I’ve decided to tell you a highly bizarre, emotional saga, with twists and turns and romance (hahaha I’m just joking with the romance) that may seem unbelievable. I only ask that you read it on your commute or at a café and if you laugh out loud, you immediately tell everyone around you where you found such entertaining content 🙂
Eleven months ago, I moved to the Philippines to serve with International Justice Mission in their fight against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children. I was excited and nervous, but ready! I anticipated a season of personal, professional, and spiritual growth and braced myself for all the battles I’d get to go through in the name of justice!
If you had told that Baby Maggie that the biggest battle she’d go through in the Philippines would be over a pair of missing doors, she’d laugh right out of her white clothing that had yet to be dyed pink due to a misplaced washcloth.
When I moved to the Philippines, we were fortunate enough to have housing all ready for us. The interns before us had been ripped off by their landlady so they arranged new options for the incoming batch in a more convenient building. Our apartment was very nice, with the small hiccup that they were going to turn the living room into the second bedroom by adding doors. But it was all going to be finished by the time we moved in. In fact, we paid a one-month security deposit before we arrived in-country to ensure that, and that furniture would be provided as well.
So by the time I moved into the building, bright-eyed, naive, and not unlike Maria Von Trapp first leaving the convent with impractical luggage, I was asked to pay the last two months rent that served as the full deposit, to be added with the 1 month security deposit that I had already paid. I signed my part of the contract and paid mine and my roommate’s portion. The broker, so friendly and kind, offered to supply the acknowledgement receipt and payment schedule when my roommate moved in a week later and signed her contract. And of course, he insisted that he’d speak to the owner about “some lingering issues” that would be resolved quickly.
The space was beautiful, pristine white, never lived in, and ….. empty. Apart from the mattresses, bed frames, and two barstools, there was nothing. And the living room/second bedroom/my bedroom was quite literally a fish bowl, with a massive opening and no doors to close it off. But I had just moved thousands of miles away and was HIGH ON LIFE AND PURPOSE. So the furniture was coming! So the doors were still being made! So this just made more room to dance around to “Despicito” and Taylor Swift and “Raspberry Beret”, which I was inexplicably really into around that time. It was 2017! We were all still full of hope and innocence, okay?!
That joy lasted about a week, when my roommate moved in and I realized, oh darn, I really need a door. The furniture (a kitchen table, chairs, a TV stand, and a TV that didn’t work) arrived about two months later because the owner was in France and wanted to handpick it all herself. And because the doors needed to be *custom-made*, the solution was to put up heavy, black-out curtains. But it was explained over and over again, that it was only temporary and they would be done soon. Which I was glad for, because the curtains didn’t fully cover the space and of course, did nothing from keeping out noise and smells.
And yeah, smells was a bit of an issue. Not only because I basically lived in the kitchen, but I was the one who had to deal with little separating me from the bathroom. Which had a toilet. A toilet that never fully flushed. That a handyman I called up the first week told me could never flush toilet paper. So going to the bathroom always was an *ordeal* of dealing with that all….and of course, worse if someone was sick….which happened. A lot. When first moving to a new country. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest and why it was particularly *shitty* to not be physically separated from.
BUT I WAS STILL HIGH ON PURPOSE! This was my new shiny city and it was slowly becoming home! Every blog post was about the silver linings and learned lessons and laughing through it all! Because my roommate never really vocalized concerns about the situation and there was always going to be worse things to complain about (like, I don’t know, THE ONLINE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN), I really didn’t mind either. After all, I’m from a family of ten. My tolerance level is pretty darn high.
So every time we inquired about the doors, we were told they were still being made. And every time we had someone come fix the toilet, we would just laugh whenever they’d show up with no tools, take one look at our skin color, and tell us not to flush toilet paper. And when my roommate discovered that her bedroom door actually locked and got locked out, we laughed it how insane it all was, that we weren’t provided a key to that door, and that it took six hours and our own money to open it….on Valentine’s Day. So yeah, I guess this story does have a little romance if you count the guard who hit on us as the Edward the locksmith broke back into my roommate’s room ((why did the guard insist to accompany the locksmith? WE DON’T KNOW. WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING))
But ya know, our broker was just *so* friendly, so surely it was just the owner not responding and the problem the whole time. We just had to be flexible, right?
