Content warning: This article contains mention of abuse.
It was a hot, sunny day when I left my home town, fourteen years ago. I held my tears, covered my ears, and closed my eyes from the pain when I walked away. I was rumbled, I couldn’t describe how painful it was to leave everything behind.
Like many other women in Indramayu, which is my town in Indonesia, poverty and lack of employment are the main issues. There were no other options but to work abroad seeking employment, in order to provide my children with a better life and prosperity.
It was hard leaving my hometown, even though this was not the first time. I had worked in the Middle East when I was fifteen years old to help my parents’ financial problems and provide my siblings with a better education. This time was different, as I had to leave my children behind. I left them because I had to. When I walked away, my mom was holding my son. He was just four when I left, and my daughter was nine. I couldn’t bear to face the reality that I was leaving. I heard the cry of my son saying “mama”. I pretended to not hear and just walked away, holding my tears.
I always remember when my daughter was in nursery. It was morning and she was ready to go to school excitedly. But I told her that we weren't going to nursery, because I didn’t have money to pay for the bus fare. She told her teacher the next morning when her teacher asked why she was absent. It was a difficult time. Because of this, I decided to go abroad again.
I applied through an agency to go to the United Kingdom. At first, I applied to go to Europe, as it was a cheaper fee I had to pay to proceed with my application. I was informed that I should get my passport done. I took out loans, because I didn't have enough money to pay a certain amount to the agency.
Myself and another woman went to the British Embassy to get our biometric done. We were told that our flight would be arranged twenty days after our visa had been approved. The agency explained that I should work responsibly and I would get paid $500 per month if I did my job perfectly. I didn’t have a written contract; my ticket was a return ticket as I remember. And I was told that if anyone from immigration asked in the airport in my country why we were going to the UK, we should tell them that we were visiting family.
We stopped to transit in Dubai. When I got on the plane from Dubai to London, I didn’t stop crying; I missed my children so much. In my mind, I was thinking, “Are they alright, what are they doing right now, are they asking about me, have they eaten?” I felt my chest tighten, and I could hardly breathe from the pain that I felt. Then the woman who was with me tried to calm me down.
We arrived at 7am at Heathrow Airport. We waited for more than five hours for someone to collect us. Then a young guy appeared and he drove us to my employer’s house, where he dropped me off. Since then, I still don’t know what happened to the girl who flew with me.
Life in the ‘dream land’ of the UK wasn’t like I expected. I was treated like a slave. I suffered from depression from being mentally abused. I worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no rest. I ate my meals on the doormat on the kitchen floor. Every single day was a nightmare, every little mistake counted. I cried every night and prayed that my employer would not shout, even just for one day. My hands were cracked and bleeding from using bleach every single day with no gloves provided. I was terrified when I finally decided to escape. I wasn’t paid for five months when I left my employer.
Years have passed. I thought there would be a better chance to seek employment. But there has not been. I had no right to change employers because my work permit was a domestic worker in a diplomatic household, which has made it difficult to find a new job. But I must not give up. I miss my children so much. Every night I look at their pictures and cry. “Ah....you don’t know how much I miss you.”
Life is tough. After so many years, I have challenged many hardships to get where I am now. I still consider myself to be lucky, because I know there are many fellow domestic workers out there who are in my situation, facing discrimination and exploitation. No one realises what is happening behind closed doors.
I joined a group of women called Justice for Domestic Workers, now called The Voice of Domestic Workers, in 2011. We are a support network and campaign organisation supporting migrant domestic workers. Through VODW, I have attended English for Speakers of Other Languages and IT classes. There was a time when a journalist and a poet from the USA visited our class and taught us how to write poetry. I wrote my first poem, ‘My children my home town’, and I used this for a campaign calling for the government to reinstate the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, which they revoked in 2012.
But the truth is, I still haven’t met my children. Life has led me in a different direction. I wonder when this will happen. When I can be with my children and hug them tight. I believe that one day everything will be alright and we will be reunited.
About the Author
Noani came to the UK in July 2009 from Indramayo, Indonesia, as an
Overseas Domestic Worker in a diplomatic household. She has three children. She escaped from an abusive employer and in May 2011, she joined Justice For Domestic Workers (J4DW), the previous name of The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW). With her current status, she hopes to be able to campaign better as a spokesperson for her fellow domestic workers and the Indonesian community. In her free time, Noani enjoys listening to music, meeting new people and spending time with her son. She also likes meeting friends, reading news and watching movies.