What does it take to integrate into a culture you did not grow up in? To assimilate ways of life, attitudes, or beliefs so different from yours? And what does it take to be on the receiving end, having to share the piece of land you yourself did not choose? To see and meet people with entirely different backgrounds making the only home you’ve ever known theirs, too?
In Vis-à-Vis, we aim to explore the two sides of migration – the immigrant and the host – and bring them together in a virtual landscape. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between misconceptions of another and really seeing them; between two points of view that may be on completely opposite ends, or much closer than we think.
We start off this series with MORROCO – the “Land of God” according to its presumed Berber origins. It is a country well-loved by travelers from all over for its vast landscape that runs from its beautiful coast, up to glorious mountains, and through ancient cities filled with the warm hospitality of its people. Being one of the few countries Filipinos do not need a Visa for, Morocco has become a chosen destination by some illegal recruiters in the Philippines. These recruiters, only interested in profiting from the lives they trade, usually promise aspiring overseas workers further movement to the European continent. Morocco is, after all, “the exotic country on Europe’s doorstep.” There are currently more than 3,000 Overseas Filipino Workers residing in the country, most of whom do domestic work for rich Moroccan families.
Coming face to face here in Route Projects are JHONA SALIVIO – an overseas worker from Masbate in the Philippines, and RABIE EL BOUHTOURI – a filmmaker from Rabat, Morocco. Both have generously shared their thoughts, pictures and works in and about each other. We are honored to have the opportunity to present images from Jhona’s politically active days in the host country, and Rabie’s documentary film, which he made about the Filipino migrant community. Through the work they’ve done, we hope to catch a glimpse of their own hopeful realities in these dark times.
WHAT ARE YOUR ROOTS?
“I am Jhona Salivio, 45 years old, from Masbate. My mom is a teacher and my father is a farmer. I am the eldest of 6 children. Hindi ako nakatapos ng college kasi tinulungan ko ang parents ko na mapag-tapos ng pag-aaral ang lima kong kapatid (I didn’t finish my studies because I had to help my parents send my brothers and sisters to school), and they all finished university. I am a single mom of 3 girls who are now 24, 20 and 14. I was devastated when my husband left us, I was only 3 months pregnant with my last child. I am a big dreamer, or should I say, have a very strong personality. I am not shy and am very hardworking… Nobody can stand in my way unless I am wrong.”
“I am Rabie El Bouhtouri, I was born in 1988 in Rabat. I have a Masters degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Tétouan. I work as a Cameraman/Reporter for a media news agency in Rabat, and also as a freelance documentary filmmaker. I come from a very small family – my father is a painter, my mum is a French teacher, and I have a little brother who studies in the University of Art and Design in Georgia, USA.
My aspirations are especially linked to my passion which is filmmaking. I would like to be able to make more films, to get close to the people, feel their concerns and their worries, and tell their stories. I would love to dedicate myself to traveling, discovering new dimensions in life, to learn more and to grow personally and professionally.”
WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE?
“Life in the Philippines was getting expensive, and being a single mom I decided to go abroad. I want the best for my children like the rest of our kababayan (fellow Filipinos) working abroad. I chose Morocco because I didn’t need a Visa and I was told that it was very close to Europe. I arrived in Morocco in 2003 as a licensed and experienced medical therapist. I was promised a salary of $300 all-inclusive, but that was all false promises. My agent in the Philippines took my 5 months’ salary without me knowing and I had to pay for my plane ticket which is 3 months’ worth of my salary. In total, I was without salary for 8 months, and what was supposed to be $300 became $200. But I didn’t give up!
15 years ago I felt desperate because no one spoke English except for my employer – I couldn’t express myself! I also lost 10 kilos in 3 months, and my passport was with my boss. I had no day off, 11-hour work days and was doing work outside my job description! Lahat ng yan natiis ko kasi mataas ang pangarap ko at andito na ako, so go lang ng go. (I was able to bear all that because I had big dreams, and I’m already here, so I just kept going) I started asking about the culture, I studied their language (Darija), I also studied their law about migrants and I became friends with both the ordinary people and those who are in position. In short, nagamit ko ang akin paggiging makapal na mukha! (I was able to use my cheeky shamelessness!)