So that lasted, AMAZINGLY, a little over nine months. My roommate and I fell into a cycle of plunging and living quietly around my curtains, and it was all manageable. I even attended my broker’s wedding because we were all such good buddies. I loved my life outside of that apartment and had even decided to stay another three months. It was all fine!
That was, until my roommate pulled out a PAINT BRUSH from the toilet.
A contractor’s paint brush someone had tried to flush down it.
Over nine months ago.
It had been in there the entirety of our time in the Philippines. Over the duration of a full-term pregnancy. A paint brush. In the toilet. Really take that in. Read it again. Out loud. A paint brush. In the toilet. That we had never seen for months and the MAINTENANCE WORKERS WHO WERE PAID TO FIX TOILETS NEVER BOTHERED TO REMOVE OR HAD EVEN SEEN. A paint brush.
I had *insisted* since the beginning that there was something wrong with the toilet. Like, what toilet couldn’t flush? Not just toilet paper, but never fully flush at all? And it was awful. Everyone knew about my toilet and my conspiracy theory that something was wrong with the pipes. Every maintenance man who came up and laughed at us because I was so angry about it. Every time that they insisted we were flushing toilet paper, which we definitely weren’t. The time that the owner told me that the issue was created by us so was going to have to be paid by us to fix. The countless jokes and exasperated sighs of my friends and roommate because I was just so insistent about the toilet.
All vindicated by a shitty paint brush.
Instead of redeeming months of gaslighting, it broke something in me. Everything could be laughed away before that but this, the biggest joke of all, BROKE me.
And when the owner responded to the photo of the paintbrush with an “okay, thanks”, indignation rushed into my heart.
Like the newly unblocked toilet pipes, nothing was holding back the anger I was feeling. I was scammed. I was complacent. I was DOORLESS. Something had to be done.
So I contacted the owner, super nice-like, about the door, one last time. They were still being made. From the start of asking for the door, it had been ten months. Ten months to make these doors??? It was suspicious because 1.) we had found out that the owner didn’t live in France but 20 minutes away and 2.) she was still accepting the rent of a two-bedroom apartment.
So I’m done by this point. I realize I just got to cut my losses and move on out. I figure I can get my deposit back, or at least some of it, because I won’t be living there for the last two months because the contract was never fulfilled. It was uninhabitable from Day One but the paintbrush really removed the scales from my eyes. I let her know through a friendly letter, explaining that I was just a missionary on a missionary’s salary and really needed the money back. I figured justice was on my side, because after all, the proof was in the giant gaping hole with a measly curtain covering it.
And that triggered a SHITE STORM. Not only would I not be receiving that money, but I can’t move without them kicking out my roommate. And it turns out, they accuse us of owing first month rent….from over ten months ago. So not only do I have to stay in a situation that became unlivable, but I have to pay more to do it?? No, siree.
So we sit down with the brokers, vocalize our complaint about the door and the toilet, and ask to see our acknowledgement receipt and contract. They have neither and try to show us the example of someone else’s. We realize that they’re just super incompetent but had been our friends so it felt super uncomfortable. And without a receipt, we were defenseless to prove that we didn’t have to pay anything. So my roommate presents the ultimatum: we won’t pay until the doors are put in.
THE NEXT DAY, SHITE YOU NOT, these magical doors that had taken ten months to be custom-made, arrived prefabricated.
I *clapping hands emoji* am *clapping hands emoji* liv *clapping hands emoji* -id *clapping hands emoji*. Like Tyra Banks yelling at Tiffany-level livid.
It forced me out of my apartment for days and we had to use personal days off just to be there with the contractors for the two and half weeks it took them to create a fake door frames in which to hang these doors. At one point, four of them were just gluing and taking off a single board for about half a day. It was classic. And the result at the end of it all?
Glass doors that see right into the room and because they hang, allow noise and smells in. And because they were glass, the solution was to hang the curtains BACK OVER THE WHOLE STRUCTURE, which made them impossible to move.
So I finally got the doors. And kept my curtains. And got a threat from the owner that said that we had to pay the rent now even though we were in the last two months that had already been paid for when we signed. And the next day, we received an eviction notice that said that we had that day to pay for it or we were getting kicked out by the end of the month.
