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Stella – promised a job

 

Stella

I wake to the sound of pounding. My mother is pounding groundnuts. She’s singing, her song keeping time with her pounding. For a few minutes I lie there enjoying the sounds and feelings of early morning. Then the reality hits me. It’s not my mother pounding or singing. It’s not early morning. It’s still dark and someone is pounding on my door. The singing is coming from a radio. A man shouts, “Get up! Get up! Now! Pack your bag. You are moving”. I jump from the bed, quickly wash my face, dress and put my few belongings in a plastic bag. I have learned to obey. I have paid dearly for delaying. The scars on
my body will never fade.

Outside my door, Teeth is waiting impatiently. I call him Teeth because he has enormous, prominent teeth. He spits when he speaks, and if you draw back, he pushes his face closer to yours so that he sprays you with spittle. “Kitchen, now. Eat. You are going on a long journey”. I eat cornflakes and drink tea. Across the table from me, the white girl is eating her breakfast too. She looks terrible, her cheekbones prominent, her eyes dead. I try to make her look at me but she just stares at her plate.

“Out. Now. Get into the car. Wait. Take this bread with you. We don’t want to have to stop for you to eat or to spend money on you”. He laughs, showing his horrible teeth, poking his tongue out over his lower hip. I hate him. He is the most disgusting man I have ever seen. The white girl and I get into the back seat of the car. Teeth and a white man get into the front, the white man in the driver’s seat. We drive off.

The city streets are almost empty and we move quickly. After some time, we leave the city behind us and head out into the open country. At a big barrier, the driver pays and we pass through. I think we are crossing a border, going into another country.

The sun comes up, lighting the sky behind us. We are travelling west, I tell myself. The road is smooth and we are going fast. No one is talking so I can think my own thoughts. How did it happen, I ask myself, that I am here in a foreign country, in a car with another woman and two men, travelling west to God knows where?

A few months before, I was a University student in Ibadan, Nigeria. My days were filled with lectures and tutorials, papers to be handed in, the debating society, choir practice. I was doing well. I was going to be a social worker. I was staying with my mother’s cousin, Joseph. He made it very clear to me that he did not want me in his house, eating his food, wasting his electricity. I put up with his complaining and worked hard so that I would have a good future, better than the life my parents had, back in the village. They had sacrificed so much for my education and I wanted to make them proud. I also looked forward to being able to support them in their old age and to making life more comfortable for them.

One evening, I heard Joseph speaking on the phone, “I have a girl here who could go with you. No, no questions will be asked. They are far away in the village”. I thought no more of it until a few days later when Joseph met me as I came home from college. “Stella”, he said, “A wonderful opportunity has presented itself. How would you like to go to Europe?” “Europe?” I asked, “How?” “A friend of mine wants a girl to go and work for him. He owns a business in Europe”. “But,” I said “what about my studies? I want to get my degree”. “He knows about your studies. He will get you into a European university later on and you will get an even better degree. With a degree from Europe you can go anywhere in the world. I need your answer tomorrow. My friend is coming to see if you are willing to go”. Surely this was an opportunity too good to miss. I said I would go with my cousin’s friend.

Next day, the businessman came to the house. “Don’t worry about anything”, he told me, “I have your papers. We will leave on Saturday”. I said I would need to go home and tell my parents I was leaving for Europe, but my cousin said, “No, there is no time for that. You can write to them when you arrive in Europe. Or phone them. I will tell them you are safe with my friend here, Mr Mumu”. Mr Mumu smiled. “I will take good care of you. Think of the money you will be sending back from Europe. Your parents will be able to live in comfort. By the way, don’t tell anyone about this. People can be very jealous”.

The following Saturday, Mr Mumu and I were on the plane. It was my first experience of flying and I was nervous and also excited. When we landed, we got into another plane and after about an hour we landed again. Outside the airport, we were picked up by the man I later called Teeth and taken to a house in a city. As soon as we got into the house, Teeth took my bag and my papers. He showed me to a bedroom and told me that would be where I would be sleeping, “And doing other things”, he said and laughed rudely. As he left the room, he locked the door. I sat on the bed and wondered what was going to happen next.

After some time, Teeth came back. “Now”, he said, “My reward. Let’s see what has come from Nigeria. I miss that place. Let me smell you”. He threw me down on the bed and raped me. I screamed and screamed, but no one came to help me. Then Teeth left me, saying, “Clean yourself up. We are expecting visitors”.

