When you’ve toiled at the same factory for 5 years, and suddenly get fired by the new and biased line manager over a small mistake, you are hit with a wave of disillusion and plunged into a fresh state of uncertainty. Being unemployed in a foreign country where you’re meant to be earning to support family back home, whilst carrying the risk of deportation, puts one in a vulnerable and highly stressful situation. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s then the emotional turmoil you face from a relationship you’re desperately holding onto, with a future that yet again, bodes uncertain. When you initially meet Darna (all names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals), you would not have expected her to be carrying such burdens.
When I was the International Students’ Officer of my college, I spoke with a fresher (first-year university student) who had recently experienced a nasty encounter where they were verbally abused in town by a resident. For most of us, being a fresher is full of ‘first-times.’ The first time living away from parents; the first time dining at formal hall; the first time sitting in a supervision. For that particular fresher, it was their first time living abroad, their first time hearing those racist slurs, and then discovering with alarm what they meant. And then possibly for the first time, becoming painfully conscious of their race. When I urged them to reach out to groups that specifically support BME students (black and minority ethnic- alternatively known as ‘people of colour’), they asked me, “Do we count as BME?”
I touch the screen with my fingertip-
The first time I saw Ligaya (all names have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy) she had just come into the shelter’s common room and gave me a small smile. I remember thinking that she looked worn-out and weak. Another shelter guest told me she just arrived yesterday at midnight. I wondered if she had been fleeing and if so, from whom, at an hour so late.
“What’s it like being a grown-up?”