jueves, 2 de mayo de 2013

The bird and the sheep

Autora: Isabel Barreto
Nationality: Colombian
Degree in Business Administration
Graduate Certificate in Financial Analysis
Trainer in Occupational Training
* Series: Stories about skilled immigration and foreign professional women

Parallel to this crisis, new crisis began to emerge. In reality, Latin American countries have always been in crisis, say rather, that the crisis increased: unemployment was on the rise and paid employment decreases. I began to panic thinking about my children's bleak future and how I would gladly pay for their university’s tuitions so that they could become doctors, engineers, and architectures while driving taxis or performing low-skilled jobs not matching their career abilities or their qualifications.

I began to seek ways to travel to Canada but it was not possible. If I would travel to Australia or the U.S., I would have to learn English. I was given the opportunity to travel to Spain, a decision that I made in less than a month.  To pay for our trip, I used the money that I had saved for my daughter to go on a cruise on her fifth teen birthday. Here we are, nine years later and we have not been able to go on that cruise.

My daughter is now 24 years old, she is a sophomore at the university and wants to become a Chemical Engineer. In the past four years, she had dreamed of finishing her degree but has not been able to enroll full time at the university because she has to work.
Three months after arriving in Spain, I felt for the first time as if I was a bird coming out its nest, weal and disoriented.

I began to work as a housekeeper and was given a blue and white plaid uniform with white canvas shoes. I compared this uniform to what I used to wear when I lived in my country: gray executive suits with a tie and being the head of personnel.
I worked from 6:30 a.m. till 25:30 a.m. Indeed, it is how I write it. I worked 25 hours and 30 minutes of the next day.

I worked in a villa with four floors and five people lived in it. I had just been working for eight days, when my boss called me a native. 

He said to me, “if you cannot clean a house, go back to your country or become a whore, and by the way, with your looks you would be a good one."

I felt as if I was dying. I wanted to leave but had nowhere to go. All I could do was lower my head. I put up with the situation for seven more months till I found another job. I was fortunate enough to have found a decent family. I had to take care of three children but I was very happy. My daughter lived with me and she was able to reassume her classes at the university.

I legalized my status five years ago.  I validated my degree to Business Studies and began to work as an administrative assistant and as a telephone operator. I justified it because I had not worked for six years and had no experience in the field.

I evoked the feelings of being a bird again, but this time the bird was living in a cage and as it was set free the bird began to crash into walls, against the glass and was still weak and clumsy. That is exactly how I felt, except, instead of crashing against the glass I was crashing against the world reliving painful memories from the past. For instance, my supervisor approached me one day carrying a white envelope in his hand, and with an arrogant 
attitude commanded me to follow him to his office and said to me,

- "Isabel, we are so sorry but you did not passed the test period."

-My eyes widen and I was so surprised because I could have sworn I was doing everything that was asked off me. I left with my salary settlement and with few tears rolling down my cheeks.

I went to the apartment that I had rented to reunite with my husband and I told my daughter what had happened. She looked at me wondering, - "what are we going to do now? Rent costs 700 and we have in the bank 120 plus 350 of settlement?"

I began to work on craft projects making necklaces, bracelets by using the art of recycling.  I also made cushions made out of pieces of fabric and was able to make enough money to pay for the rent, the utilities and buy food until my daughter could find a job to help me out.

I am 49 years old and I am still taking courses in computing, telecommunications, Contaplus, Nominaplus, FacturaPlus, and Basic English.
In Spain, no company allows you to sign a contract for over a year. Well, I have acquired experience as an administrative assistant and in telemarketing. I have visited all employment and placement offices.  I filed the applications stating that I was documented or was undocumented; whether I had experience or had none; whether I was black, white or mestizo. I was told that I had to fill the blank spaces or I would not receive a phone call. After waiting for, 6, 7, 8, 9 years, I never received a call but neither did anyone else.
I have presented my craft projects and I was told," How beautiful ". " You are indeed a true artist." There is no budget for crafts it is only a volunteer job.

When I visit CEPI, or ONG, it is not because I am asking for assistance. I am not asking for freebies, I am only asking to be given the opportunity to show my craft. A technique I learned many years ago. I am not expecting to get rich I am doing it so that I can survive. But instead of feeling as if I was a bird I now feel as if I am a sheep: - I enter shorn wool and salt.
Whether I visit INEM, or whether I go to an employment agency or search the Internet for a job, I want to cry. After studying for years and with all my qualifications, the ad reads:
- An Administrative assistant is needed and I say, "Finally, the job is mine!"

Then I read, - "No more than 35 years old."
- "I am 49 years old."
The ad says, "preferably with a car.' - and I - I barely have enough money to pay the rent how can I buy a car".
As I continue to read,
-"Essential requirement, Fluent in English"
- And I barely know spanglish. I continue reading;
- "Disability greater than or equal to 33%." 

I exclaimed-aahhhhh!? And I say to that, -OK, OK, I beg for forgiveness of those who have disabilities. I have an emotional disability caused by a weary soul and a broken heart. My heart has been broken in two continents for I mourn having to leave my sons behind in my country for nine years .The shattered hopes and having reached certain age, the feeling of being undervalued, and just to know how hard I have studied to better myself all of those efforts are worth nothing. I feel impotent, incapable, or  "emotionally disabled."

The sum of all of my feelings adds up to more than 33%.
- "Who can certify that I am emotionally disable?"

I did field work, or rather, volunteer work for several organizations. I did it as a personal challenge and thus to define and visualize the weakness and the strengths of my project.
Today, thank God, I found a job in an association where I signed a contract for nine months. Although, I am optimistic not pessimistic, I keep asking myself: what will happen afterwards? Being fifty years old, will I be able to get a job?

Could I demonstrate one day, that I have studied and that I am a qualified?
Have my training been worth acquiring it? 
Was it  worth it to leave my family, my country, and my friends, in search of a more promising future?"

- As the lawyers say: "No more questions  your honor."

Brief career summary
Ana Isabel Barreto Mendoza
Graduate in Business Administration.
Training: Social Networks, Social Leadership, Introduction to Teaching Methodology, Technical and Administrative Management. I have experience as Administrative Assistant, Human Resources Administrative Assistant and Commercial customer. I have also worked as Call Center Operator, Instructor in artistic creation workshops, crafts and occupational therapy.

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