.
This set of entries is from a foreign domestic worker who was caught working outside her assigned place of work. Pending investigations, she was put in a government dormitory for months with nothing to do. Much of the entry below describes the crowded conditions, strict rules and despair in the dormitory.
My officer requests me to report MOM at Kim Seng Rd at 9 in morning. I wake up early. I rather did not sleep for how many nights thinking Singapore will go to detain me. My eyes are swollen, keep on crying. I can’t even eat thinking my luck. I’m very mad to the people who responsible why I detained.
Mary and Diana, my roommates, help me bring down all my personal things. Down the flat and they assuring me that everything going to be okay. I cannot stop crying. I told them I’m going to miss them both and ask them to visit me if they are both free.
8:30am in the MOM, Kim Seng Road. Busy morning. A lot of people staring at me (feel like I’m idiot there). Carry my luggage. My mistake I bring a lot of things with me.
9:30am, I meet my officer. She is a nice lady after all. She help me carry my things and put aside in one of the office in that building.
She bring me to apply special Special Pass. Special Pass for me to stay here in Singapore (while they frying me in my own oil) that what I think.
My officer told me that 3 of my work (the 3 people whom she worked for) were there for interview. I’m so tense. I’m so worried about Madam Lolita, Joanna and Madam Carol was also there for interview. I know they are cross with me.
After lunch my officer advised me to stay in Block II, Kim Seng, for 2nd interview. Which what I do. While waiting for interview, I put out my book to read. But I can’t even understand what I’m reading.
My officer appeared around 2 in that afternoon. My officer called my name and the woman who I asked if she was “Teresa”.
4:00pm, Interview (finish) done. My officer give an instruction about my stay in Singapore.
6:30pm, a van come and pick up us both and ferry us to house.
7:30pm – At the house. I’m so shake people look at me like “Monsters Coming”.
I meet people “different faces” and “different cases”, “different races”.
I met Sue and Jackie who running the house. One of the girls bring me to the room and I say “thank you for helping me carry my (things) belonging”.
There is 2 rooms for the girls – one room for Filipino, another room for Indonesians. I choose the room for Indonesians, to skip from troubles with my fellow country (man), people shelter are so noisy. No privacy. Not hygienic. People are not so friendly.
I do my bed but my luggage in the store room. Change my clothes. I really exhausted. It was really a long day for me. I lay down in bed without food in my tummy. I start cry again. First night in the house I didn’t sleep. My mind roaming around.
Breakfast at 8am. Free breakfast. Sometimes they give us bread. Sometimes nasi goreng. Lunch time at 12:
Rice with hotdog plus veg. fruit
Rice with chicken plus veg. fruit
Rice with tofu plus veg. fruit
Rice with fishcake plus veg. fruit
6pm dinner time. Food always consist of rice. I’m still thankful whatever food they put food my front.
Days pass, I learn how to get along with Indonesian women. I eat with them. Talk with them. Discuss anything with them. I met Anai, Uma, Hani, Yati, Natalie and Fatimah, the Cook. Listen to problems to one another to another to another are really stressful. There is a time I run at the back of the house to cry like an idiot.
Most Filipino women called me “Balete Lady” (Tree Lady) because I used to hid in the tree to cry.
After 3 days stay in the house, I volunteer myself to do guard to help the “mean guard” to see all the woman in the house.
In my first day of day of duty I heard a lot of things about the house. Some girls run away at night to meet their boyfriends hence they are not allowed to go out. Skipping from the house at night are choices. Coming back after few days.
In my duty I discover thing inside house that only few people knows. There are so many kinds of volunteers in the house.
One is the First Aid. I met the leader named “Molly”.
Molly’s case is “agency”. She been here for quite some time. She is very strict.
May was our leader in Guard. May stayed here quite a long time also, longer than Molly.
I heard from the Indonesian girl, who has gone back home now. They pay Molly $50 and a beer to Venny so they can escape from the Shelter. This one thing I don’t like here in House. Women are not allowed to work. Not allowed to go out. They are looking a way to provide what they need for family back home. So find a way to survive to stay here. Buy person need is hard in here.
Since I arrived here I always see women fighting each other. By hand or by mouth. Every day is just very natural and normal to see new faces to stay in the House.
We are 92 girls right now. 92 girls, different cases, different problems. Same aim – to go back home to where we belong. To give a chance to give back life to work and SUPPORT THE FAMILY.
I always pity all the Indonesians who come here and cheat their age in passports. They wanted to earn money but end up in this House. Some of them are only 17 years old. Don’t really know how to work yet and been abuse by the employer….Some of them run away from employer but end up to stay here longer, without salary.