That night three white men came and had sex with me. They were rough. They did not look at my face. “Give me what I paid for”, one of them said when I tried to resist. Another said, “I always wanted to have a black woman. I wondered if they were black all over. Now I know”. When the last man left, I felt sick and disgusted with myself. How could I have been so stupid? Why had I agreed to come here? What would happen now? I thought of my parents and cried bitterly.

For several weeks, I lived in a daze, men coming in one after the other to have sex with me, insulting me and calling me names. Teeth made sure my door was always locked, allowing me out to the bathroom a few times a day and bringing me food. One day, I saw a white girl on the landing. I talked to her but she didn’t respond, just stared at me and hurried into the bathroom. Day after day, night after night, men came, white men, a few young men, a lot of old men, at least fifty years of age, wearing good suits and leather shoes. Every day, Teeth told me I owed the businessman, Mr Mumu, a lot of money for my air
ticket and I would have to do this “work” to pay off my debt. “Don’t forget”, he told me, “we know your relatives. If you don’t co-operate, we will kill your mother or your young sister, Anna. Yes, we know Anna. She’s such a sweet little girl”. After that, I felt the deepest despair. “I am in Hell”, I told myself. I wanted to die.

Days and nights passed. Sex and abuse from the men who came in and beatings from Teeth when customers complained that I was sulky and unwilling to enjoy the sex. “Smile”, Teeth told me, “Smile. Show the clients you like them. That way they will pay more. The more they pay the sooner your debt will be paid”.

Now here I was in a car, going somewhere else for more of the same, no doubt, my companions a black man, a white man and a white girl who looked more dead than alive.

“Here we are”, the white driver announced. I looked out the car window and saw a road sign saying, “Welcome to Tubbercurry”. What a funny name for a place, I thought. It sounds like “tub of curry”. The car stopped outside a big house and Teeth ordered us to get out. The door of the house opened and a large black woman, in full Nigerian dress came out, smiling broadly. She embraced me and the white girl. “Welcome. Welcome”, she said loudly, then waved and smiled at some people walking past. Good afternoon. Lovely day”. Was I dreaming? Was my ordeal over?

As soon as we were inside and the door closed, she changed. “Get into the kitchen. Eat. Then I will take you to your rooms. I don’t put up with nonsense. You, white girl, you had better smarten yourself. We don’t want you putting the clients off. Are you Romanian? “No, Latvian”, the girl whispered”. It was the first time I had heard her voice. In the kitchen, we had a meal of rice and stew. It was the best food I had eaten in weeks. I allowed myself to enjoy the spicy stew and thanked the woman when I had finished. “That’s my good Nigerian girl”, she said, “We are going to get on very well. You can call me Aunty Bola. You, Latvian, learn to be like your friend here. Don’t despise my food or you will be sorry”. The girl had eaten a small portion, gulping down cold water as if she was choking on the food.

Next, Aunty Bola took us to our rooms. “Take a short rest”, she said, “I will call you when it is time to get ready for work”. No change then, no reprieve. I lay on the bed and must have dozed off, because I was startled to find her shaking me and telling me to take a shower and put on some make-up. Then the men came, one after the other, just like at the other house. When the last one left, I was numb. I took a shower, changed the sheets and lay down to rest. The next thing I knew someone was screaming, screaming, screaming. The sound set my teeth on edge. I covered my ears with my hands, but I could still hear the screaming. I tried to open the door, but, of course, it was locked. The screaming went on. Someone ran down the corridor and opened a door. Then I heard a sharp slap and someone shouting, “Shut up. Shut up”. But the screaming went on. I heard Aunty Bola saying, “The Latvian one has gone mad. She has broken the window and cut herself with the glass. There’s blood everywhere”. There were other voices too. Then the doorbell rang repeatedly and a man’s voice called out, “Open the door. Police. We heard there was a disturbance here. Open the door”. Aunty Bola shouted, “Everything is alright. A girl had a bad dream”. But the girl went on screaming and the police began to break down the door.

