Photo credit: IOM/Shaebi Ahmed
“I grew up south of Manila in the Philippines. I had worked as a nurse for three years and then a friend told me about a job opportunity in Libya. So I applied and got accepted.
When I first came to Libya in 1996 there was still an air embargo on the country - so we flew to Egypt and came by land. I still remember feeling so cold, as the weather was different. It was my first time seeing the desert. I could also see the cultural differences. My father used to work in Dubai, but he never told me about this. I started to wonder – ‘why are things like this, why are things like that?’
When I started the job I felt right at home, since most of the staff members were from the Philippines. Before, I didn’t like the Libyan cuisine. I couldn’t eat the Libyan pasta or couscous. They give us tickets at the hospital to have our meals from the cafeteria – a big meal with chicken. I used to leave the food as it was too spicy for me - I even lost weight back then. But in the long run, I learned to like it. Couscous its now my favorite Libyan food, as long as it's not very spicy.
I also got married. My husband is from Palestine. We had a small celebration with close friends. It’s hard to marry someone who is not from your culture. We have had to agree on the idea that ‘I’m not like this and he is not like that’ so we can meet in the middle. I respect him for who he is and he respects me for who am I. We are counting the years, as next November will mark 18 years of marriage. We have five boys. We kept trying to have a girl, that's why we have five kids now.
I have worked in the oncology unit since 2003. I just try to explain to patients what the side effects of chemotherapy can be. So I tell them – ‘you are going to vomit and lose your hair. What I’m giving you is going to destroy your normal cells and you will become weak.’ Then I give them the reassurance – ‘don’t worry your hair will grow back after and it might be even more beautiful than before. You have to eat good food so you will gain power to help yourself.’
Now I’m trying to learn more about the techniques to better administer chemotherapy, like how to help patients vomit less and have less side effects. I feel like my knowledge is improving by researching. Nowadays, most of the medicines for chemotherapy are not available to find for donations but when we can’t find them, we ask patients to pay for themselves. Just like in the Philippines, chemotherapy is expensive. Now, everything is hard in Libya since it’s hard to get money from the bank. Sometimes patients donate to one another by keeping any extra medicine from their session. We try to collect enough for the ones who can’t not afford it.
I started to read books about Arab culture and as the years passed I learned to adopt it and respect it. I love Libya, as this is my home now.”