Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Great Opportunity

Following is a little fictional story that ran through my head this morning.  I hope you like it.  I haven’t fiddled around much with it, not a great deal of editing to make it read better, this is pretty much just the words that came to mind as I typed.  Typed and tried not to cry at times (surprising myself at how much emotion was sitting just below the surface).   I’d been reading “The International Bank of Bob” about some workers Bob met once, and suddenly it was as if a light switch went on and I realised how easily this could have been our story…now obviously if you know us and where we live, you would know we considered sending Boyo back to Australia to work for a year, because he couldn’t get work here.  This little writing is entirely fictional, though based on my own thoughts and feelings about how things might have been if we had been living in a country other than NZ and had gone to work in a country other than Australia (which for the most part has really good working conditions!).

The Great Opportunity

“It’s just for twelve months,” he said.  “The money’s so good, we could probably live on that for two or three years.”  “You can move back in with your parents, they’ll look after you.” “And I’ll email every day, I promise.”
He kissed me goodbye, and boarded the plane.

It seemed like a great idea.  It felt like our only option.  It wasn’t like there’s been work here, after all.  Years of trying, years of disappointment, slowly watching as my man gets more and more discouraged, as our finances dwindle ever smaller, as we feel more and more concerned about being able to raise our son.

He thought he’d make mega-bucks.  After all, it’s the land of opportunity, just across the ditch.  My husband, the eternal optimist.  I wanted to believe him, more than anything.  Wanted to, but wasn’t sure.  “What if you don’t find work?” I asked.  But he was so sure, so desperately sure that this was the only way.  And we kept reading about all these amazing jobs on Seek.  It was the recruiter that sealed it though.  Boyo responded to an online job advert, and within a hour Paul had called him.  Paul said he had just the right job for Boyo, good working conditions, nice boss, accommodation supplied, and the best part, great wages.  They provided meals and everything, so there’d be so much money left to send back, we’d really be able to make some headway.  It all happened so fast.  I told him to slow down a bit, but he reckoned Paul said the jobs would fill in days.  We had to make a snap decision, Paul had made it really clear that he could easily find someone else for the role.  So we did.

I brushed off my tears and headed home.  To our new home, in the basement at my parents.  My son asked where Daddy was.  “He’s gone to work hard and make money for us.” I said.  I checked my emails.  Nothing yet.  But then, he’d probably only just landed anyway.  The next day, nothing.  The following, still nothing.  “Well, he’s probably really busy settling in, after all it’s a new job.  Maybe he doesn’t get time off right away,” I reasoned with myself, trying to still the small voice of panic growing daily in my mind.

Three weeks later it came.  A small, dusty letter in the post.  A single piece of paper, signed by my husband.  A small amount of money.  “So little?”  I sat down and read,  “I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to write.  Would you believe, there’s no email here.  I’m working really hard.  It’s incredibly hot, and it’s so tiring, pretty much all I do is work and sleep.  The guys are great, there’s a lot of Kiwis as well as some guys from Indo, and the Philippines.  It’s really funny trying to communicate sometimes.  We’re out in the middle of nowhere, not much to do other than work.  They’ve changed our wages, too.  Said that profits have been lower this month, apparently it’s in our contract that it’s all based on that.  I’m so sorry, I’ve saved everything I can.  I’ll send more as soon as I’m able, and write again soon.  Things are sure to pick up in a week or two.  I love you. I hope you’re doing okay at your parents.  Give Munchkin a big hug and kiss from Daddy.”  There was no return address.  I couldn’t even write to encourage him, tell him we were doing okay, that we missed him, that I was proud of him.

I gave my baby the hug and kiss from his daddy..  Then I found a quiet corner while he played with his truck.  I held that letter to myself and just cried and cried.  It felt like the sobs would never end.  Then I picked myself up and carried on.

Three more months passed.  Munchkin stopped asking where Daddy was.  I worked every day in my parent’s garden, trying to supplement the wages from Boyo.  I found a small job at a local store, only on Saturdays.  Mum and Dad had Munchkin.  They were both exhausted from their working week, then being woken by us in the night.  I felt so guilty adding yet another burden on them, but there wasn’t any other way, especially since Munchkin had been sick and we’d used the last of Boyo’s wages on medicine.   We needed the money; we all did.  I couldn’t have them covering our expenses, they barely had enough for themselves. 

