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The Inner Voice
A Virtual Assistant’s Story

One of the Philippines’ outsourcing centers, Iloilo, begins to rival Manila’s. Here, most new college graduates opt to work for one of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies. Many also work in call centers to support themselves while studying. It’s here that they gain valuable experience speaking to international clients under high pressure situations.

Iloilo’s residents are called Ilonggos; they speak Hiligaynon: a language popular among other Filipinos for its crooning tone. Sad or angry, an Ilonggo always speaks with the voice that exudes a happy melody. With this distinctive characteristic, the voice resonates a versatility that complements the needs of the call center industry. The voice is more than the sound heard by the client over a phone call.

The voice has a story to tell.

 

ARIANN ROSE

 

The career path of a college graduate here in the Philippines is almost always dictated by the family. One can only be considered successful if one took Biology in college and becomes a medical practitioner; if one took Education and becomes a teacher; or if one took Political Science and becomes a lawyer. My father always wanted a daughter who would be a lawyer. I earned a degree in Political Science, and I could have fulfilled my father’s wish. But, until now, I have not enrolled in the College of Law.

When I graduated from college, I was dead set to look for work overseas. I always wanted to see places, experience other cultures, and meet other people from other countries. The dream became a reality, but certain circumstances led me to go back to my country. I am Ariann Rose, a Filipina, an Ilongga, and a team lead Business Virtual Assistant. This is my story.

My passport to having my first work overseas was my mother who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. After I graduated, two of my brothers were still enrolled in a maritime school and their schooling meant more money needed for tuition and fees. Both my father (a government employee) and my mother’s salaries combined would not be sufficient to supply our everyday needs. Thus, I found a good reason to join my mother in Hong Kong. It was not only because I want to experience life in another country, but I felt it was my responsibility as the eldest to help my younger brothers and sisters earn a college degree.

Hong Kong changed my outlook in life. There, I witnessed how the daily grind was different from the Philippines’. A lot of opportunities even came my way. My mother’s employer who learned I graduated from college made me do office tasks which were not listed in the job description stated on my working visa. Not only did I have the perks of office life but, my employer allowed me to accompany her during her visits in other countries. She even enrolled me for a six-month course in the culinary arts in Thailand where I learned to cook my favorite spicy dishes. In one of our classes, I surprised my instructor when one dish required only five chili peppers, but I placed twelve and tasted the dish in front of everyone.

Although I love spicy dishes and I’m confident to prepare one, I would never swap any dish with the sunny side up prepared by my mother when we were together in Hong Kong. For somebody like me who spent a little time with my mother when I was a child, the sunny side up tasted like gourmet food. I felt so loved and pampered. The situation was the opposite when I was still in the Philippines and mother goes home for a two-week vacation after a two-year contract. I hungered for her attention back then. I can only guess she had so much difficulty dividing her attention among us with such a short period of time. And so I thought that someday, when I would have a family of my own, I would never allow my children to be in the situation that my siblings and I had been.

When my brothers finished college and started working as sailors, my parents found a good reason for me to return to the Philippines. Father opened up the possibility of my enrolment in the College of Law. I found another good reason to avoid the enrolment. My coming home was a few months before the beginning of the semester, and I decided to work as a call center agent.

My motivation to keep looking for work and to just keep working seems to be the antithesis of my childhood. Frail and constantly admitted to the hospital because of my sensitivity to some allergens, I had been almost always confined at home. My parents prohibited me from playing with the neighborhood kids because they were afraid that would trigger my allergies and would mean a three-month stay at the hospital, a one-week rest at home, and another hospital admission. It had become like a cycle which drained my parents – financially and emotionally. I witnessed their loaning money and giving up some of our property just to cope with my hospital expenses.

I found comfort through reading books. Although locked up in the hospital room or at home, I would pore over Agatha Christie’s novels, empathizing with the protagonist’s adventures as he unlocks evidences from one mystery to the next. One novel to another led me to think of splurging into an adventure of my own when I become older.

Now that I am a mother, I discovered how easier it had been to unlock mysteries behind unsolved crimes than to decode the messages written through notes tucked by my daughter in one of her books or in one of my personal journals.

Ten years.  My daughter, Icelle Reine, is now ten years old. Lying down on one of the sofa beds of our office, I have hardly noticed how she has grown taller. When I started working for the company way back 2011 as a Medical Virtual Assistant, Icelle would insist going with me so she could spend the night near me while I work. That time, the old office had an empty desk she has found to be convenient for a bed to sleep on. Looking at my daughter now, I couldn’t agree more with our neighbors’ observations how she has grown to become so much like me: mannerisms, facial features, choice of clothes, and more importantly, her love for reading.

“…she has grown to become so much like me…”

I felt a slight pinch on my chest when I witnessed her beaming at the sight of the Harry Potter book I bought her last week. So, this is how it feels like to be a mother. I know my husband and I are willing to work hard to give her all the things she needs and wants, but after having read her notes, I felt I had fallen short of her expectations.

This Saturday, I would have wanted to go on an out-of-town trip with my office buddies, Benjamin and Kean. I’m sure, Icelle could have heard our conversation last night while she was “asleep”. She seems to be so quiet this morning, observing me each time I reach for my phone. I couldn’t bear the way she looks at me anymore. It’s time to text Benjamin that I cannot join him and Kean.

Honestly, I would most of the time find myself caught in a dilemma. Whenever Benjamin and Kean invite me, I would want to bring my daughter along. And I did, several times. It’s just that I feel there are certain trips where children her age should not join adults like us. Some trips require rides which are quite dangerous that I feel she would be safer at home. Or is it really her safety that I am concerned about? Sometimes, I feel I deserve some time for myself – just my friends and I.

My thoughts would always drift back to the notes my daughter would tuck inside the seemingly inconspicuous places inside our home. I even wonder if she has read my personal journal for she had inserted one of her notes there. On one note, she wrote that she would want to have more time spent with me, and she loves my current job and also sees herself working in an office like ours.

This Saturday then has to be different. I may be groggy after an eight-hour shift, but I will be fixing breakfast for the two of us. Sunny side up eggs, just like how my mother had prepared my breakfast while I was still in Hong Kong. I notice how we only have enough left for the weekend upon opening the refrigerator.

At a time like this, I miss Jay-r – my husband. This almost empty refrigerator would not be in its current state if he still lives with us. But things have changed since he left. When I think about it, a lot has changed when Icelle came. A lot more has changed when Jay-r decided to work abroad.

To be continued…


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