I’ve always gotten jobs that I wanted. I never even needed to do the actual job hunt because I had a position waiting for me even before I even graduated from university. I’ve worked with international companies, managing blue chip multi-million dollar accounts, and put in more than 10,000 hours to come to my level of expertise and skill. I’ve reread and rehashed my resume a gazillion times, but it’s been 8 long months of searching and applying without any positive leads for a job in Dubai.
It was until I received an email from a multi-national company famous for selling succulent sweet fruits, but more famous for their pineapples, all over the world.
The invitation for interview was from the company’s vice president no less. I assumed that he actually took time to read through the details my CV. I mean, why did he email me, little ole’ me, out of the thousands of people from all over the world job hunting out there in the desert?!? With my resume summarizing my almost 8 years of relevant work experience in the Philippines and clearly stating I had ZERO work experience in the country, he still emailed me. Me, me, me, who was at the brink of job hunting desperation and delirium! Now, butterflies of hope started to stir in my gut. I quickly sent a reply: a professional, calm and collected “Yes! I’m interested in the position. Let us schedule the interview” email, even if I was already jumping up and down, running around like a crazy woman, claiming job hunt score. This was a very good sign, perhaps a peek into the bright future of continuing my career in the Middle East, picking up where I left off.
I received a call from the Human Resources manager, who scheduled the interview appointment with me: February 29, 2012. I tried to decipher from her voice, what nationality she was, but even as I pressed the phone closer to my ear, I could not identify the accent. Though I have been forewarned by too many a friend on how one’s nationality and, even one’s specific hometown, makes a difference in Dubai, I didn’t think it mattered, that it could be the make or break of getting employed. I just thought that knowing another’s nationality would certainly help me navigate through certain cultural nuances, especially that I wanted to make a good first impression.
After night after night of running through my CV, reviewing my career highlights and marketing fundamentals, rehearsing a mock Q&A with myself and computing how much salary I would need based on what I used to get in the Philippines, I smoothed out my best only-for-big-business-meetings skirt, breathed in and marched through the building’s glass doors with my pride hanging by a thread, the fact of how solid my education and work experience was, and my self-confidence already on the edge, knowing that it has been far too long without a job, or even a simple job offer. I held it together somehow, crossed my all my fingers and toes that this would be it.
I was then seated in a corner of the multi-national pineapple famous company’s reception area, which had a stunning view of the concrete giants that dotted the Dubai Marina, which was across the Jumeirah Lake Towers office location. Assisted by a soft spoken, mousely South Asian girl, I was given a bundle of forms to complete. “You have one hour to complete the forms and the tests.” she said as she bobbled her head from side to side. I wasn’t expecting tests, certainly not after working for eight years. I shrugged it off, thinking that it was another one of those more stringent measures employed by multi-national companies to filter out their job candidates to ensure impartiality in getting the right person for the position. I closed my eyes and visualized myself working in the space; my hands shaking after pages upon pages of hand written essays, answering hypothetical situations specific to the marketing executive position that was up for grabs. I don’t even remember ever answering tests like this when I had to shift jobs.
Once I finished, I called the attention of the South Asian lady and handed my papers over. She asked me to wait for a few minutes more to be interviewed. “Oh, you’re not interviewing me?” I asked and she bobbled her head from side to side again, then walked away. I guess not.
After a fifteen minute wait, another lady appeared from behind the rows of empty cubicles. I could smell her reeking of patis (Filipino fish sauce), Chin Shun Su whitening cream and baby powder, despite the attempts to cover it up with half a bottle’s worth of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue perfume. My gut screamed she was Filipina, though I still wasn’t 100% sure. The building tension in my body loosened as I knew other Filipinos would be compassionate to the plight of a Filipino, that the bayanihan spirit lived in this day and age.
“Hi I’m Miss M. And I will be interviewing you today. Let’s go.” she gave my hand a limp shake, strangely disgusted by my touch, with her other hand pointing in the direction of the glass enclosed conference room. I then I discreetly gave myself a whiff and a quickly took a peep at my reflection on the glass panels. I was sure I took a bath, scrubbed myself vigorously, enveloped myself in fruity Bath & Body Works cologne despite being out in the sun for a few minutes. It was still “winter” so that means I did not even sweat as much as I did on a scorching Dubai afternoon. My outfit was decent as well. No odd stains or anything weird. I hoped.
