National Geographic : 2014 Jan
guest workers 87 their good English and their reputation for kindness and reliability, are in high demand as caretakers, and not just in the Gulf states; nearly half the remittance workers who leave the Phil- ippines are women, often pulled away from their own families by the international demand for nannies, nurses, and assistants for the elderly. But Teresa had heard enough stories about do- mestics’ lives overseas to know this was not for her. The lucky ones landed humane employers who treated them respectfully, but too often the accounts were grim: no time off, unyielding isolation, verbal abuse from the women in the household, sexual abuse from the men. Teresa had her own cell phone too—another story often told about domestics is that employ- ers confiscate phones to keep women more at- tentive and dependent. Every time she went to an exchange house for the gratifying transaction that made her Emirates wages reappear at home as Philippine pesos, she held back enough to buy food and other necessities, and eventually, on a few celebratory occasions, a little gold jewelry. And because so many Filipinos of both gen- ders wind up working in Dubai, Teresa found compatible friends, young people who, like her, had upgraded from worker dorms to jammed but congenial co-ed apartments. Romance was possible. It was messy romance, to be sure; most of the men were still legally bound to the people on whose behalf they had left. When Teresa met Luis at a birthday party, he was still married. But he was handsome and tall, with a sweet smile and hair that fell into his eyes, and even though no divorce is permitted at home, there is annulment, for the determined. (When I asked Father Tom how many annul- ment requests he receives at St. Mary’s, he sighed deeply. “I tell you, this is like a factory,” he said.) So it was that Teresa, four time zones from home so that her family might have a house that would stand up to rain, married a man who could tell her exactly what it felt like to see his own father only once every two years. But he was adaptable and tough, as was she, and now he has secured work indoors, at the industrial plant where he had been a welder. He likes to The lucky ones landed humane employers, but too often the accounts were grim: no time off, unyielding isolation, verbal abuse from the women, sexual abuse from the men.