Moroccans are good people as long as you know how to adapt to their way of life, to share and live harmoniously with them, especially if you know their weakness – what makes them happy. You have to let them feel that you love and respect them and their country, and more importantly, their religion. You should never show that you’re weak or else they would walk all over you! To be honest, I feel very lucky for coming here because this is where I met my partner. He’s of American-Cuban-Chinese-Spanish descent, and we have an 8-year-old boy. He’s accepted my past, he loves my children, he’s even made it to the Philippines to meet my family. Right now, I’m very happy, stable, and have a kind life partner.”
HOW & WHY DID YOU MAKE CONTACT WITH THE FILIPINO MIGRANT COMMUNITY?
“The first contact with Filipino community was totally by coincidence. 6 years ago I was contacted by Jhona Salivio – the person responsible for Filipino migrant workers in Morocco – on Facebook. We met via a common friend in order to film the Philippine independence day celebration. The event was an occasion to know Filipino people for the first time, and I was fascinated about how open and easy going they were. They were so social with a good sense of humor, they love to laugh and to have fun, and it was easy for me to feel like one of them. The event was just the beginning of a unique relation with many of them that still exists until now. Since then, I’ve been invited to many of their events and gatherings and special occasions. I had the chance to get close to them, to know their life, their difficulties and problems… which made me think about making a documentary.
The main reason that made me think about making a documentary was the conditions that bring Filipinos to work in Morocco. The travel agencies that bring Filipinos to Morocco are not legal – they don’t work under the Moroccan law because there isn’t something called a “work visa” in Morocco. So those agencies try to bring Filipinos to Morocco with a tourist visa and after, they sell them to employers who confiscate all their papers and hold them hostage with no day off, bad salaries, long work hours… They work in bad conditions and nobody can hear their voices. This problem exists especially for domestic workers who are majority of the Filipino community in Morocco.”
WHAT IS THE SITUATION OF FILIPINO MIGRANTS IN MORROCO?
Sa ngayon ung mga bagong dating nalang ang walang mga Carte de Sejour (Residence Permit) kasi na grant na lahat ng mga datihan dito ng amnesty last 2013. Then last 2015 nagkaroon ng 2nd batch ng amnesty, kaya 60% ay nabigyan na rin ng papeles. Okay naman ang mga pinoy dito, pero laging umiiral ang famous crab mentality. Sa tottoo lang, compared sa middle east, mas maluwag sila dito. Inaabuso lang kasi nang ibang kabayan yung freedom na nararanasan nila dito. Ang iba kaunting problema lang sa amo tatakas na kasi naiinggit sila sa iba na laging nakakalabas…
At the moment, only the newcomers don’t have the Carte de Sejour (Residence Permit) because those who have been here longer were granted amnesty last 2013. Then the government granted amnesty to a second batch in 2015. So now, 60% of Filipinos have official documentation. Filipinos are doing well here, except for the famous “crab mentality.” The truth is, the laws here are more lenient compared to the middle east. The only problem is that some of our compatriots abuse the freedom that they have here. Some run away from their employers with the slightest problem, some get envious of other Filipinos who get to go out more often…
Ang isang problema namin ngayon dito ay yung isang grupo ng mga kabayan na ang leader nila is Moroccan, kasma ko dati sa grupo ko as Adviser and Translator. Siya mismo ang nagkukumbinsi sa mga workers na tumakas, at sasabihan na mag-demanda agad. Hindi man lang kakausapin yung kabilang side or makipag-communicate sa agencies or kahit sa ating consulada.
One problem we have now is this group of fellow Filipinos whose leader is a Moroccan, who used to work with me as Adviser and Translator. She’s the one convincing the workers to run away, and she tells them to sue the employers immediately. No negotiations with the other side, no communication with agencies nor even with the consulate.