Next, Aunty Bola opened my door and said, “Quick, get ready. You have to leave now”. I dressed as quickly as I could and as I came out of my room, a man in uniform ran down the corridor and grabbed Aunty Bola, who was trying to get down the back stairs. “Not so fast, lady”, he said, “Give me that bag”. He opened her bag and I saw rolls of notes in it. “Just as I thought”, he said. Another man in uniform came out of the room where the screaming was. He was speaking on a mobile phone, “We need an ambulance here now. A young woman has been badly injured”. A uniformed lady took me and Aunty Bola downstairs and
out to a police car. An ambulance was arriving as we were driven away. “I am finished”, I thought, “I am going to jail”. Little did I know that that night was the beginning of my liberation.

At the police station, I was questioned by the policewoman and a policeman. They were very gentle and told me not to be afraid, but I was afraid, afraid to trust them. Trusting people had got me into this mess. After some time, I was taken to another room. I was shaking with fear as I waited. Then I heard another woman’s voice and an older woman was shown in. “This is Sr Marie”, the policewoman said, “She will take care of you. You will be safe with her. Don’t be afraid”. Again, the words “Don’t be afraid”. Sr Marie smiled at me and then she took me out to her car and drove me to a house near a church.
She brought me inside and showed me a lovely bedroom. “This will be your room for now”, she said, “Try to get some rest. It’s four o’clock in the morning”. There was no key in the door. Sr Marie saw me checking. “No locked rooms here”, she smiled, “You are free to leave your room at any time. The bathroom is next door and the kitchen is downstairs. Come down whenever you want to. Now, Goodnight, Stella, or rather, Good morning”. The next time I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Then the previous night’s happenings came crowding back into my mind. I took a shower and went downstairs to the kitchen. There
was an old white woman there, making toast. “Ah, Stella, there you are”, she said, “Sr Marie will be back shortly. I’m Sr Joan. Sit down and have some breakfast”. She kept offering me food – porridge, toast, fruit, eggs. She couldn’t do enough for me. Her kindness made me cry and as my tears rolled down my face, she patted my shoulder. “You will be alright”, she said, “Just take it gently”.

That morning was the beginning of my long journey back from the brink of Hell. Long days and weeks and months later, after many interviews with different agencies, I am here in Ireland, completing my college studies, looking forward to doing social work and one day going back to see my family in Nigeria.

Nyambura – her sister Precious

 

Nyambura.

When my sister Precious left home I was lonely and missed her every day. She was five years older than me and I always looked up to her. She finished school and went to Nairobi to train as a nurse. This was what she had wanted to do all her life. I remember her playing nurses at home in the village. Setting up her “treatment centre” she would tell us younger ones to line up and then she would bandage our arms or legs with bits of cloth and sometimes she would make a sling from an old maize bag or a crutch from a piece of firewood. Drops of water were put into our eyes or ears and she would ask us to open our mouths wide so that she could look down our throats. One day, she packed my mouth with pieces of mango and told me I had an abscess. I found it hard not to swallow the mango, and saliva was running down my chin when Precious at last allowed me to spit out the “abscess”.

Precious was very happy in Nairobi and loved her nursing. When she came home for holidays, the neighbours would greet her with “Welcome home, Nurse. Hurry up and get your certificate. We need a new nurse in the Under-fives Clinic”. The boys used to make fun, calling out, “Nurse Precious, you can examine me any time”. Precious just laughed at them.

Then Precious stopped coming home. We heard nothing from her for months. When she did not visit us at Christmas, my father said he was going to Nairobi to find out what was wrong. I begged him to let me go with him and he at last agreed. We got a lift as far as the main road and waited for the bus which would take us to the city. I was overawed by the sights of Nairobi and kept gazing around and asking, “What’s that, Tata?” My father was too worried to answer my questions. He just kept walking, an anxious look on his face. We reached the hospital and went straight to the School of Nursing, where my father had taken Precious two years earlier to begin her training. A group of student nurses were just leaving the school and we approached them, asking if they knew where we could find Precious Kanye. They looked surprised and finally one girl said that Precious had left the School and had gone to UK. My father just bent over with shock. We helped him to a bench and someone brought him a drink of water. “Please tell us all you know”. I begged but the girls could only tell us that Precious had left three months previously, telling them that she had made contact with someone who was willing to pay her fare to UK and to get her a place in a University hospital to get a better training. They had heard nothing from her since then. When my father felt a bit better, we went to the office of the Director of Nursing. She confirmed what the girls had told us, saying she understood my father was aware of Precious’ plans.

