Updated: Apr 29, 2021
‘I love the Philippines’ reads the profile pic of Mr.P’s FB account. He has almost reached the 3000 friend-mark. Most of his connections are from the Philippines. On Sundays, a long line of chatty, dark-haired women queues the entrance to Mr.P’s office in downtown Nicosia, Cyprus. The weekly ritual of sending their paycheck home, or picking up large cardboard boxes, is done through his agency. At once the Postal Service, Money Order, and Communication Office, Mr. P.’s agency connect them all. The “Balikbayan boxes” which they post, are subsidized by the Philippino government and filled with groceries, toys and other ‘western’ goods. They are a way to connect and show care to the children these women have left behind in the Philippines.
When I first tell Mr.P. of my idea to connect with some of his weekly customers and explore their story, he points at a woman in a photograph, surrounded by other women in volleyball jerseys. As a long-term, yet ‘temporary’ domestic worker, the woman in the picture had been passionately coaching Mr.P’s volleyball team in the bi-yearly Filipino Volleyball league in Nicosia for years.– You have to meet Carren, the coach of my team. Everyone calls her Mamita, though. She has been here for a long time and everyone knows her – he tells me.A couple of days later I meet Carren on the top floor of one of the few high-rises in Nicosia. At that point, she has been living and working in Cyprus since 2002 as a live-in domestic worker. Her first employment contract almost two decades ago had taken her to Macau. Afterward, she had returned to her parent’s home with her children, residing in the rural areas of the Philippine highlands surrounding Baguio City. When she became pregnant for the third time, her father decided that it was better for her to go abroad again, since she had no income to provide for a good education for her children. As a single mom, you don’t really have an option – she explains to me while chopping vegetables for her signature dish ‘chop suey’.I had no one to rely on. I’m a single mom, you know?
Carren, an indigenous woman from the Cordilleras, a mountain range in the heart of the northern part of the of the largest and most populated island, follows her father’s advice. She went to work in Taiwan, and finally in Cyprus, her last destination of employment. When her youngest son was born in Nicosia only months after her deployment, she decided to bring him back home to the Philippines. She didn’t think it fair to raise him alongside her employer’s baby daughter. So she had a Cypriot ‘daughter’ as a live-in domestic worker instead. Without exception, her own four children were raised by her parents back home. When I meet Carren in May 2016, she tells me that she has recently made arrangements for her oldest daughter Guil to join her in Cyprus. In her motherly voice, I can hear remorse and disappointment. It’s a pity for her. She is married and has three children, but I decided it’s best for her to come here. The mother-daughter reunification is quite a surprise to me. I had imagined that the sacrifice of a mother would prevent her children from choosing the same trajectory. A few months later, I would see Guil (25) arrive in Cyprus, joining her mother as domestic worker. The women were then reunited for the first time in over a decade. Guil had seen her mother only on short vacation stays throughout her childhood. It would come to be a big adjustment for Guil, not only to be without her family but also to get to know her own mother.Years earlier, the news of Guil’s teenage pregnancy had shaken her mother’s world. She had hoped for her oldest of four to be a role model to her younger siblings, for her to go to college, and gain a degree that would give her a better opportunity to find decent work in the Philippines, rather than follow the footsteps of her mother.
As Guil was beginning to settle in, a dramatic and unforeseen rupture tore mother and daughter apart yet again. Carren was forced to leave Cyprus – with as little as she had arrived there with. She had no savings. No home. Back in Baguio, Carren has now begun to start her life anew. Estranged to these familiar surroundings, she has to find a form of income, which at her age is not an easy task. She also takes care of Guil’s oldest son, who is eight years old and tries to talk to his mom, who stayed behind in Cyprus, via Skype.
Making the film.My main objective with the film was to “unmute” the “silenced worker” in Cyprus and give a platform for women to express themselves and talk about their journey. It didn’t take too much effort from my side. The so often purported “silenced workers” were not silent at all. A vast collection of detailed narratives and personal accounts filled my notebooks and SD cards. The women had a lot to say when in the private spaces of their shared flats, sitting in Starbucks or spending time together at Karaoke bars.It was not a matter of them being silenced, it was a matter of a missing audience.
Moved by those stories, I asked Carren and her daughter if they were willing to collaborate on a film together that would share insights on the complexities of serial migration. While my trips to Cyprus became more frequent, we also kept in touch via Skype and FB messenger. Shortly after my husband and I moved to Cyprus to starting to film, unexpected events lead to Carren’s unforeseen deportation. It challenged both women and all who witnessed the traumatic events unfold, and confronted them with the precariousness of their dreams for togetherness and a stable future. The open-endedness of storytelling allowed for questions to be posed and left unanswered. Using film as a catalyst for critical discourse, our aim was to inspire audiences to look beyond the visible layers of the digital file they were watching. A film, like a palimpsest, reveals layer after layer and adds new meaning and nodes as it connects the viewer to a deeper understanding of the content presented. Instead of trying to convey a neutral, objective and distant position towards the film’s participants and field site, we became more like friends and very much attached to each other. You are now one of us Kyla texted me yesterday on FB messenger. They knew that I was strongly supporting the worker’s demand for higher pay and fairer working conditions, family reunification as well as citizenship rights for long-term workers. My goal was to highlight the human cost and experience, critiquing the marginalization and stigmatization of domestic workers in the European Union while also revealing the absurdity of global markets that displace family members and especially mothers across the globe. Producing a film comes with a lot of responsibility and ethical considerations. Together Apart is an attempt to avoid reducing the complex journey of my film’s protagonists to fit into specific roles that ‘we’, the media, academia, journalists, and filmmakers carved out for them. Instead, its intention is to leave room for imagination, reflecting their own dreams and the unexpected changes in their trajectories.
What’s the ending of my story? Carren asked me at least three times during our collaboration on the film when visiting her in the Philippines. She could see the film of her life unfold in her imagination. It was this repeated question that left me with a strange feeling. Of course, she wouldn’t have asked it three times if I had had a more satisfying answer for her. It felt as she was hoping that I could prophesy what her unwritten future would hold for her. Of course, I could not. I told her honestly, I’m not intending to have an ending that would limit her imagination and dreams for the future but rather leave it “open-ended.”Several days later, when she approached me one more and last time, I told her: ‘Honestly, I think you will go back abroad, joining one of your sisters in France, Greece or Japan. I don’t think you will stay home for good, I think you will continue the journey.’ But my film is not fiction, where fantasy turns into reality. Ultimately, it is not a reflection of what I think of the future, but how I witnessed the present and the fact that we never know what lies around the corner.
TRAILER BY MARREN WICKWIRE https://vimeo.com/242478823 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nC0mIQagsSI&t=2s Link to website: manifestmedia.de Bio: Maren Wickwire was born in Germany and founded Manifest Media subsequent to graduation in 2007. She studied Documentary film at the Folk Wang Hochschule Essen and the Holon Institute of Technology in Israel and holds an M.A. in Visual and Media Anthropology from the Freie Universität in Berlin. With wide-ranging experience in directing, producing and filming documentaries as well as working with multi-vocal video installations, Maren has presented her work in more than twenty countries. She is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts grant and in her work, she is focusing on global migration, peace-making, and conflict resolution.