When Bokul was paid Tk 6,000, she said she would not work for such a paltry amount.
“If I worked in a garment factory in Dhaka, I would have earned Tk 6,000 a month. I could have looked after my children. Why did I spend Tk 7,000 to come abroad to work?” she questioned, frustrated.
Bokul was speaking to Prothom Alo at the office of Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra at the Bangladesh-Korea Technical Training Centre in the capital on Monday. She was undergoing training to go abroad on employment.
She is from the village Bathamara of Borhanuddin upazila of Bhola, a southern island district faced with river erosion.
She has two sons and a daughter.
In 2008, Bokul went to Lebanon to work as a housemaid.
“We were very poor. We never got to see even Tk 2,000 in one go. We couldn’t buy good clothes for our children,” she said.
She said her husband wanted to go to Saudi Arabia for work and borrowed Tk 150,000 from local lenders. He handed this over to middleman as migration costs but he eventually could not go, Bokul continued.
“This was a great loss. The lenders were asking for their money and were putting a pressure on us.”
While they were going through this crisis, a woman told Bokul she could take Bokul to Dubai.
“The woman asked me to get a passport, but she didn’t take me to Dubai. I had borrowed Tk 10,000 for the passport.”
“Now our debts amounted to Tk 160,000. We had to count interest every day.”
A neighbour who worked in military said he could help to send Bokul abroad and she was to pay Tk 70,000.
Bokul said local lenders agreed to lend the money considering that if she could go abroad, she would be able to return their money.
“After a three-month delay, I was sent to Lebanon in 2008. I was assured that I would get a monthly salary of Tk 10,000 or Tk 12, 000,” she said.
“I started working in a house and after one month I was given only Tk 6,000.”
“When I refused to work, my employer talked to an agency which deals with foreign workers.”
The agency managed to get me a job at another house for Tk 7,000 a month.
After few days, the lady of the house said her children do not like the maid, though she was satisfied. So she managed another job for Bokul.
Bokul worked for six months for Tk 8,000 a month.
This lady's husband stayed in Qatar and he did not send enough money back home to meet expenses so sent her back to the agency.
“During my stay for 10 to 12 days at the agency office, I saw housemaids beaten up and not fed properly. The employers simply sent back housemaids to the agency office if they made any mistakes,” Bokul said.
“The agency office told me that I was pretty and they wanted to sell me to a rich, elderly Saudi man. I refused to go,” she continued.
The agency said that she if she paid them 4,000 dollars, they would arrange her employment in various households.
She started working, but calculated that it would require two years to earn enough to pay the agency. And then there were the debts back home.
She returned home in 2009.
Upon her return, her husband tortured her physically and mentally. He told her, “You have come back and you couldn’t do anything." He beat her up.
When she was in Lebanon, she had met Rusto, a housemaid from Mymensingh.
Rusto had come home on leave and sent housemaids to Lebanon.
With the help of Rusto, she went to Lebanon again in 2011. She took another loan of Tk 35,000.
She was assured that she would be paid Tk 10,000 a month.
Bokul started working in a household where she was given only one meal a day.
The lady told her she would get fat if you ate more. Another housemaid Jesmin had only 10 days left of her contract period.
In the meantime, the lady's daughter got engaged and during an argument with her fiancé, threw out her engagement ring. They blamed Jesmin for the missing ring.
"I said that she had not stolen the ring, but the man beat her mercilessly."
“I was frightened and fled from the house. I went to Rusto and stayed there for two months.”
She managed to get me work for three months.
“I was given Tk 300 dollars for first two months. In the third month, I was given Tk 400 dollars.”
Later she managed work at a garment factory there in Lebanon.
At the beginning, she received monthly wages of 250 dollars and later this increased.
In 2013, she took her sister to Lebanon.
In 2014, the lady of the house from where she fled reported her to the police. They took her to a police station.
“I told the police that if they sent me back home I would be in trouble. How I would look after my family?”
“They said I have to pay 1200 dollars to my employer. I was allowed to work in the garment factory. I paid the amount, 100 dollars a month.”
Bokul said she worked for three years and repaid the debt. She also managed to make four bhoris of gold jewellry.
She returned home in 2017.
“I stayed with my husband and children in Jurain, Dhaka for one year. Our children went to school there. My husband was a driver and would pay Tk 10,000 a month for household expenses.”
“We could not afford things there and in 2018 we returned to the village. Our children were admitted to the village school.”
“We built a house by with Tk 250,000 but could not complete it.”
She said that the money which her husband gives is not enough to run the family.
One of her friends is sending workers to Saudi Arabia and now Bokul aspires to go abroad yet again.
With the Saudi government sending back migrants, why was Bokul wanting to go there?
“I cannot take decision.”