The Director took us to the canteen in the hospital, where we were given a meal, though we could eat hardly a bite. After the meal, my father seemed to get stronger. “We are going to report this to the police”, he told me, so we asked for directions to the police station and soon found ourselves waiting to be seen by a police officer. We waited for a long time and finally got our turn. We explained everything to the police officer who interviewed us. He did not believe that Precious had left the country. “She probably got pregnant and was ashamed to go home and tell you she had lost her place in School”, he told us. “We will make inquiries. Come back next week and we will give you any information we have”. We were bitterly disappointed but we could only leave the police station and go to the bus station and travel back to the village. When we told my mother the story, she wailed and wept as if Precious was dead. Women from the village came when they heard her crying and they too cried and wailed. Somehow the word spread that Precious was dead.

The days that followed were just like funeral days. My parents could not eat or sleep. My younger sister and I tried to take care of them and neighbours brought food and firewood and water and supported my mother as she mourned for her daughter. My father went to the fields to work. He was totally speechless with grief.

When a week had passed, my father and I went to the city again. We went straight to the police station and met the same officer we had talked to the previous week. “We have made our inquiries”, he said but have no definite information”. Then he asked us to go back home and to send him a photograph of Precious. He said it would help in the search for Precious. Sadly, we headed back home and next day we sent the photograph.

Three weeks later, we had a visit from one of our local police officers. He said he had got a message from Nairobi saying that Precious was indeed gone. She was pictured on a security film at the airport as she passed through in the company of a man. Contact would be made with the police in London to see if she had arrived there. We could only pray now that she was safe. A month passed and then we had another visit from the police. Precious had been filmed passing through Heathrow Airport in London in the company of the same man.

Why had Precious just gone away like that without telling us? Why did she not write to us? Would we ever see her again? These were the questions we asked each other day after day. Then, out of the blue, we got news, or rather, I did. I was walking home from school when a jeep stopped beside me and a white woman got out and asked if I was Nyambura Kanye. I said that I was and she gave me an envelope. When I opened it, my heart leaped. The note inside was in Precious’ handwriting! She was asking me to go and meet her at a hostel in Nairobi. “Don’t tell our parents”, she wrote, “not yet”. The white woman said that she would drive me to Nairobi the following day. Next morning, I left home as if going to school and met the white woman on the road. She drove me to the city and entered the gates of a big compound. Inside was a building, a hostel. The white woman, who was called Mary, took me to a room and inside was a girl in bed. I looked at her in shock. This thin, sick-looking girl was nothing like our beautiful, happy Precious. Tears rolled down our faces and we hugged each other over and over. Then she told me what had happened:

“I was getting on very well with my nursing, always passing tests and being praised by the Ward Sister. In the canteen one day, I was approached by a man who told me he had heard I was a top student. He asked me if I would like to go to UK so that I would be in a better training school, a University. He said he was recruiting bright girls for the London programme. I was very wary but he was persuasive, saying that I would have an excellent career and would be able to send money home to our parents. He also warned me not to tell others because they might be jealous. At last, I agreed and a few days later I left for UK, accompanied by the man I had met in the canteen. I was frightened and excited at the same time.

“When we arrived in UK, I was taken to a house on a very nice road with trees and gardens and big cars parked in the driveways. A woman took my bag and showed me to a bedroom. She said I should rest and she would come back later. Soon after that, the man who had brought me from Nairobi came into the room. He pushed me down on the bed and raped me. I screamed but he only laughed. He told me to clean myself up and then went out and closed the door. That was the beginning of weeks of torture for me. Every night I was raped. Night after night. I was a prisoner, only leaving my room to go to the bathroom or to eat in the kitchen. I cried bitterly when I thought of all of you back home. I had been so stupid”.

“How did you get away, Precious?” I asked. “How did you get back to Kenya?”

“One night, a young man came to rape me. He looked kind, a bit nicer that the others. I begged him to help me. When I told him I was a prisoner, he said he had no idea. He thought I was a professional prostitute. He told me to keep quiet and he would get help. I waited and then there was a lot of shouting and banging in the house and a policeman came and opened my door and took me out to a car. I was taken to a police station. I made a statement and then I was taken to a hostel. There were a few other girls there. A week later, I was brought back to Nairobi. Some women came to the airport to meet me and they brought me here. I have been treated very well in this hostel. I got medical care and counselling. I still have nightmares and I am not very strong yet. I need a bit of time. Most of all, I am ashamed to go home. What will our parents say when they hear what has happened?”