Ang aking goal is to have them all legalized as workers in Morocco, which is natupad na, at magkaroon ng pagkakaisa at bumuo ng mga proyektong hindi lang para sa mga kabayan kumdi para na din sa mga local, like classes for Darija and French. Unfortunately, we are used by some organizations and never get any support. Kaya for now lie low muna ako… Natulong pa rin ako sa ngayon kagaya now meron akong apat sa bahay ko waiting sa free ticket from IOM to go home to the Philippines, so habang waiting sila nagiging shelter nila ang bahay ko. Everything is free and all I ask in return is respect.
My goal is to have them all legalized as workers in Morocco, which already happened, and to have unity and to organize projects not only for fellow Filipinos but also for the locals, like classes for Darija and French. Unfortunately, we are used by some organizations but never get any support. So, for now, I’ve decided to lie low… I still help out, like now I have 4 Filipinos staying with me while waiting for their free ticket from the IOM to go home to the Philippines. So, while waiting, my house is their shelter, everything is free, and all I ask in return is respect.
“The Filipino community in Morocco is emerging year by year. Now, there are around 10,000 persons living in Morocco. I think the stable political situation in Morocco compared to other countries in the area is the main reason why Filipinos like to come to Morocco. There are engineers, aestheticians, domestic workers; they work in tourism as well, and many other fields.
If we talk about the global situation of Filipinos, it’s very positive, especially with the new law of residency. Many people could legalized their situations and live a stable life in Morocco.
One of their strongest point is that the community is very organized. They support each other and they stand for their rights, which is very promising. Hopefully, in the future, trafficking will stop. And hopefully, laws will improve and we will have legal ways that people can work here with all their rights as workers, and they can build their lives the way they want. There are many examples of Filipinos that decided to stay here for good and even bring their families and have their own businesses, some are married to Moroccans… which show that they are mixing in society in a very beautiful way.”
WHICH OF THESE DO YOU SPEAK ABOUT IN YOUR FILM?
Here are some major ideas we wanted to speak about in the film:
Under what circumstances Filipino come to Morocco *
The human trafficking and the agencies behind that *
How are the work conditions for Filipino in Morocco *
The new law of residency *
Life conditions and the integration in the Moroccan society *
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION:
I did not expect to be in this position. I was just chosen to be the leader by the national council of the ODT (Organization Démocratique du Travail). I did my best in 3 years, but I got very sick last year because of the pressure and stress, which was mostly the fault of fellow Filipinos… I was fearful for my health because I couldn’t handle the stress. So I stayed home and I didn’t want to go out. I hope one day I can open a school for language just for migrants, pag kaya ko pa! (If I still can!)
DO YOU HAVE ANY CURRENT PROJECTS OR ACTIVITIES?
Tinatapos ko lang na magkaroon lahat na mag Carte de Séjour then I will decide if I will go with my husband and move to Puerto Rico. Kasi na-realize ko na kahit anong strong ka, kapag ang ipinaglalaban mo ay takot namang lumaban, nakakainis… Masakit mang tanggapin pero mas sumusunod sila sa Moroccan nilang leader(hayat Barajo) kaysa sa kanilang sariling kabayan. Kasi alam na nilang ginagamit lang sila at pinagkakaperahan, wala pa rin silang imik, takot harapin ang katotohanan about their circumstances…
I’m just making sure everyone gets the Carte de Séjour, then I will decide if I will go with my husband and move to Puerto Rico. I’ve realized that no matter how strong you are, if those you are fighting for are afraid to fight, it’s frustrating… It’s hard to accept but they would rather follow whatever the Moroccan leader says instead of listening to a fellow Filipino. They already know they’re being used and profiting from their cases, they still refuse to speak up. They are afraid to face the truth about their circumstances…
PLEASE GIVE US A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO YOUR FILM:
Escaping from poverty and misery, some Filipino women have settled in Morocco in search of a job that could offer them a comfortable life. Yet the reality was far from their expectations, since they fell into the hands of human traffickers, which led them to suffer from poor working conditions.
Through the stories of five Filipino women who have taken this path, we will discover the situation of this community, their daily lives, problems, as well as their concerns.
Teaser of Rabie’s film “Voices”