I met up with a doctor friend after about two years of not seeing each other. She worked locally for some time and decided that her chances of getting ahead were higher abroad. In this case, the Middle East. This is not unusual in the Philippines, as plenty of health care workers migrate to other countries for a variety of reasons. Hers was money.
She married young and stuck with it. Finished her medical training while raising three children and supporting a husband with limited occupational options, with the help of her parents. Needless to say, her relationship with her parents was strained due to the circumstances.
The last time we met, she was well on her way to having four children. I’m not one to judge the quality of her marriage, but I will say that she does a good job of sticking with it.
When I heard she decided to join the bandwagon of doctors working for the UAE Ministry of Health, my first reaction was “Why?” By this time, her youngest was less than a year old, her oldest was 10, and her husband (based on her tellings) wasn’t exactly the hands-on kind of fellow. I couldn’t completely understand it, as she was a business-minded sort and had put up sound investments in several establishments over the years.
All she could say was, “Money has been hard to come by, and when you need it for the family, for the kids, you have to do what you have to do for them.”
I found out she had just finished putting up a house of their own with the government salary she earns, but that her parents’ business was the one supporting her kids’ schooling. With some internal conflict going on in the business, and with her parents retiring, she needed to seek other viable options to keep her family afloat.
“As good as the government salary of a doctor is, it’s still better in the Middle East. They’re offering more than twice what I could make in a month.”
Which brought me to my next concern, “What’s life going to be like there? Muslim country is still Muslim country, and a two-year contract is a long time. From what I’ve heard and seen in the news, domestic workers get hanged, women get chastised for walking alone in the streets, if you’re seen with a male companion that is not your husband or relative, you’re practically seen as a prostitute. Not exactly the same as how we’re used to here.”
“Not all middle eastern countries operate that way. We’re told that we’re getting sent to more Christian-friendly areas, and hopefully with other Filipino nurses and doctors and such.”
“So you don’t know where they’re sending you to?”
“We’ll know exactly which hospital when we get there. Andy got sent to a rural area where she’s the only doctor around.”
“I heard. But she’s not exactly lakwatsera, she mostly stays home anyways. Plus, she doesn’t have kids.”
“Come to think of it, she’s the only person around for several kilometers. She said it’s quiet. A representative from the Ministry of Health visits her once a month. She does have a housemate. A goat in the health care center backyard.”
“Omigod. A goat?!”
“Here, she even posts pictures in Facebook,” we laughed at that, imagining our friend in that predicament.
“What about your kids? Won’t you get homesick? and Lauren is only a year old.”
“Less. The nanny is capable. She’s been with us a long time.”
We were silent for a few seconds, occupied with our own thoughts.
“I’ll miss your cooking. All those birthday parties you invite us to.”
“Maybe I can find a job for Laurence over there and we could move the family there permanently.”
“Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s all up to God.”
“You mean Allah? Your kids might go Muslim.”
“Who knows. Maybe we’ll come back for college. Que sera sera.”
We continued that conversation through our coffee date. A month later, she left.
Two years after, she came back and told me all about her adjustments to life in the Middle East. She was assigned to a hospital outside of Jeddah and shared a flat with a Filipina nurse near the coast. She told me all about the wet market there,
how the fish we’d buy here at 400-500Php/kilo was practically being used as bait over at the Red Sea. She told me about the first few months she had of homesickness, when she’d work herself the long hours and return to the house only to sleep in order to cure herself of that. She told me how she had to convince herself to eat every meal just so that she could have the strength to do her job without getting sick “for the kids”. She talked about how the landlord made eyes on her the first few weeks of her stay and how she was able to draw attention away by showing she was “not that kind of woman”.
Eventually, she socialized more and got in contact with other Filipinos. “Irene works in one of the bigger hospitals where there are a lot. We organize get-togethers when our schedule permits. Once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. Potluck, and they also request for my lumpia just like you guys. I have a car now and pick up Andy. It’s about a couple of hours away, and that’s on a provincial road.”
She talked about the malls and places where she could bring her kids to and what activities they can be part of, how everything was on a super sale right after Ramadan. “Janice is planning to buy appliances there and ship them here since it can still come out cheaper.”
She talked about how she can home-school her children, rent a house big enough, some loose plan about Laurence becoming a taxi driver with the car she purchased for the meantime and how she could juggle her hospital schedule to make it work, all the while dropping the vernacular “Inshallah.”
She turned to me and asked, “How about you?”
I smiled and mimicked her absentminded way of answering, all the while thinking, “We gotta do what we gotta do, come what may.”