Migrantsâ€™ Stories: The Best Thing
Editors Note: The story is from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 4" published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from CEI (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana) or the Italian Bishops' Conference. The book contains a collection of 10 stories of the realities of migration as faced by Filipinos abroad and their family members in the Philippines. ABS-CBNnews.com obtained permission from PMRW to publish the stories online.
It was a cold and quiet day when I left the country. After complying with all the required trainings, interviews, and submitting pertinent documents, it was now time for me to join the ranks of the country’s modern-day heroes. I will now start my life as a seafarer.
I boarded the plane going to Hong Kong, and from there will proceed to London. I was excited where I was going although I did not know what to expect. It was a long and sleepless flight for me.
We arrived in London at the Heathrow airport in the morning. The agent picked me up and brought me to a hotel. There I spent time thinking about my job-to-be on board, the size of the ship, and the faces of the crew members I will be meeting. My mind was full of curiosity on what is in store for me on board the ship.
The following morning, the agent woke me up. We had to take a shuttle bus to go to Southampton where the ship was docked. After three hours of travel, we arrived there. The shuttle bus parked on the quayside and looking up, I saw the ship. It was a huge ship. I saw two people on the gangway, they are security guards. Suddenly one officer came out and met me. She took all my documents and let me fill up some papers. Inside, I noticed people wearing different uniforms. I saw different faces, some were white and obviously there were many Filipinos dominating the crowd.
I felt a bit of relief after seeing my countrymen laughing and talking loudly like they are at home. After all the formalities were done, I was taken to my cabin and then to the linen keeper to pick up my uniforms. From the moment I put on my uniform, I went straight for duty. One gentleman directed me to the galley (kitchen), introduced me to all the staff, and briefed me on my every day duties. I was told that I have to wash dirty pots and pans which are bigger than I ever imagined, clean the bulkheads and decks, as well as the oily exhaust fans.
Looking at one corner, there were two boilers bigger than me which also had to be cleaned. After learning all my duties, I could not bring myself to smile anymore and I hardly uttered a single word. I guess I was a bit overwhelmed with all the work assigned to me.
In the evening before I started, I had to pick up the provisions in one big trolley - the meats, chicken, fruits, vegetables, and dry goods needed for the preparations the following day.
My first day was long and tiring. I went to my cabin very quiet. My uniform was soaking wet, and my underwear as well.
As I lay down on my bed, my hands were numb and my back was aching. “I don’t think I could make it. I don’t think I can finish my contract,” I said to myself.
Every day was like my first day. Every day, I would return to my cabin soaking wet with sweat. Every day, my supervisors would scream loudly while giving instructions, as if they owned the ship. There were times when I couldn’t control my temper and would scream back at them. Some of them were really rude and will treat you like a slave. I remember one of my colleagues who resigned because he could no longer take all the hard work.
I often noticed him crying in one corner holding his cell phone. I could not offer him any help because even I myself needed help. Calling home and taking a shore leave really help us. Hearing the voice of any members of the family from home made me feel better and inspired me again to get back to work and finish my contract no matter how hard the work is. Also, I feel relieved each time I take a shore leave especially if I was able to meet some Filipinos who were working on that particular place where we docked.
Some days are longer than the normal days, especially if the United States of America is our next port of call. We have to extend our working hours, cleaning the galley until 3:00 in the morning. Then we have to get up again at 6:00 in the morning and be on standby, lest an inspector comes on board. My eyes would still be red and puffy from lack of sleep, and my hands numb because of all the scrubbing. Sometimes I even tend to forget to brush my teeth and comb my hair. I realized then that being patient and focused is very important while working on board. Above all, being prayerful and taking time to read the bible gave me strength and power to endure. My bible and a rosary are always on my bedside. They are my only sources of refuge on board.
Days passed and they turned into months. I hardly noticed the passage of time. All of a sudden, it was barely two months before I go home. Everything seemed so easy for me by this time. I had become familiar with all the routines already. I can finish my tasks early and do some “sideline” to earn extra income. I cleaned cabins, washed and pressed uniforms of some European crew and for these I would earn an extra $50-$100 a month.