She introduced herself as the HR person of the pineapple company hence took a quick look the copy of my CV I shared with her. “So you’re Filipina? Where did you graduate?” she asked me with the strain of struggling to speak with accent-free English with an American twang, one eyebrow arched in question.
I answered. “And where is that?” she probed further.
I quipped that it was in this district in the metropolis that was near the famous shopping super mall, SM Megamall. It was one of the top business schools in the country. “You don’t know it. No?” It slipped my mind that not all Filipinos are from Metro Manila. Maybe she just was not from the capital. Or maybe the university I came from didn’t even matter here.
She sized me up from head to foot, laser sharp gaze penetrating my legs and feet, which were hidden below the table, and scanned my resume once more. “I see that you have no UAE work experience?”
I concurred. There was no escaping that fact.
“Mmmm…” she pursed her rouged lips together “Your CV is impressive; but since you do not have any UAE work experience, you are not qualified for marketing executive position. We will keep your CV in active file. Though we do need a personal assistant to the General Manager. I think that it would be a great entry level position that would get you the local experience you need.” She then rattled on how the job might bore me, convincing me that the job was beneath me, my qualifications and work experience.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, but I remembered wise words imparted by my Mama about working abroad: one should be willing to start from the bottom, working up. It was one piece of advice that I thought might not hurt to actually take. Sucking in the grimy yet air-condition filtered desert air , I humbly accepted her offer: to apply as a personal assistant. I was willing to get my hands dirty, to learn more about the new market I would be dealing with.
“Okay then. How much are you expecting to get?”
I knew that cost of living in the UAE is three times more than that in the Philippines. So I simply multiplied my latest Philippine salary by three, which I thought made perfect logical sense. So I stated the amount in dirhams, the UAE currency.
Miss M rolled her eyes and flipped her flat-iron pressed hair as she stood up from the seat across me, sashayed behind the office chair, hands gripping the top of the chair as if she wanted to strangle me. She chuckled then sneered, piercing me with her eyes, full of contempt “I’m sorry, but here in Dubai, salaries are tiered according to nationality.”
Did I really just hear that? I reviewed the moment in a split second to make sure that she said it in contempt and not with heartfelt concern for my naivete on this Dubai workplace tenet. In another split second, I decided to brush it off, this snide remark that I’ve never gotten in previous job interviews from Australia, Singapore and Dubai. I was desperate, I needed this job. I needed A job! I had clearly fumbled, lost the chance to help this American company sell more pineapples doused in simple sugar syrup in plastic cups and tin cans.
But I folded, cutting away the only thread that held my pride together and pushing my self-esteem right off the edge, forcing a small smile, pushing back the tears right where they belonged, buried deep under the recesses of my once trusting heart. One that used to believe in the fairness in the workplace, where one received what was due based on actual work experience, merit and potential. One that used to believe that fellow Filipinos, who thousands of miles away from home, carried the bayanihan spirit with them and built each other up.
“That’s fine. Salary can be flexible.”
I left the building flabbergasted as if I stepped out of a nightmare. I was floating, replaying each second of the interview, then I backtracked a bit more. I suppose that Mr. Fruit Company Vice President bothered to read my CV and knew I was qualified for the position before emailing and inviting me over for an interview. Why did they even ask me to do an hour’s worth of tests for the marketing executive position when I was apparently not qualified? Then why did Miss M say I was not qualified for the position? And lastly, did she really say to my face in a professional, formal interview, that salaries in Dubai are based on your nationality?!?
I flared up and proceeded to type a lengthy email to Mr. Fruit Company Vice President, realizing the uncalled for prejudice that was served to me at their office. I shared the story to The Husband, who was indignant, prodding me to send the email. “You need to show that you can’t be pushed around. This is how it is in Dubai.” he said. But I didn’t want to do anything brash, so I slept on it, thinking that this nagging feeling would go away.
The following day, that feeling was still there, anger growing and pride gnashing. What Miss M did to me was flat out wrong and her boss deserved to know. But instead of clicking the send button, I took the email draft to the trash. I couldn’t send it. I believed in karma and I wouldn’t want it to bite me in the ass someday.
A month later, I received received an email from Miss M that my application was unsuccessful. I responded with a gracious email, inquiring about the personal assistant position she offered during the same interview, but got no response…ever again. I didn’t mind. I was more than relieved that I did not hear from her. I was even more relieved that the stars did not align and I did not become part of THAT company. Because, on that fateful the day: February 29th 2012, I realized that when living abroad, race mattered – not just to people who lived outside my country, but also to my fellow Filipinos.