Finally, another letter.  One single flimsy scrap of paper, a jagged tear down the side, as if it had been torn from a notebook or something. “Really love my workmates, but miss you so much.  How are you both?  Wages still the same.  Tried to get out of it so I can look for something else, but the contract sounds so darn airtight, I have to wait it out till the end of the year.  Can’t wait to see you again.  Hug Munchy for me.  I love you.”

I didn’t tell Munchkin.  What was the point?  I just sat him on my knee and squeezed till he wriggled like a worm in a birds beak, while tears trickled down my face.  I handed the letter to my parents.  We didn’t talk about it.  They understood.  I did the only thing I could do.  I prayed.  I begged, I pleaded, and I bargained.  Not that I really had anything left to bargain with.  Then I carried on again.  We waited. I waited here, while he waited there.  I couldn’t even tell him I was waiting, that I was praying for hope and strength for him.

Finally, the year was up.  But there was no news.  When would my man come home?  Was he coming?  I just didn’t know anymore.  It had been six months since we’d heard anything from him.  What if he found another job, stayed longer, hoping to make good still?  What if he’d gotten sick, died even, over there far away from anyone he loves?  I just couldn’t handle the questions.  My mind shut down.  The numbness was a relief.

Then he came.  I was in the vege garden, trying to dig some horse manure into the garden.  We’d been given it last week, someone Dad did a job for.  I heard the familiar squeak of the gate, but assumed it must be one of my parents home from work.  But it wasn’t. There he was, standing in front of me.  Gaunt, so tired it looked like his legs might collapse under him at any moment.  The boyish smile was gone.  His hands were dark with calluses, his shoes looked like the were more holes than shoe.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I seeing things?  “Hi.”  He said.  And opened his arms.  I couldn’t seem to find my voice, but I did find my legs.  Before I knew it, we were hugging and sobbing together.

It’s so good to have him home.  I wish he’d never left; it wasn’t worth it.  All those false promises.  He reckons we’re lucky, some of the guys signed up for three year contracts.  One poor chap died of fever while the other workers watched on, helpless, the bosses refusing to get any medical assistance.  Boyo got sick too.  For two months he coughed and coughed all day and all night, before finally getting better.  I’ve noticed there’s still a lingering cough on cold nights.  Things are no better than they were before he left.  The last six month’s of those pitiful wages will last us maybe three, if we’re lucky.  He had to buy his airfare home out of it.  They’d promised return flights, just like they’d promised good working conditions.  Ten hour days, in the blistering heat?!  And as for the food and accommodation, our chickens do better.  Why are people allowed to do this?  They lied to us!  Recruiter Paul conned us into something that was inhumane, then disappeared off the face of the planet.  We tried to track him down, complained to the authorities, but while sympathetic, they just brushed it off.  “Not our jurisdiction,” they said.  “You signed a contract and went willingly,” they said.  Nothing they can do, it’s in another country.  Boyo said he tried to contact authorities over there, but his boss had his passport, and the people supposed to help him would have jailed him instead so he had to give up and go back to work.  I tremble, just thinking how close we came to being separated for good.  Things were bad, really bad, but they could have been so much worse.

So here we are, back at square one.  Still desperate, still without good work.  Still living with my parents, the three of us now.  My husband is terribly depressed.  It’s as if the year has just sucked every last ounce of courage out of him, a big vacuum hose that has left him flat and deflated.  I used to think he was too optimistic, that he needed to come down a peg or two.  Not anymore.  I wish I’d never thought that…to see him so down, so worried that he’s not providing for his family, it’s painful.  I wonder how we will manage.  He’s looking for work, but there’s so little out there at the moment.  Things have been so tough for years, and our ‘great opportunity’ nearly cost us everything.

This doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  I wanted to write a better ending, but to be honest I haven’t thought of one yet.  The basic idea is that while for so many people this is the reality of their lives, being either trapped into substandard labour conditions against their will, or alternatively struggling to survive on a pittance, for many their lives ARE changing.  A $25 loan can change their future.  That’s what is all about.  That’s what The International Bank of Bob is all about.  Amazing.  I’ll let you know if I come up with a good ending to my story, but in the meantime, I think it is simply enough that I’ve seen.  I’ve realised that but for the nation we were born into, this could so easily have been me.  It could have been my husband, my son, my life.  I am so grateful it is not, but also determined that it shouldn't have to be anyone else’s either.



MaxineD said...

Very close to home in some ways. Kiva is an awesome organisation.
Love and blessings'

Elizabeth said...

Did I ever tell you how much this made me cry...

Beautifully written Amy!