Back on the OFW topic now…
Rebecca and I went to Brunei a couple of weeks ago. She joined me on a business trip, and we were being given a tour of Brunei by my colleague there. Rebecca said that she noticed many Filipinos working there. My colleague said, “Oh, yes. Lots of Filipinos come here to work. The wages are decent and it is easy for them to visit home.”
Rebecca then informed him that the slang term for an OFW in Brunei is “Bruneiyuki”. My colleague started laughing very hard. You see, it really is a funny-sounding term… Bruneiyuki… Sort of like when you say “Kalamazoo”, “Uterus”, or “Cucamonga”.
How did the term come to be? Well, in the 1970’s, Japan was the leading destination for OFWs. When people returned home to the Philippines, they were nicknamed “Japayukis”. Since then, the “-yuki” suffix is often added to the country name. Hence, “Bruneiyuki”. The name is not complimentary, though. It is derogatory, referring that the OFW picked up foreign customs, modes of dress, and is somehow no longer Filipino. Think of the OFW returning to their home village wearing lots of jewelery, fancy clothes, etc., and you get the drift.
What I find amazing is that Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia are mixed race places. Just like the Philippines, people are a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indigenous, and Western. In other words, just like back home. In fact, Tagalog and many of the Filipino languages share the many of the same root words as Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. Rebecca was able to follow conversations in those languages, even though she does not speak them.
So, why is a derogatory term applied to people who go there to work? In a word… Envy. When OFWs return to their home province, all people see are the material things, the pasalubong, that they bring home with them. You show up in a rural area wearing clothing and other items that no-one else around could possibly afford and you invite “talk”. It’s a tough thing for an OFW to deal with. It’s tough on the family left behind. It’s difficult on everyone.
What’s life like as an OFW? Here’s an abbreviated description of Rebecca’s life before we moved to the Philippines. First off, she was treated differently when she was a housemaid than when she worked in an office. Office work paid better and there were SOME expectations related to professionalism. Her contract and sponsorship were for four years. Some differences between the contract and reality:
1. She was entitled to one month paid leave (including a plane ticket) to return home once per year. She actually received two weeks every other year, with no compensation for the extra 60 days time.
2. She was entitled to UAE holidays off (6 days per year).
3. She worked ten hours per day, six days per week, with one hour for lunch, so 11 hours daily in the office (60 working hours). During Ramadan, she worked an 8 hour shift.
4. She was entitled to free housing, which was never provided nor paid.
5. She was entitled to free transportation to and from work. Up until the last 6 months of employment, this was never provided.
6. She was entitled to annual raises which were never paid. She received rises only upon contract renewal.
7. Her passport was confiscated, despite being illegal under UAE law, and she could not leave the country without sponsor “permission”.
8. She could be terminated and deported “at will” for any reason, or no reason. Early in her career, this happened to her for refusing sexual advances in the office.
9. Your sponsor can control who you see, where you go, and what you do, even during your “free time”. It is technically legal, since by sponsoring your visa, the sponsor is responsible for all of your actions. Needless to say, this arrangement opens up many loopholes for abuse. So, for example, you leave work and want to go to a friend’s birthday party. Your sponsor could “decide” that you are up to no good and keep you from going. You must keep within the sponsor’s morality guidelines and the contracts are often written with such provisions. This is why the laborer work camps in the Middle East exist… The workers are easily controlled and kept separated from the population. They are, in reality, prisons, and the workers are poorly paid slaves. Filipinos have it bad in the Middle East… The Indians and Pakistanis in these camps have it worse.
So, you arrive overseas and things are not as promised. Who are you going to complain to? The answer is: Nobody. Yes, there are technically “protections” in existence, but if you complain, you risk being blacklisted (throughout the GCC) and unable to find further employment. Don’t like your boss or you are beaten at the office (This happened to her)? Same situation. Where do you go?
Rebecca was paid approximately USD 1,000 per month as a bookkeeper at the end of her last contract. This was after 10 years and a feeble attempt to get her to renew her contract after my presence in her life was known. Again, up until 6 months before the end, she was paid around USD 800. Out of that salary, 50% went to rent (Her and her brother shared the rent) and 30% went back to Abulug. That left 20% remaining to buy food, clothing, and other necessities. Being that the cost of living in the UAE approaches that of Europe, very, very little remained. In fact, there were many times over the years that Becky went to bed hungry or accepted handouts from a nearby restaurant, particularly in the early days when she only earned a couple of hundred USD per month. A few years ago, her “boss” told her she didn’t know how to manage money and that with his “generosity”, she should be living a very good life. Rebecca did not have money for pain medicine and antibiotics for her brother, who injured himself at work! She was asking for a $20 advance on her salary for 2 days. Of course, he then tried to offer her money in exchange for sex in order to help “teach” her how to manage her money. (Scumbag!) So, in order to buy the medicine, she went to an Indian loan shark who charged a mere 300% interest. $60 gets you $20 for two days.
So, what did she send home? Two balikbayan boxes per year, Christmas and Holy Week, and a total of $500 per month between her and her brother. A few appliances here and there over the years, and she invested some of her salary monthly to build the family house. That’s it. No more.
So, is the Bruneiyuki term unfair? That is a tough question. People in the provinces have no way to even begin to understand what an OFW goes through in order to send that money home. They have no life experience to compare it with. All they see is the clothing, the pasalubong and American movies showing people living the good life. You can’t really blame them for being envious. Rebecca never talked about the UAE to her family. She didn’t want to worry her mother and she was “ashamed” at how she was treated there. What was scary was that, over the years, she began to accept her experience as normal. She is having to re-learn life at its’ most basic level. She is having to learn to trust again, and that is a very difficult thing to accomplish. She was Filipino by birth, but she changed… She became Dubaiyuki (another term), even though she was very conscious not to flaunt money or show off. She was no longer the same person as when she left. Though some change came from age, much of it came from her experiences, very few of which were positive.
For 20 years, the only person she could trust wholly, without question, was her brother, who was sacrificing right beside her. They were literally all each other had. Because of this, Rebecca and Zaldy are very, very close. I respect him a lot and would trust him with anything, or do anything he asks. Zaldy was the primary reason we returned to the RP and are starting the business… We want to bring him home when his contract expires. His son is four years old, and is growing up without his father being there.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a girl dumped at Manila airport by an agency. She wanted to work in Dubai, and I understand her reasons for wanting to go, but I can’t help but wonder if she is better off staying put here in the Philippines. Is the money worth it in the end?