Some crew are nice. If you did your work nicely, you will get an extra payment for it, so I always try to do a good job because I know afterwards I will receive extra payment. I learned how to manage my time and to save money.
Finally, the long days and hard work have come to an end and it is time for me to pack my things and head home. I finished my first contract with a deep sense of pride. At home, they did not notice any trace of the hardships and pain that I have gone through. All that my family and friends could see was the smile on my face.
After two months of vacation, it was time again for me to be back on board. But this time, it is a different job for me. I have to clean public toilets and some public areas on board. It is easier for me this time around. Three months later, I was promoted to cabin steward. As a cabin steward, I could earn money from tips and could regularly send additional money home, in addition to my allotment. At the same time, it is a tough job for me. I will be taking care of the guests’ cabins, clean them accordingly and put their things in order, not to mention heed all their requests.
We have to take extra care to avoid any complaints from the guests. My first two cruises were stressful but later on with the help of my supervisor and my colleagues, I was able to adjust and familiarize myself with every single thing. I needed to get up early each morning to prepare things needed for service. I have to be well-groomed and well-prepared before coming to duty.
We always have our regular briefing before and after duty. Weekly safety drill is also compulsory and everybody is required to attend. Failure to attend will result in disciplinary action. I tried hard to be more focused and flexible but at times, some things happen beyond our control.
“Mister, do you know why I called you to come here?” This is our manager’s famous line whenever a guest complains. I would then have to explain and convince the manager why I should not be sanctioned. Otherwise, I would be given a written warning.
“I need hardworking and smart people in my team” is another famous line from my manager. Patiently, I will go back to my section more focused. I became more flexible and creative. I would surprise my guests during their birthdays and anniversaries.
I would blow balloons and make some towel animal folding to make them happy. Some of them are funny decorations while others are formal depending on the guest’s personality. I remember one of my guests who couldn’t help but scream after she saw my funny towel folding. “How did you do that?” the guest said as she continuously laughed. She even called her friends to come and see that funny creature of mine. I felt very happy then and was inspired.
For anniversaries, I always made formal and romantic decorations. Some of them are very sentimental. They will cry and give me a letter of gratitude. I don’t know how I was able to come up with those funny and memorable stuff. They just came out from my imagination. I have learned that when you constantly do something that you really love doing you will always discover unique things.
Every day is just like any regular day on board except for the turnaround days, i.e., embarkation and disembarkation of the new guests and the old guests, respectively. Each turnaround is always a long and tiring day for me. Everyone should be awake earlier than the usual days. I start at 7:00 in the morning, one hour earlier than my normal day. I need to finish cleaning the 15 suites and have them ready before 2:00 in the afternoon. Most of the time, I fail to eat my lunch. Then, I have to stand by in the lobby and wait for the new guests. When they arrive, I take their carry-on baggage and escort them to the suites. As soon as they are all on board, the passenger drill starts at about 5:00 in the afternoon. Without exemption, all are required to attend.
This drill is done in order for the passengers and crew to familiarize themselves with the codes and signals, in case of any untoward incident. For me, as a crew member, I have to stand by in my section and check each guest who came out from the suites.
Right after the drill, I would have to rush to the crew mess hall to eat dinner for the turndown service again that starts at 6:00 until 10:00 in the evening. There is no rest on this particular day. But no matter how tired I am, I always find time to go to the crew bar and give myself a break. Sipping my favorite beer and sitting in the corner while watching some crew dancing on decks was my routine after each turnaround day.
Some ladies on board are very sweet and they just sit beside me and give me some free drinks. There are those who would let me sleep in their cabins, and it turns into a romantic and memorable evening for me. Parties also happen occasionally.
Other activities like a crew tour and crew show are also organized. This is how my life on board revolves every day. No matter how long and tiring each day is, no matter how tough and stressful the tasks given to me, I always accomplish them with honesty and sincerity, with the continuous guidance of the Almighty.
And the best thing is that my inner joy remains, my knowledge about my job continues to widen, and my personality develops.