31 August 2023
Concentrating deeply on work at a call centre in Ortigas, Sari nearly missed her name being paged. The OM (Operations Manager) wanted to see her. It was almost 9AM, the time her shift would end, but she nonetheless took the lift to see the boss of her boss. Never having met the OM before, she wondered whether it would be yet another frightful experience. At that time, in another call centre in North EDSA, the OM also wanted to see her. Old memories flooded back, and she automatically found herself steeling her nerves, her heart pounding as she approached the secretary’s desk.
Whilst seated on the sofa waiting to be called in, Sari reminisced about her life. She graduated with a tourism degree from a local state university in Central Luzon, planning to work as a flight attendant or a receptionist in a five-star hotel in Metro Manila. She had always dreamt of wearing nice clothes, of meeting different kinds of people from all over the world! Someday, she had thought, she might even get to travel and visit all those glamorous places shown on television!
But one of her professors suggested she first work at a call centre to brush up her English language skills. She needed to be fluent in English if she hoped to work in a big airline or in some luxury hotel. Taking this to heart, she therefore bid a quick farewell to her family and boarded the bus for Metro Manila. She would stay with a distant aunt in Cubao whilst looking for a job at a call centre in the big city.
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In no time, she heard of an opening in North EDSA. But the interview process, she was told, would be long and rigorous. Sure enough, after an initial interview, a group of candidates was given a written exam in English proficiency—both grammar and vocabulary. She had been one of the top students in her class, so Sari had no trouble passing the written exam. The oral English exam, however, was another matter. She had problems with accents and enunciations, often confusing her “f”s with her “p”s; her “v”s with her “b”s. Spoken words would not come easily to her, and she fidgeted and stumbled on her answers. She thus had low expectations but was surprised when she received a call offering her the job. No worries, she was informed that further training would be given to those who were hired—also, that for their initial position, their telephone spiel would be scripted and all they had to do was to read, practice, and memorise pre-prepared statements.
Sari had a bubbly and vibrant personality. This was her first experience in the big city, and she was amazed at everything she saw. She was also earning a comfortable sum so that she had a bit extra to send to her family back in the province. And all these within a couple of months after she left home! Things couldn’t be better, she thought.
In her enthusiasm over her new-found job, she smiled and greeted everyone she met in the corridors, sharing their jokes, eager to offer her help to whomever might ask her a favour. Soon, word spread around that there was this “cute, 20-something” who was “friendly” with every guy she met. She was indeed “ripe for the picking!” That no one amongst her more experienced female colleagues warned her about the tsismis (gossip) she was inadvertently generating was one thing Sari would never forget. Instead, she would catch them talking behind her back, whispering and giggling, but would suddenly stop as she walked by. Initially feeling troubled, she soon dismissed her insecurities, surmising that perhaps these women were jealous because she was pretty and popular.
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After an office party a few months later, Sari was called to go to the OM’s office. When she got there, the lights were dim and the OM was seated on top of his desk. He asked her to sit down, and looked intently at her. Keeping her eyes on the floor, she didn’t know what was happening. The OM started by informing her of her reputation in the office, her closeness to men, especially to the TL (Team Leader) with whom “she apparently slept with the other night”. (The TL did take her home after she had had a few drinks and had said she felt dizzy--all these were new experiences to her. But that was that). The OM now stood up, and Sari saw his looming shadow on the floor, towering over her, getting bigger and bigger. He went around her, stood behind her, touched her shoulders and started massaging them. “Relax,” he said, “I know how to help you get ahead in this company.” Sari felt her hair standing on her nape as she jerked up, “No! No, Sir! I just want to go home.” She resigned the next day.
For the next two months, and what seemed like a lifetime, Sari moped around her aunt’s place contemplating whether to go home and admit defeat, or stay in the big city to fight things out. The events of the past months had changed her. Gone was the naïve little girl from the province. In its place was a cynical young woman who was tired of being an “emotional punching bag of entitled Americans who always needed someone to complain to. Didn’t they know what good things they already had?” Finally, she decided to get on with her practice of English, and thus applied to another call centre, this time in Ortigas.
Her ruminations were interrupted by the secretary who said the OM was now ready to see her. A smile greeted Sari, “Hi, I am Mrs. Ocampo, your OM”. Mrs. Ocampo was a middle-aged, soft-spoken woman!
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Gaping, Sari could only grope for her seat. Then, another thought--perhaps there was a new gossip floating around. What did she do this time? But Mrs Ocampo was gentle. It seemed the TL, another middle-aged woman, had been observing her (Sari) for more than a year that she had been with them. Instead of gossiping, Sari only concentrated on her work. She arrived on time, and the customers were likewise quite pleased with her. On top of that, Sari had good university credentials. The TL is now leaving and is recommending that Sari take her place.
But Mrs Ocampo had a word of advice, “You know, part of the TL’s work is to supervise others. There will be about 10 people under you. I think you should be approachable, get to know the other members of the team and learn to work with them. I heard you’re rather aloof, and one even said you’re suplada (haughty). I suggest you now work on your people skills.”
Sari could only smile. “Damn if you do, damn if you don’t”. She couldn’t help telling herself, “I will try my best, Ma’am,” she managed to say. “And thank you for your confidence in me.”