Dubai: The last few days have been the hardest for Filipina expatriate Aurelia Villarta and the Tattarakis family. On Monday, after all, is Villarta’s flight home to the Philippines as she retires after serving the family in Dubai for the past 29 years.
Villarta arrived in the UAE to work as a housemaid for the Tattarakis family in 1991. The youngest son, Chris, was then just a month old while his older brother Jean Michel was three.
“I watched them grow up to be the young men they are now. And it makes me proud,” Villarta told Gulf News during a visit, her smile infectious.
“They are very sweet, especially Chris. They have always treated me as part of the family. Not once have I felt out of place.”
But if Chris could have it his way, Villarta’s place would be in Dubai — with them.
“I’ll bring her back [from the Philippines eventually]. She’ll get bored there,” Chris said with a chuckle, albeit a hint of sadness in his eyes.
Villarta was the ninth house help to serve the Tattakaris family. But she became more than that, said Chris, who considers himself as Greek-American because of his parents, and also part-Filipino, thanks to Villarta.
“Because Aurelia has been in my life ever since I can remember and she’s been through every significant part of my life — the highs and the lows — it’s as if I have two mothers. I’ve been very blessed to have my biological mother and Aurelia as well,” Chris said.
“When you grow up in Dubai, it’s very easy to be consumed by materialism and get caught up with the bigger, better, faster and money-this, money-that [attitude]. But having the blessing of having two mothers and one father, and especially having Aurelia around, teaches you to be humble, modest, and hardworking. For that I am thankful.”
For Diana, Chris’ mother, having Villarta around for the past three decades has allowed her to pursue her career without having to worry about her household.
“I feel that I was very lucky to have Aurelia with me to take care of my house and my kids. I work full-time and I was able to go to work and not feel that my house was being neglected, nor were my children. They were well taken care of by her,” said Diana who works in the public sector.
Asked what the secret is to a lasting employee-employer relationship, the family and Villarta attribute it to love and respect.
“When Chris’ friends come for a visit, he would introduce me as, ‘This is Aurelia, my second mother,” Villarta said. “The whole family never treated me as a housemaid. It was as if my sir and ma’am are my brother and sister while the boys are my children.”
Diana said she never thought of Villarta as anybody else.
“I never thought of her as a housemaid. I thought of her as part of my family and I treated her as such. We care about each other,” Diana said.
“She is a big part of my sons lives and she’s also precious to me and I will miss her a lot when she leaves. But I know that she needs to go now. It’s her time to pursue other adventures and happiness in her country and bring joy to her own family who probably miss her a lot.”
Still strong at 71 years old, Villarta plans to start a small gardening business back home. She has no children but has supported eight nieces and nephews to university.
As for her advice to other maids in the UAE, she only has one.
“My mother used to say if you work hard with all your heart, people will love you, accept you with open arms and fight for you. That’s just what I’ve done these past 29 years.”