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Looking within: how memories of home helped me travel from loneliness into light

content warning

Turning to the past helped Grace Nine find strength and shape her own future.

22 Sep 2022

Khadija Said

Content warning: mentions of abuse

While I’m away from home, working in another country, whenever I see the seaside or the beach, memories of my hometown rush back…

I grew up in a place full of natural beauty: a white beach in the north of Cebu, Philippines. I spent all of my time as a kid playing by the sea. Even after the sun sunk below the sea and nighttime came crawling in, we weren’t scared; the sea was so bright and the light of the moon guided us along its shores. These are the happiest memories of my childhood that I’ll never forget.

I moved to London in 2013. I was so fascinated just watching people, surveying my surroundings: the houses lined up along each other, identical in structure and colour.  Walking in a park that was so vast with the whole city surrounding me from every corner was so beautiful. When I heard people speak, I liked listening to their British accent. I had only heard them in movies before and I never imagined I would ever hear it in person. It was a dream for me initially, but then, that dream turned into a nightmare.

“I wanted to scream but I couldn’t”

I was working for abusive employers and it was a living nightmare in their house, and I felt like I had nowhere to hide. It was a nightmare I could not wake up from. It was hard to breathe, I felt like I was suffocating. I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. For the first time, I wanted to curse this beautiful place. I began to ask: why me? I had never taken advantage of others. I had a fear of God. So, why me? I just wanted to have a better life for my family. 

People say, “there is always light at the end of the tunnel.” And I was going through my own long and very dark tunnel. The darkness pervaded for two years, until 2015. “Be patient and pray and you can get out of the horrible situation,” I remembered telling myself. God heard my prayers and I did escape from the horrible people who were abusing me. 

Even after I escaped, when I was free and felt like I could breathe again, I found myself facing new trials. As I walked, I noticed people looking at me like I was an alien. I couldn’t speak ‘proper’ British English and it made me feel so exposed, so small. I pitied myself. I was so hopeless. I asked myself, where could I go to seek help? I didn’t know anyone in this beautiful country. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do. 

“I was at peace when I closed my eyes”

But in the midst of it all, I tried to calm myself down by thinking about the past, until I arrived at a beach in my imagination. I stayed there and made myself breathe. I gave myself time to think. I felt relieved. I could almost feel the breeze tickling my arm hairs, making me loosen up. I could taste the salty water. I could smell the sweetness of the wind coming from the sea. I was at peace when I closed my eyes. I could forget all my worries, my pain, my homesickness. I felt like I was home.

It gave me a moment of tranquillity, even though I knew that it was only temporary. When I opened my eyes, I found the strength to look at the reality that stood before me and remembered that I needed to move forward. 

Every time I heard the piercing siren of ambulances, firefighter trucks and police cars, a shiver would run through my entire body. I always instantly assumed that they were coming to capture me and put me in prison. If I went to jail, what would happen to my kids? They rely on me. If something happened to me, they would be made homeless straight away, because I’ve been the only one providing for their needs.

At first, I didn’t make any friends as I was afraid that they would report me to the authorities once they learned about my situation. I was always alone because I never trusted anyone. I hid in my comfort zone and didn’t live a life. I was constantly scared, to the point I almost died because I couldn’t go to the GP to check up on my health. Finally, I realised I couldn’t keep going like this and I needed to find a different way to live.  

“For the first time in this country, I found people who understood me”

Luckily, I found a community that helped me. A Filipina woman that I met at the bus stop introduced me to The Voice of Domestic Workers (TVoDW). She told me that the TVoDW could help undocumented people like me, that they could help tell me more about my rights in this country and how I could move forward. At first I was hesitant to reach out, wary that another unfortunate situation would arise from it. But they accepted me. They never asked personal questions and they waited until I opened up about my problems in my own time. And I saw that I wasn’t alone. I felt relieved. For the first time in this country, I found people who understood me. They embraced me as a human, as a friend and a family.

I have now found true friends who I know that I can rely on, a second family that is always here for me. They empower me and teach me. I’ve become more sociable and they have lightened the heavy burden of my pain and worries. We empower each other and help each other fight for our rights that I never knew I had. I thought that I would stay weak and hopeless, and never use my voice. I was wrong. I can be strong and loud, and show my personality. In the many years since I joined TVoDW, I have learned to speak up and fight for my rights, together with my friends. We empower each other to be strong women. My life is easier now, with people around me to share it with. I can enjoy life without worries and breathe freely.