I was a wreck. I developed a nervous rash. I literally felt defenseless. How could I be in a country in which I was fighting against the most evil injustice imaginable, and I was being ripped off with my living arrangement? It was laughable, except I didn’t have the strength to laugh anymore. Every day that I went home and saw “37F”, I had to verbally say “37F-You” just to get through the door.
But if you’re gonna rip off any dumb foreigner, don’t rip off a dumb foreigner who works in an office with some of the best lawyers in the Philippines.
They helped us figure out what to do about the contract but without the awknowledgement receipt, our argument was pretty slim. We had searched over and over and over our apartment and swore we weren’t provided any copies.
On my way home that day, I was stopped at the desk with the guard asking me to sign an eviction notice. Thankfully, my boss, a lawyer, told her in Tagalog that I didn’t need to sign anything because the eviction was illegal. And when I got upstairs, my roommate had miraculously found the acknowledgement receipt, signed by everyone, that said that we had paid the security deposit, last two months, and first month rent. It was a literal miracle provided by God that legally covered us from paying any more money.
And as I was celebrating what felt like total righteousness for all the aggressive emails from the owner and the lies from the brokers, my roommate looked over her finances and concluded that she actually didn’t pay the first month rent.
And it sunk into my heart, and was confirmed, that I hadn’t either. Even though we had a legal document that told us that we did, that we think the brokers had insisted on not having either because they realized their mistake that they were missing a month of rent that they forgot to ask for, I was crestfallen.
I was going to have to do the right thing. To pay yet another month of rent to satisfy this scheme-y contract of lies that I needed to honor. Why?
Because I love Jesus. And to honor this by doing the right thing and paying the owner despite the brokers’ mistake, despite the fact that they didn’t provide a two-bedroom, fully furnished, full-plumbed apartment, despite the rude assumptions made about us, I was honoring God and putting my faith in His provision.
It was one of those “come to Jesus” moments where I was like “okay, Imma do it but I’m mad”.
So we met with the owner, who only agreed to meet when we told her we got a lawyer involved (literally, just my boss) and we explained the mistake. We explained how legally we had the documentation that protected us from having to pay her. We had the argument of null contract because two bedrooms weren’t provided. We even had her own confession that she knew that trying to evict us the way she had was illegal, because we were foreigners who probably didn’t know any better. And despite it all, we were going to do the right thing because we are good, honest people.
I’m looking at this woman and thinking about our brokers, thinking “you do not deserve this. You do not deserve this grace. You should have to deal with the consequences of your actions, your lies, your deception, your cheating. You got sloppy and should pay for it, ya messy besh”.
But right when I’m convinced that I know best, God humbled me with this simple reminder.
Really it is in fact I who am a messy besh.
Because I’ve done stupid things against people. I’ve lied. I’ve deceived. I’ve cheated. I’ve sinned a hundred times a day.
And God still gave me grace that I in no way deserve. He calls me His child and tells me He’s proud of me even when I mess up. He forgives me and does right by me.
Did I get ripped off? Yup. Were we low-key discriminated against? You bet my translucently alabaster skin we were. Did I come out the other end smarter, wiser, and more like Jesus? YES AND IT SUCKED.
Of course there was more to the story and I don’t want to say “you had to be here and have lived through ten months of cultural fatigue and cultural understanding to get it” but also kinda yeah.
You may also be wondering how it all turned out…..
Since this whole thing went down, I moved out of 37F-You and I now live with a lovely co-worker and her adorable little family. I live with two baby boys who every day I get to see grow and thrive. I get to be around a family and in a neighborhood, and see the best of everyday life in the Philippines. I didn’t realize that only working around OSEC and then going home to my apartment I hated for nine months removed me from so much life, that I now get to be a part of every day.
People surrounded me and cared for me, laughed alongside me and got mad with me. Friends prayed for me and fought for me. ((Special shout-out to Kristen, Erika, Jill, all of the attorneys, Hanna, UpperRoom fam, IJM fam)). I realized just how big my home here is, beyond the walls of my room. I’m just so humbled by how God redeemed this.
So listen, this was a DUMB long read that I’m sure y’all could have handled a billion different, better ways. But it was MY DUMB LONG experience that will always remind me of how I’ve grown and how God has provided for me.
And I will never again take a bedroom door (and a paint brush-less toilet) for granted again.