Look What You Have Done to Us
By Jo Ann Dumlao
We Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) are living with the scare of COVID-19 just like everyone else. But at the same time, for us, it is not like for everyone else.
All of us are living in a different reality right now. Work places and offices are closed, shops and roads are empty. We are all asked to stay home. How is that impacting our daily life?
Ironically, domestic workers are protected financially because we are working from home already. We have been living in isolation for years, locked down, some even locked up; all because we want to give our families a better life. But on the other side, we are not at our own home, we are away from our love ones, unable to be with them in a time of need. Imagine not being allowed to go home to a funeral of a love one?
Does this mean we cope easier in the current situation? I don’t think so. Being used to a pain doesn’t make the pain less, it is still the same pain as for another person. Maybe it does help us to understand it better, and maybe that helps us deal with it better in the long term. But the pain of isolation the Corona virus- COVID-19 is inflicting on us is a pain none of us should have to deal with.
As an MDW, I chose to inflict this pain on myself as a normal part of my daily life….So yes, MDWs have some prior exposure to being “locked down” but that just puts us in a better position to deal with the stress and emotions the rest of the world is experiencing. I wish we would all have the privilege of being locked down with our loved ones. For us MDWs, we can not. That is stressful but survivable.
I had some conversations with my fellow domestic workers and they shared their feelings, and experiences that this scary COVID-19 has inflected on their lives.
Daisy is a widowed mother, she sacrificed a lot and now has adult children. She has been working for 12 years as an MDW and her 2 children are both professionals already: her son a Police Officer and her daughter a Medical Technologist. Since this pandemic erupted, every week is a nerve wrecking one for her, day by day Daisy prays hard that her daughter is safe while doing her duty. Her daughter as a MedTech is in close contact with patients every day, and there was one patient who just came from an overseas holiday in Italy and didn’t declare it. A concerned citizen informed the Medical Staff of the Rural Health Unit (RHU) about the patient’s travel history. That alarmed the whole RHU as it put many of the staff at risk. At the time of writing this, the patient is still a Person Under Investigation (PUI). Being a mom, I can comprehend how Daisy is feeling right now: scared to the bone. We are all hoping and praying for the best results, not just for Daisy’s daughter but for everyone in the community.
Ate Lita has been saving every penny she can, so she can bring her son over for a holiday. “My son is so excited, I was in high spirits and set to go home on the 31st of March. I would be attending my son Moving Up Ceremony of Grade 10. And after 3 days I would be flying back to Singapore with him. It was our long awaited journey together to Singapore. We have been looking forward to this holiday for a very long time. But because of COVID-19, the happiness and excitement have turned to disappointment and sadness. Every single plan had to be canceled. What can we do? Being safe and being healthy is what matters most in this health crisis. We pray that all this will end soon, that everything will be back to normal soon”.
I also spoke to beautiful bride to be Rei. “I can hear the church bells ringing, it sounds like music to my ears. My heart skips a beat – I’m nervous and excited! You sure it’s still beating? Am I not dreaming, no, I am wide awake, I am sure of that! These were the scenarios playing in my mind. I have waited for so long and so has my boyfriend, for this wonderful couple moment that is going to happen- from planning to reality. Walking with my boyfriend’s hand in mine, and mine in his. But then everything turned upside down because of COVID-19! Yes, my boyfriend and I planned tying the knot this 15th of April, we both went back home (he is working in Dubai) last year to arrange everything for our big day. I can’t stop the tears flowing abundantly from my eyes, feeling frustrated, devastated, feeling down … It is all I can think now and I told my boyfriend also that, maybe God has other plans for us, maybe it’s not the right time yet (though we’ve been together for 4 years). I know that the rainbow will come out soon, will give colour again to our quarantined life”. A very emotional Rei , but she is still full of hope.
And it’s Ate Tess story that is the most heartbreaking, I get misty-eyed listening to it. “I am hugging myself, holding my mother’s picture right to my heart while tears are unstoppably running down my cheeks”, Ate Tess said. (Ate is a Tagalong expression that means “like an elder sister”). Her elderly mother died and there’s no way she can go home and attend the wake and funeral. Every year Ate Tess goes home for her mom’s birthday, but this time she was not able to go home and see her mom for the last time. How painful it must be – I hug Ate to comfort her. Sometimes a hug is more powerful , and needed despite social distancing. “If only I had lots of money, I would take the risk of going home and not coming back anymore”, an emotional Tess added. COVID-19 has stopped Tess going home in this most painful of moments.
Hearing their stories and trying to put myself in their situations, it crushes me.
How does it affect me? Honestly, it is scares me and still (sometimes when am out for grocery shopping) makes me feel uncomfortable. I have to stop, take a deep breath and take a hard look at my own life as a mom away from her 3 children; as a daughter away from her elderly and sickly mom; as an elder sister away from her brother and sister. As if I am into darkness feeling anxiety, scared, uncomfortable, suspicious and angry. The moment I heard that there’s a case of Person Under Investigation (PUI) in the condo where I am staying, the next block to ours, my first thought was – “I am not ready to die yet, I am away from my children.” Yes, that sounds like overreacting, but I don’t care, I have so many mixed emotions that I can hardly get a decent sleep at night. I know that I am walking with God, He is my yardstick that I and my family are surrounded with His love and protection. I keep all this in my mind every time I open my eyes for a new day and as I close my eyes at night to sleep.
I hope and fervently pray that this pandemic will end soon, no more pains and sorrows.
This Corona virus is affecting us globally. Don’t forget your self-care routines these days. Remember to wash your hands frequently with soap, wear a face mask if you are unwell, practice good hygiene and social distancing.
Let’s help the government, let’s do our part to fight this COVID-19, Stay at Home. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.
JO ANN A. DUMLAO
Migrant Domestic Worker
The situations described below happened in the last few weeks, and in the meanwhile rules keep changing. Please refer to government websites for up to date information and read this message on our HOME website. If you have any concerns, please contact the HOME helpdesk.
Image by IG- india fights covid