This is the story of a foreign worker from the Phillipines who came to work in Israel eight years ago to earn money to support her family back home. It is a story of sacrifice, patience and understanding. It won special mention in the recent ESRA Magazine Literary Competition.
I came to Israel eight years ago with high hopes and ambition of making my family proud. Already jet-lagged from two stopovers, I came out of Ben Gurion airport dragging my huge sports bag, only a quarter of whose contents were my belongings and the rest packages to be brought to friends.
The eldest in the family of six, I came to work as a caregiver and a proud one, being a licensed physical therapist back home. Work is scarce in my country and money is limited for my parents to help my other siblings finish their university education.
Then I saw that life's reality is a big slap in the face. I misdefined the meaning of being a caregiver. I did not expect that it included domestic work, and honestly, most of the caregivers here in Israel do not need a medical background to be efficient. It was difficult for me to accept the fact that I had to scrub toilet bowls while I'm used to having somebody else doing that job for me back home. I had my first job, wept every day and quit after a week. Then I stayed out of work for a month. I thought I could not make Israel my big “American Dream”. But I gathered courage and woke myself up. I couldn't stay dreaming amidst the reality that I was facing. I still had a few thousand dollars debt to pay just to get here.
My second job was perfect. I was employed by an elderly English lady who had macular degeneration disease. She was kind and patient with me and I only had to work five hours a day, five days a week. A gift. Easily and slowly, I started to acquaint myself with Israel, understood the people, tried to learn the language and adapted to the way of life. I grabbed every opportunity to earn money, did cleaning jobs after work and ventured into every business that I could get into. Getting used to the system was no sweat until the days passed, months rushed by and years were forgotten.
In my fourth year I planned to go home for good. While on a bus the familiar surroundings caught my attention. The wide Mediterranean was gleaming as the sun's rays pierced the clouds to strike its waters. The tall buildings from afar, roof tops sparkling as the “gag shemesh” absorbed the sun's energy. The zigzag road to the Carmel center often made me dizzy because I have motion sickness. The Hebrew signage that I slowly learned to read each time I passed. Suddenly everything meant something while I usually ignored all of it. I thought I was ready to leave, but I realized that from deep within me I felt a pinch of sadness. Strange, because I knew that I couldn't stay here forever. But there it was. I was prodded by the fact that I have grown to love the place though I barely appreciate its existence. And for some reasons I had to come back and I was happy with it. So I went back to my routine. Work, work and work.
At that time I was employed by a couple who had migrated from Romania. They were kind and patient but were not blessed with any children. I took care of the old gentleman who suffered from post-stroke. My Hebrew was harnessed because they did not speak English at all. And learning the language with my old man was fun especially when we were having our walks. He would deform the words like 'rega echad' (one moment), he would say 'regel echad' (one leg). But life is not consistent. It always comes with a twist. He got worse but held his grip tightly to life. He knew that he was everything to his wife and that he was my last hope for staying in Israel. And we struggled, him mostly. Then he had another stroke. The last time we took him home he was with a nasogastric tube (NGT) and needed oxygen. We had acquired a hospital bed to make it easy for us to take care of him. In other words, we brought the hospital home with us. Gravity came over the worst when he had pulmonary complications from the flu he had acquired. The last night that I was with him in the hospital was just unimaginable. He was in pain but he could not speak anymore. He was suffering but he did not want to let go. I knew it. They had become my grandparents and they loved me as well.
The sight of his suffering was just too much to bear. I sat down next to him and tried patting his back as if it would ease his pain, I smoothed his hair with my fingers just like he always wanted, neat and fine. His beautiful skin was always a compliment as telling everybody that he was ninety six was always a surprise. My great old man had changed a lot and though he was living, he was not alive anymore. It was a few hours before dawn, sleep was out of reach and I had to suction him from time to time just to help his breathing. So I thought I'd talk to him. I held his hand, leaned over and whispered, “My sir, take your rest now, you suffered enough. Don't worry about us, it's going to be okay, me and your wife will be just fine. You know we love you, so let go and have a good rest now.” In less than an hour I witnessed his last long breath and that was it. I kissed my old man goodbye on the forehead, closed my eyes and pictured his most beautiful smile.
That was my first experience of death before my very eyes. But I was relieved to see him suffer no more though I knew that a bigger problem was yet to be unfolded.
Foreign workers in Israel are legally allowed four years and three months of stay in the country. It could only be extended if we stayed with one employer after the said period until the end of that employer's life. My end had come and my youngest sister had not yet finished studying. But I had hope, I could still stay if the wife would employ me. So she applied for a permit but was declined by the national insurance committee. It was devastating. I did not know what to do. So I prayed that if God could not grant this request for me, that He would give the chance to my sister as deserving she is. By God's will my old lady was referred to another government agency and was granted the permit. Until now, I'm with her. We have grown to be the best of friends and she has become the grandmother that I did not have. She listens to all my problems and struggles in life and always extends her help, emotionally and financially, to the extent of her capabilities.
Now my next sister is happily married with three kids, my brother is a licensed marine engineer and our youngest sister will graduate from medical school in just a few days. Me, I'm still here working, perfecting the value of labor of love, the kind of love which many Israelis could not comprehend. Why should I work for my family's future while letting my own life pass by. I just turned thirty-four this month and I still don't have a family of my own. But I think I'm happy and contented with what I've done with my life. And that's what's important. My old lady always asks me until when am I going to give. With every endeavor I would share, she would say “Mah yiyeh itach?”(what is going to be with you). The truth is I don't know and I'm not worried because I still have a lot to give. And, in my prime I will not falter easily, though my hands will tremble my heart will continue to beat the sound of happiness. I know that I made my family proud. And I made it not with my “American Dream” but living that dream here in Israel.
Theresa Binban is a physical therapist from the Philippines who came to Israel to work in order to support her family back home. She works as caregiver.
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