November 10. Filipino household workers.

This is another rewarding day at work. I visit the Philippine embassy, because this is my cause in Jordan: helping distressed Filipino household workers that had fled their mentally and physically abusive employers. I have made myself ready to visit the shelter and as I go out the door I bump into Tönis from Estonia, another couchsurfer who happens to be a photographer.

“Well, would you like to be my photographer for this cause?”
-“Sure!”
And so we go together to the embassy. A photographer came falling from  the sky, in exactly the right moment – this is memorable.

The embassy driver takes us, in a spacious vehicle that makes me feel important, to the shelter for the escaped household workers, called Polo. A friendly staff welcomes us and we conduce an interview with the lady in charge of the shelter. We have a short interview (no photos) where I ask some more questions about the cause. The issue of housekeepers from poor countries is much bigger than I (and you) thought. In Jordan alone, there are 28.000 housekeepers, and roughly 2% seeks refuge in the embassy shelter. Then there are many other host countries, like Saoudi Arabia,Quwait, Oman, Dubai, and many other nationalities of the household workers such as Indonesian and Sri-lankan.

Over coffee and Syrian pastry, we discuss the matter. The shelter provides care for 160 people. 90% of them did not get payed. Now imagine on a human level what they must feel like. In utter desperation they have left their homeland and in some cases their newborn child, because they had to earn money for their families. Yes, the 200$ they earn each month, they send it all back home. Imagine you had no other hope left in your life than breaking free, going to this wide world you’ve always dreamed of with the intention to do just anything to support your family, and then you have to live under terrible conditions, working for 16 hours a day without the allowance for even the shortest break, being locked in when an employer goes on vacation (I even know a story of a UN-worker who went on vacation and locked in his housekeeper). These human stories have to be public and it is my task as an independent reporter to write about them.

The women are so humble and friendly.

Am I applying the rhetorique of “imagine yourself in this or that situation” too much? Then skip this section and just look at the numbers.
We take two Filipino girls to the hospital, where they have a check up and we buy some medication. Tonis is taking the photographs.

I decide to give Irish Jane some extra money for her child. She couldn’t believe I was serious about this when I hand over the 100$. Much more importantly, I take her email-address and give her a voice in my life. Yes, I will write her. I ask her for her signature as a receipt. That, dear reader, is as far as my bureaucracy goes.

We go to the city center and take some great shots of people there. A delicious kebab meal. Then we take a taxi back to Jeffrey’s place where we are picked up to go to a concert. And it was a nice concert: Apple Hill String Quartett from New Hampshire performed, after an elaborate introduction, Haydn’s Opus 20 and Schumanns’s Opus 21, and in between a nine-tone contemporary piece by Daniel Sedgewick that I deeply enjoy.

Then we get in the car again to go to a couchsurfing meeting. Thirty-seven people, it’s a record for both of us! There is no alcohol served but the atmosphere is great. I have some good conversations with an American working in Belgium and a woman who had built a school in a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of Jordan.

On our way home we have a chicken shoarma takeaway meal and we are taken away a bit by our own emotions too, since the question “do you also host Israeli couch surfers?” is a sensitive one.

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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