I wanted to take Precious straight home with me but I knew she was right to ask for a little more time. I said I would tell our parents that I had seen Precious and that she was safe. When the white woman took me home, I cried with happiness. I burst in the door and gave my mother and father the good news. They had been wondering why I was so late getting back from school. They wanted to go straight to Nairobi to see Precious, so I told them she was trying to get stronger before she saw them. They would not listen to that and next day, they both travelled to see Precious. A decision was made that Precious would go to stay with my cousins in another town until she was well. That night my mother sang and danced, clapping and praising God because she had got her daughter back home safely.

End.

Lydia – her family were threatened

 

Lydia.

Lydia, from Poland, was chaperoned daily to a brothel in Italy and her movements were controlled. When she returned each day, her trafficker raped her in the apartment. She was subsequently brought to Ireland and forced into prostitution. She tells us her story:

When I got to the house where I was to live there were other Eastern European girls and some from South America and I was told to hand over my passport and personal belongings so they don’t get stolen. I was told that every day I was expected to pay off my loans which I was never told about. These included the plane tickets, the horrible house I was jammed into with other girls, and the cheap clothes they gave me.

I was assigned to give men massages which made  €50, I could give blowjobs which got me an extra €50, and I could sleep with a customer to make €200. If I made less than €100 a day I would be punished.

I and some other girls got angry and demanded to leave, some of us got beaten and I was told that we had no passport and were on some Visa, and the police don’t care for those on Visa and would just deport me. I didn’t speak the language or know the way around the city.

Here’s the catch, they said they know where I live and I didn’t want to get deported so that they wouldn’t harm my mother and my daughter whom I cared so much about. I was stuck in the end. If I did escape there was no one to turn to, there was no Police who cared, and I couldn’t go back home to my family to avoid their harm and I had no way to contact them.

Julia forced into prostitution

 

Julia.

Aged 17, Julia was given clothes and boots and a bag of condoms and told to do anything that clients wanted. Forced to have sex with a minimum of four men per night.

Many young women of Julia’s age have been brought to Ireland under the pretext that they would be given a good job. They are told they will be able to pay the school fees for their siblings’ education.

Having been trafficked olnce, they may be sold again to another trafficker and even taken to another country.

Many people think that all women who have been trafficked are prostitutes. But most women who are trafficked are forced into prostitution against their will. Their movements are restricted and under mobile phone control. If the trafficked person fails to earn the designated amount of money he/she may be beaten, drugged, raped and abused.

Peter – trafficked for cheap labour

 

Peter
“I let myself be lured into working abroad. At that time I had already been broken. I didn’t mind. I would cut lettuce, fill containers with it. Twelve, more than twelve hours every day. When it was time to be paid, they found all sorts of excuses. I would get up and go to bed while being kicked. Now it’s all coming back to me what I have been through..
Since I have returned lots of positive things happened. It has all been sorted out for son and mother. I sleep and eat better. I gave up drinking and smoking.’’

Dáša – abused by strangers

 

“I am really troubled that men – strangers abused my body, it was heinous. Even when my heart was bleeding I had to smile. Although tormented and on the verge of death I really desired to live. Every moment I was seized by fear, I was annoyed by so many things and people and felt worthless. I did not want to perform services on the street, but I was forced to, I did not know how to defend myself from him. I felt, I feel impure.
I am too wounded, humiliated, too afraid of being disappointed in life again. Before I used to be a happy girl, had plans, ideas for life. I longed to start a family, have a husband, kids… now I don’t know, I am afraid, I don’t trust men. Many people say that true love shall cure it, so where is it? May it come soon… I handed my past into God’s hands and try not to go back to it. I also pray to my patron saint. I strive for forgiveness but it is not easy. I would like to be independent, be included into society. I have certain dreams, to live in the eternal happiness…“

End.

Ivan – victim of Human Trafficking

 

Ivan– Winner of Unchosen’s Best International Film on Modern Slavery- announced 15 March, 2018.

Directed by Jan Husar, this documentary records the testimony of Ivan, a client of Caritas Slovakia as a result of being a victim of human trafficking.

Sadly, Ivan passed away on the eve of the feast of St. Bakhita, two years ago.

You can view the film at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrOXHn-gj84&feature=youtu.be

Unchosen is a UK charity that uses film to inform others about Modern Slavery in the UK. Their methodologies include campaigns, events, training and film packages.