While I’m in the group with the Indonesians I learn that most of their problems are only light, such as, abused by employer, no salary, no off day, no food, work in shop and run away. But lock them up here longer. I notice also the “Staff” treatment are not fair. Just for example, going to MOM to extend their special pass – we are suppose to ride for free in the van. I notice if Indonesian asked to ride, the Staff say “No Available Seats”. Everything here must ask the Staff but looks like there is always favoritism.
I heard “napkin” pads, toothpaste, shampoo are free but when Indonesians ask, the Staff say “No More”.
As of now we are more than 60 in our room. You can imagine the noise if everybody talks. If you are not careful of your things – well, sorry that’s going to vanish. Because some of them nothing to use and nobody provides. Stealing is very common to hear in the house.
House is not only a Shelter but is also used for Agency.
I myself encounter a lot of girls – girls complain and say something the way they work in Singapore.
Sometimes I’m in the guard house, sitting down. Girls come over, near to me and share their view in life.
But actually we girls are not allowed to talk and make friends with girls from Agency. Off limit for us to talk to them. But since I’m a volunteer, I guess the Office considers me “us” to talk to the girls. they just close their eyes for us.
We girls are very careful to whatever we say to Agency girls.
Our food are different to Agency girls. I noticed they have very small share of food. Once the Agency girls in the house it’s really noisy. Always human traffic, especially in the bathroom.
Bathrooms are so smelly and cannot flush thoroughly. Poo are floating in the toilet bowl. Not really hygienic here.
Another thing I noticed here in my stay. Officers who handle our case, some are nice to let go out in the house. I’m not that lucky. My officer is so tight and not easy to ask permission. Although I know she is nice.
I stay here since 2010 and I’m always sick. In my 3 months stay here, I always get the flu. I went to see a doctor 3 times now. They have free medicine but they only give 1 medicine at a time. My migraine is always killing me nowadays. Coughing and running nose.
No longer free medication here and no free to see a doctor here in this House.
3:00 a.m. morning
While I’m writing this, I’m in night duty with Sally and Tina. We are outside the house, in front of the House. Front of us is the road, so we can see what’s going on.
It is very quiet at this hour. I prefer to be in night duty coz I have peace of mind. Even I’m the leader of the voluntary guard and I’m not suppose to do duty, just to supervise them , but I prefer to make my mind occupied and have something to do, to make myself busy.
Reading a book is one of my favourite past-time here. Talking with a group is the best remedy if I don’t want to think what’s my future hold.
I don’t really know what’s going to be happen to me, to us, who stay here.
I’m praying for those who stay here longer than me to have a chance to go home. Put behind them to whatever happen to them here, life put back in the track.
It’s really making me sad to think of my family. I try hard not to think of them much coz it makes me cry that I cannot provide what they need.
My parents are too old to work and both are sick. My father had … My mother can’t see much because her eye has a huge cataract. Suppose to be she’s going to do operation last month, January. But due to not enough money, they delayed it. I’m not working and my sister’s income is not enough to sustain all they need. We come from a very low income family. We work and eat. I’m the sole bread-winner of the family, now I’m in here, my sister complaining and whining because she is in trouble budgeting her salary. All this things I will think and keep on thinking. Make me more stress and crazy. My prayer “I don’t really know if God will grant my prayer”.
If the government here in Singapore will not let me do work, let me out in this country, I’m not a criminal. Yes, I do a work which is against the government law but I did not steal. I work hard to please all the Singaporeans I work with. I didn’t beg. Strength and my ability to take a job to perform the job properly and accordingly, even is time to rest and eat I sacrifice to make the people I work happy. My question is why the government did not see our effort to make people life easy. Why they treat us like criminals. Why they keep us here like idiot and useless. Why they don’t let us back home where we belong. Why should we need to wait long. Our family back to our homeland are waiting and expecting to our remittance.
Why should they punish us until in this kind of situation… it’s really make me cry. Family are expecting something from me. I don’t have anything. Is someone going to help me.
I didn’t complain about anything. Why they detain me here.
I know it is not right to buy an employer. But that’s the only way I think how to make money fast. We didn’t ask so many things. I myself look a job so I can pay every month’s levy. So…….
I always think “Being Good Are Bad” .. “Being Bad Is Good”.
Why us had a proper work permit detain and this long….. I cannot understand. I’m trying to compose myself even I’m so stressed. This past days I stop crying and start thinking. But if I always sick because is so noisy, food are not healthy, people are not nice, Staff are not helpful, Family is starvin, No money …., my migraine kill me here. I hate this place. I even hate Teresa who complain and bring me here.
Sometimes I even hate myself “blaming myself” to work like animal the detain.
I’m really in lost. I lost every friend I got, every single money I save for my future, I starve my family. All my future is gone.
Just one wink “single complain from a woman I don’t even think she exists” all is gone for me.
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our