Not exactly free, a Filipina domestic worker’s life in Cairo


In Cairo’s Marriott hotel PHOTO/Facebook page

On a hot summer day in 2012, two smartly clad Filipina women arrived at the JW Marriott Hotel on Cairo’s ring road, toting handbags in the crooks of their arms as they had often observed their female employers doing. They lingered in the lobby for hours over small cups of coffee as they waited for a phone call.

In one of the rooms upstairs was Coco, another Filipina woman, in Cairo for the first time. She was accompanying her matron from Alexandria and had prepared carefully for the occasion, bringing along a scarf to cover her hair so as to avoid being questioned by the hotel staff. She knew she would not be able to take any belongings with her when she left and so had resorted to layering multiple sets of underwear beneath her dress.

In the late afternoon, Coco’s matron was deeply absorbed in a TV game show she had been avidly following that summer. Taking this as her cue, Coco snuck into the bathroom. She pulled the flush hard and with its sound masking that of the room’s door, slipped out. The keycard she had taken, which she hoped would operate the lift, did not work. Coco saw a guard approaching and grew nervous. She turned to take the stairs and he caught up. The hotel guard questioned her in Arabic, a language Coco had yet to learn. Her heart thumping, she made a phone signal with her hands and feigned an air of calm to give the impression that she was simply heading out to buy cell phone credit. The guard conceded. Once in the lobby, Coco dialed the number she had memorized months ago. On the other end, Sandra, who was sipping cold coffee in anticipation of this call, instructed Coco to head to the taxi stand. Coco was frantic. What does a taxi in this city look like? she wondered. Still terrified of being caught in the act of escape, she scanned the windows for something resembling a white car with a yellow sign on top.

Near the taxis, Sandra spotted Coco and signaled for her to get inside a cab. Sandra generously tipped the hotel guard and together the three headed to the other side of town in 6th of October City. There, Sandra lived with her husband and was to host Coco until she could get back on her own feet.

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