The essays in the Our Place Is Here campaign will be available as podcast episodes on gal-dem’s Apple and Spotify channels. To support the Our Place Is Here campaign, find out more here.

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Pagtingin sa Loob: Kung paano ako tinulungan ng mga alaala ng aking tahanan maglakbay mula kalungkutan tungong kaliwanagan

Pag babalik Tanaw nang na karaan ấy nakatulong Kay Grace Nine sa pag hanap nang lakas at paghubog nang kanyang kinabukasan.

Habang malayo sa aking tahanan at nakikipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa, tuwing nakakakita ako ang dagat, bumabalik ang mga alaala ng kinalakihan kong bayan. 

Lumaki ako sa isang lugar na puno ng natural na kagandahan: isang maputing baybayin sa hilaga ng Cebu, Pilipinas. Naalala ko noon ako’y bata pa, ginugugol ko ang halos lahat ng aking oras sa paglalaro sa tabing-dagat. Walang takot na nararamdaman kahit na lumubog na ang araw sa ilalim ng dagat at gumagapang na ang gabi; napakaliwanag ng dagat at tanging liwanag ng buwan ang gumagabay sa akin habang naglalakad sa dalampasigan. Ito ang mga pinakamasayang alaala ng aking kabataan na hinding-hindi ko makakalimutan.

Napadpad ako sa London noong 2013. Sobra akong namamangha habang pinagmamasdan ang mga tao at ang aking paligid: mga bahay na magkakahanay, magkakapareho ang istraktura at mga kulay. Napakagandang maglakad-lakad sa isang malawak na parke, makikita ang tanawin ng buong syudad sa bawat sulok na nakapaligid sa akin. Kapag nagsalita ang mga tao, natutuwa akong marinig ang kanilang British accent. Naririnig ko lamang ang ganitong pananalita sa mga pelikula noon at hindi ko akalain na maririnig ko ito ng personal. Ngunit hindi naglaon, ang magandang panaginip na ito ay nauwi sa isang bangungot.

“Gusto kong sumigaw, pero hindi ko magawa”

Namasukan ako sa mga mapang-abusong amo at isang bangungot ang tumira sa kanilang bahay, at pakiramdam ko ay wala akong mapagtataguan. Ang hirap gumising sa bangungot na ito. Hindi ako makahinga, para akong sinasakal. Gusto kong magsalita, ngunit walang lumalabas na salita. Gusto kong sumigaw, pero hindi ko magawa. Sa unang pagkakataon, gusto kong isumpa ang magandang lugar na ito. Nagsimula akong magtanong: bakit ako? Hindi ako kailanman nagsamantala sa iba. May takot ako sa Diyos. Kaya, bakit ako? Gusto ko lang magkaroon ng magandang buhay ang pamilya ko.

Maraming nagsasabi, “laging may liwanag sa dulo ng lagusan.” At ako ay naglalakad sa aking mahaba at napakadilim na lagusan. Sa loob ng dalawang taon, hanggang 2015, puro kadiliman lamang ang nakapaligid sa akin. “Magtiyaga ka at manalangin at makakaahon ka rin sa napakahirap na sitawasyong ito,” ang sabi ko sa sarili ko. Dininig ng Diyos ang aking mga panalangin at nakatakas ako mula sa mga masasamang tao na umaabuso sa akin.

Ngunit kahit na ako ay nakatakas at malaya na, at natutunan unti-unting makahinga, muli akong naharap sa mga bagong pagsubok. Habang ako ay naglalakad, napapansin kong nakatingin sa akin ang mga tao na para akong taga ibang planeta. Dahil hindi ako makapagsalita ng ‘tamang’ British English, lagi akong nanliliit. Naawa ako sa sarili ko. Pakiramdam ko wala na akong pag-asa. Tinanong ko ang aking sarili, saan ako pupunta upang humingi ng tulong? Wala akong kakilala sa magandang bansang ito. Litong-lito ako at hindi ko alam ang gagawin.

“Pinikit ko ang aking mga mata at walang mapaglagyan ang gaan ng aking pakiramdam”

Ngunit sa gitna ng lahat, sinubukan kong gawing panatag ang aking kalooban — inalala ko ang aking nakaraan. Sa aking imahinasyon, ako ay nakarating sa isang dalampasigan, nanatili ako doon at hinayaan ang sarili kong makahinga. Binigyan ko ang sarili ko ng panahong makapag-isip. Hanggang sa gumaan ang pakiramdam ko. Hinyaan kong makiliti ng hangin ang mga balahibo ko sa braso, at bigla akong napangiti. Nilasahan ko ang alat ng tubig. Inamoy ko ang sarap ng hanging nagmumula sa dagat. Pinikit ko ang aking mga mata at walang mapaglagyan ang gaan ng aking pakiramdam. Kinalimutan ko ang lahat ng aking alalahanin, ang aking mga pighati, ang aking pangungulila. Pakiramdam ko’y nakauwi akong muli sa aking tahanan.

