Letter from a Pinay: How I got stuck in the UAE

Back when I was in university in the Philippines, the UAE was only a dream for me. It was a fantasy world that I would frequently daydream and live inside.

I would hear stories about it from friends and family members, and sometimes watch videos about it from social media. I used to hear a lot about how Filipinos working there can send a lot of money back to their families.

It’s true, maybe I was a bit jealous. I wanted to live a good life. However, what was more important, is that I wanted to help and support my family.

When I finished my education, I did find a small job, it was nothing fancy, but it was okay. I also had a loving Filipino boyfriend who had serious intentions with me. I was a single mom and he was really nice to my daughter. Financially, my family was struggling, but we were fine.

The situation may have probably gotten better after I worked for a few years and found a better job. However, I was approached with an offer from a friend of a friend in the UAE. I was offered to pay a certain amount in return for getting a visit visa and a place to stay until I find a job.

It wasn’t a wise decision at that time, but being a single mom and dealing with the stresses of a struggling family pushed me emotionally to make my parents take loans for me to go to the UAE.

It was hard leaving my daughter behind, but I thought it would only be for a year or two until I saved up enough money to come back and start a business in my neighbourhood, and improved the life of my family and guaranteed my daughter a quality education and upbringing. I made a promise with my boyfriend that we will video call every day, and once I’m back we will be married, or ill try to bring him with me once I am there.

I was sad, but I was also super excited. My new life started. Boarding a plane for the first time. Visiting a new country for the first time. Seeing a different kind of people, luxury cars, beautiful streets/structures and well-developed infrastructure. I finally did it, and I was like Alice in wonderland on an adventure.

At that time. I didn’t mind the burning sun of the UAE or the fact that I had to sleep with 5 other people in my room. I didn’t even mind that in my first week, some of the things in my bag were stolen. The excitement and promise of a better life overcame all other feelings.

However, things started to get intolerable after attending my first interview. I got an “indecent offer”, not just one time, but for my first 4 interviews. My roommates kept saying it’s okay, and “that’s how things work here”, “we did it for our family”, but I absolutely refused to sell my pride for a good offer.

I couldn’t go back, I had to pay my parent’s loan that they took for me. So I kept trying until I found a female boss who gave me a very low offer, but it was better than nothing. Things started to go downhill from here.

The salary was very low, and my boss made me work every day from morning until evening, and when I complained, she said that if I don’t like it I can find another job, but the way the labour law works, I would get banned for 6 months if I resigned.

Things kept getting worse from here. I eventually got word that my boyfriend in the Philippines was cheating on me, and when I confronted him, he said I am just too distant and busy, and he was lonely. To be honest, I was lonely too, so I understood.

I had a really sweet colleague who was very nice and would always make me feel good, but I was in the wrong state of mind, I was looking for someone to help me get out of the job I am stuck in. So I friend-zoned him.

I started looking for westerners, hoping I would eventually be able to move to a western country, with better opportunities for a Filipina. But with every westerner I dated, I started to realize that I am just a temporary thing for them. Eventually, their contract or business trip finishes and they go home. Or they turn out to be hoarding several other Asian girlfriends.

Whenever I got dumped, my friend-zoned colleague would always be there to comfort me and take me out, but stupid me, I never got rid of my toxic mindset of finding a guy to help me better my circumstances.

I then caught the attention of an Emirati guy. He was so sweet and nice to me, plus, I thought, maybe one day he could give me and my daughter the citizenship and I could make the UAE my permanent home. He also told me about his interest to marry me.

We dated for a long time. The longer we dated the more possessive he became. He wouldn’t let me have friends, go out alone, or do anything without him. It was okay with me as long as he was able to help me financially to support my parents, daughter and pay my loans.

During this period, I started living comfortably. I took a car loan and started buying fancy clothes using my credit card. The loans racked up, but I didn’t mind, my future husband was always there to help me financially.

I would always ask him to introduce me to his parents, but he never did, and he would always say its not the right time. He was acting so serious with me, but he never wanted me to meet his parents, and I never understood why, until I got pregnant.

He asked me to go to the Philippines and get rid of the baby. But I said no. I refused. I loved my baby and would never get rid of it. I told him he better marry me. I also thought, once he marries me, I would also get the citizenship and finally have a good life.

We had a big fight, but I left him no choice. He either married me and had the baby, or I was going to have that baby and tell his family about it. That’s when he decided to finally tell his parents.

He took me home with him one day, and he made me wear hijab. It was the worst day in my life. His parents looked at me with disgust. His father beat him up in front of me, and his mother screamed at me and slapped me.

I was so scared and traumatised, but I was never going to get rid of the baby. Eventually, they decided the best way is that we get married. I was so happy, I thought it would fix things. But it didn’t.

As soon as I had the baby, I became like a maid for his child. He would always scream at me and abuse me. He didn’t love me any more. He saw me as a curse and an embarrassment to his family. He also started drinking. He would come home drunk and treat me like I am just some kind of object, then I would become a maid again.

I eventually asked him to divorce me. He didn’t agree and he beat me up, and then his family threated to kill me. I tried to legally divorce him, but he was too powerful and had connections. Eventually, I took the child and ran away. Long story short, we agreed to be separated. I would live in my own apartment, and he would send money just enough for his kid.

The problem is I resigned from my job during my pregnancy, and I now needed to get a job, which doesn’t pay me much I wasn’t allowed to marry any other guy. I was stuck under his name, stuck in limbo. I needed him for money for my son, I couldn’t run away from the country.

Although we were separated, he would still sometimes get drunk and visit my apartment. He would force me and say “I’m paying like a husband, so I should be treated like a husband”. I ran away again, and this time we made another agreement with his family, whereby he doesn’t know where I live. I would drop his child to his family house when it was daddy time, this way he doesn’t know where I live.

I couldn’t marry again, and I was under so much stress, I had too many loans and I was too lonely. I couldn’t be seen with another man in public, or he would put a case on me and put me in jail, or divorce me and get custody of my baby.

When my kid was with his father, I started to release my stress with partying and drinking. I started to sleep with random guys I meet at the club or online, just to get a sense of companionship, no matter how short it can be. At least it was something. I had needs too!

I could never get a proper job to enjoy my life, I needed to be home to raise my kid. My salary as a Filipina was never going to give me a good life. I paid all my salary for my loans that I accumulated, which seem to be never-ending, and sending money to my parents because my husband would only pay for his kid’s needs.

I don’t care though. All I care about is my son grows up and has a good life. I have no chance for another marriage either. Once my son becomes an adult, I would have become too old.

My friend-zoned colleague still gets in touch with me every now and then, he’s such an angel. He’s doing very well now, he married a beautiful girl, has a daughter and started his own business too, in the Philippines!

I am stuck, and there’s no way out of this. There isn’t a day I spend where I don’t cry and think about all my stupid decisions.

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