An Industrial Sewing Machine
At the age of fifteen I started working in a factory. This was three years before the law allowed. I was able to work there because it was a small family-run garment factory in the city, not a big multinational one, and they did not worry about such things. I worked about twelve hours a day from 7am until 7pm. I didn’t know anything about the work but I tried hard and they came to teach me how to work the machines. It was very dangerous; I had to be careful all the time. The factory was in a big house with no windows. It was very noisy, and we couldn’t talk to each other.
After about three months, I was moved to another factory owned by the same family, and at the same time I changed from working days to the night shift. This factory was in a villa on the outskirts of the city. It had a lovely garden, although we couldn’t see it when we were working because, again, there were no windows. This was partly to keep the noise in, and partly to stop people looking in. It was a bit quieter, and I met a lot of new friends. We worked hard for just US $3.50 a day – 7 days a week until the order was completed. After that we had to wait up to a day without pay, before starting on the next order. The industrial sewing machine I used was large and cumbersome, encompassing twenty individual sewing devices. I had to stand up and walk from one side of the machine to the other, checking for problems for about 12 hours a day. In the first two and a half years, I got the needle of the machine stuck in my finger three times. When this happened, my workmates would remove the needle with a pair of pliers, making sure that none of the needle was left inside my finger. One of these times, I had to go to see the doctor because my friends couldn’t find the point of the needle. Fortunately the doctor couldn’t find it in my finger, either.
One night I went to work and felt pain of all over my body. I knew I was sick but I carried on working until I fell over, the result of being on my feet every day for extended periods, and eating irregularly and inconsistently. I had to go to the clinic where the doctor gave me medicine to build me up. He asked me why I had rheumatism at such a young age. I was off work about a week in pain and with a fever. For each day I was unable to work, $3.50 was deducted from my wages.
After three years, I started studying English when the night shifts were over. I had only seven hours free time a day. Life was tough. After studying for a year, I had to give it up at the age of nineteen because a marriage was being arranged for me. We never actually got married but started living together.
Soon, I discovered I was pregnant and had to give up work because of morning sickness. I decided to stop working until the baby was born. When I was seven months pregnant my partner left me after a big argument with my dad, and after a month I moved back to my family home.
My baby was born on the 19 September 2007 at 11 am, after I had been in labour for twelve hours, and when I saw her I forgot about all the pain. She looked very cute and all my family loved her because she was the first grandchild.
Three days after she was born, her dad came to the hospital and begged me to take him back. He said he would stop lying to me and would look after me and our daughter. By the time Rita was nine months old, she was costing us a lot of money, and her dad’s wages as a motorcycle taxi driver were not enough. I therefore decided to go back to work in another factory near my family home. The factory employed more then a thousand workers. I worked about eight hours a day- six days a week for US $ 2 a day and I had to work longer hours if they told me to. I had to get up at 4.30 am and often did not get home until 10 pm. I earned about $130 a month but I was exhausted. If I was off for one day they took $5 from my wages.
Factory life is very hard, especially for women. We worked for peanuts until we dropped, and we never ate well, with just one hour a day break at midday. To go home and come back to the factory took about forty minutes, so I had to eat cheap food, which I bought outside the factory gates. This was dirty, of poor-quality and very unhealthy.
Although my partner gave me next to nothing from his wages, and all my wages went on looking after us and our daughter, he accused me of giving my wages to my family. When I denied this, he left me again. I stayed in the factory for another 3 months, then I got very depressed, I couldn’t work, and I decided to stop working there.
Soon after he came back and again asked if we could get back together, but I said, “no”. He nagged me until I agreed to live with him again. I went back to work in the factory for the third time.
I worked there a year, after which we split up again. I tried to commit suicide but even that didn’t seem to bother him. My family looked after me until I felt well. After all this I was totally fell fed up with the factory and my life. I had spent about seven years of my life there, and I decided to end factory life, and start a new one. I just wanted to start again and try to forget about the past.
My new job was a cashier in a bar. I worked from 7pm to 7am every night. I did not have time to look after my daughter, from whom I had never been apart before but because I needed the money I had to leave her with my mum. When I woke up late afternoon, she would say, “mum I miss you, can’t you stay with me tonight?”. I was very sad and told her, sorry I couldn’t, I had to work because of her.
I had been working about six months in the bar, when my ex-partner came back again, and I told him it was too late. I could take care of myself and my daughter. I was fed up with our life together. He left and never came back. He never came to see his daughter. I know she is sad about this, and she used to tell everyone that her dad is dead.
After we split up for good, my sister went to England with her partner and all our family took her to the airport and stayed there for about two hours until she left. When we got back home, we realised we had been burgled. I went straight to the place I had hidden some jewellery, bought during the four years I had worked in the factory before living with my partner – worth about $2000. It had gone. I was very sad. I had worked hard for nothing.
Life is a story, but this was not the end. I worked as a cashier for another year and I met a man from England. He is a good man, and very kind. We got married a year ago, and I now have a spouse visa, and can live in England until 2015, when I need to apply for another visa. My husband looks after me and my family. My daughter, Rita, who is now six years old, and my husband get on very well, and she now thinks of her new-step-father as her only father and calls him ‘papa’. Two months ago, she visited us for six weeks, and we are now waiting for the result of a settlement visa application for her.
An Asian factory worker who knew nothing about the world, I am now studying English and learning more and more about life every day. At last my life is good, and full of happiness and laughter.
© Lyka Thorn, 4th December 2013
Posted here by Glenn Rikowski