Kahit sandali, nakaramdam ako ng katahimikan at kapanatagan ng loob. Pag mulat ko ng aking mga mata, nakahanap ako ng lakas ng loob na harapin ang realidad at alalahanin na kailangan kong sumulong.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/0NHOTGlmEynSnqIs8veQpT

Sa tuwing naririnig ko ang napakalakas na sirena ng mga ambulansya, trak ng bumbero at sasakyan ng pulis, pinalilibutan ng kilabot ang aking buong katawan. Lagi kong iniisip na lahat sila’y parating na upang ako’y hulihin at ikulong. Ngunit kung makukulong ako, paano na ang aking mga anak? Ako lang ang inaasahan nila. Kung may mangyari sa akin, mawawalan sila ng tirahan dahil ako lang ang nakakapagbigay ng kanilang mga pangangailangan.

Noong umpisa, hindi ako nakikipagkaibigan sa takot kong isumbong nila ako sa mga awtoridad kapag nalaman nila ang aking kalagayan. Palagi akong nag-iisa dahil hindi ako nagtitiwala kahit kanino man. Nagtago ako sa aking comfort zone at hindi namuhay ng maayos. Parati akong takot, dumating pa sa puntong halos ikamatay ko ito dahil ayokong magpatingin sa duktor. Sa bandang huli, aking napagtanto na hindi ako maaaring magpatuloy ng ganitong pamumuhay. Kailangan kong maghanap ng paraan upang mabuhay ng ibang paraan.

“Sa unang pagkakataon sa bansang ito, nakakita ako ng mga taong nakakaunawa sa akin”

Sa kabutihang palad, natagpuan ko ang isang komunidad na tumulong sa akin. Habang ako ay naghihingay ng masasakyan, may nakausap akong isang Pilipina na nagpakilala sa The Voice of Domestic Worker ( TVoDW). Ang sabi nya, ang TVoDW ay maaaring makatulong sa mga taong gaya ko na hindi dokumentado, at maari nila akong matulungang malaman ang mga karapatan ko sa bansang ito at kung paano ako makakapamuhay muli ng maayos. Nag-alangan ako nung umpisa na makipag-ugnayan sa TVoDW dahil baka humantong ulit ito sa hindi magandang kahihinatnan. Ngunit tinanggap nila ako. Hindi sila nagtanong ng mga personal na impormasyon at hinintay nilang dumating ang panahon na kaya ko nang magbukas ng aking mga saloobin at problema. At nakita ko na hindi ako nag-iisa. Gumaan ang pakiramdam ko. Sa unang pagkakataon sa bansang ito, nakakita ako ng mga taong nakakaunawa sa akin. Niyakap nila ako bilang isang tao, bilang isang kaibigan at bilang isang pamilya.

Nakahanap na ako ngayon ng mga totoong kaibigan na alam kong maaasahan ko, isang pangalawang pamilya na laging andiyan para sa akin. Binibigyan nila ako ng lakas ng loob, at walang sawa nila akong tinuruan. Nagsimula akong maging palakaibigan muli at pinagaan nila ang bigat ng aking mga suliranin at sama ng loob. Binibigyan namin ng lakas ng loob ang isa’t isa, ipinaglalaban namin ang aming mga karapatan – karapatang sa umpisa ay hindi ko alam na mayroon pala ako. Akala ko ay mananatili akong mahina at walang pag-asa, na hindi kailanman magkakaroon ng boses upang lumaban. Ngunit ako’y nagkami. Kaya kong maging malakas at may boses, maaari kong ipakita ang aking pagkatao. Sa panahong kasapi ako sa VODW, natuto akong magsalita at ipaglaban ang aking mga karapatan kasama ang aking mga kaibigan. Binibigyan namin ng kapangyarihan ang isa’t isa na maging matatag na babae. Pakiramdam ko mas madali na ang buhay ko ngayon kasama ang mga kaibigan kong laging anjan. Maaari kong itamasa ang maayos at tahimik na buhay, ng walang pagaalala. Maaari na akong makahinga ng maluwag.