It was in 1976 in Somalia, I met a young Kenyan woman. Her story in her own words goes like this:
I am 19 years and a native of Kenya; my family lived and worked all their life on a farm which belonged to a foreigner. One day quite sudden our foreign master decided to leave Kenya: my understanding was he could not continue living here due to pressure from the Government and harassment of local gangsters. And when he left, he took with him a good share of his wealth!
I remember my father telling us that, from the time of our ancestors we had served his family and this was all we knew as a profession…unfortunately, they just dumped us and left. Soon after this, officers supposed be from the Government acquired the house along with the farm, the only place we knew as “home” was gone, we were given very short notice to vacate the premises and were left with no place to go!
That night when our family got together all we could do was to weep and pray. As we were a Roman Catholic family we decided to seek help from the Rev. Sister at the convent, however when we told her our story she informed us that they too were preparing to move out to France and Ireland; and the Government would be taking over the convent to house displaced people like us.
Nevertheless my father, who had been given money and two cows by the landlord before he left, used the money to consume liquor frequently; and just to keep us happy he brought us goodies as never before; we knew that our father’s wasteful spending would soon see an end to the money. Furthermore my father’s frequent visits to the local liquor shop and grocery store made the villagers aware he was in possession of money. Just two days later the local gangsters ransacked our house, assaulted my father, raped my two younger sisters and me and left with whatever they could get their hands on.
That day we left the house and asked the Rev Sister at the convent for help. She was willing to keep only the four girls and my mother but not my father and two brothers. She agreed to make separate arrangements for them but before she could do so they too had to leave.
A large number of families from other farms too began to arrive here and as a result food, toilet facilities and living space became a big problem.
Six months after my father and brothers left, we still didn’t know their whereabouts. I, being the eldest of the girls, explained to my mother, a helpless, illiterate person that we would all starve to death if we didn’t do something soon and subsequently we went around looking for work.
The search ended with a rich man of the area willing to employ me and my sister aged 15 years. We were asked to get ready to travel to his tea plantation situated about 300 miles away. It was very sad to leave, however my mother didn’t want us to lose this opportunity so we loaded ourselves into the Lorries and left.
That was the last time we saw our mother.
On our journey to the plantation our vehicle stopped twice and we womenfolk used this opportunity to look for a toilet to relieve ourselves however we were sarcastically informed that there were no toilets and we could relieve ourselves in some place there.
Though we were poor our parents had brought us up like delicate flowers but now the circumstances had changed drastically. This was a very embarrassing situation for both of us. When we returned we were given food and drinks and this was very welcome for our starving bodies.
It took close to four hours before we reached the tea plantation. Tired and exhausted I fell asleep on the corridor of an old building with my sister by my side. Suddenly there was a flash of light and I saw the man who drove the lorry coming toward us, flashing his torch on us, he told me to come with him, when asked where he was taking me he gave me a thundering blow.
Thereafter, inside a dark room three men raped me until I fell unconscious. The moment I regained consciousness I went looking for my sister who was not where I had left her. In the morning I saw her fallen at the other end of the corridor unable to talk clearly, she whispered what had happened to her.
Disgusted with the previous night’s happening, we washed our selves and ate the bread and banana given to us. I consoled my sister and made her understand that we would have to stay on, even under these difficult circumstances so that we could save some money before we started looking for our parents.
After about two months we found that we were both pregnant. The old lady in charge took us to the local doctor who kept us for a day before he performed an operation. Soon after this I bled heavily and my sister who had some complications recovered later. Back at the estate, we were allowed to rest for a day before going back to the field early next morning
After three months of hard work we were paid our salaries, the money being equivalent to about 300 US dollars – for both of us. On our way to the city to purchase our personal requirements, I recognized the man who drove the truck as being the one who had raped me that night. With these bitter thoughts coming back to me I told my sister that we were not going back.
On arrival at the city, he collected money from us and headed to the nearby liquor shop. This was the moment we were waiting for. I took my sister’s hand and ran towards a bus that was leaving. Although we didn’t know where it was bound for we were happy to leave.
With only a few vacant seats, I sat next to an old woman and my sister just ahead of me. When the conductor started collecting the fare, I quietly asked the old woman where the bus was bound for and she replied that it was going to the Northern border: between Kenya and Somalia. Though I didn’t know north from south I was glad to escape from the monsters here.
When I paid 10 US dollars as bus fare for both of us the old woman seated next to me inquisitively inquired about us. She mentioned that it would take about 12 hours before we reach our destination and that the bus would stop at about three places for the passengers to refresh and for the vehicle to re-fuel. Knowing well I didn’t want to talk about us, she introduced herself as Madame Aida who owned a hotel in Kismaayo, Somalia and mentioned that she came here regularly looking for young girls to be employed at the hotel, however unfortunately this time she was leaving empty handed
I told her that we would like to work for her and inquired about the type of work and wages. At the first stop she bought us cool drinks and bread and during this break she had an informal interview with us, answering all our questions except the question about wages. Madame Aida said that she was half Kenyan and half Somali. Her husband died few years ago and now her two sons, aged 23 and 21 years were looking after the business. At the second stop she mentioned that my sister could work as a maid at her home and me in the hotel; both of us could share a room and our food would be provided for. Though this sounded good she still avoided my question about remuneration.
Since we didn’t have much of a choice we decided to grab this opportunity. After a 13 hour drive we reached the frontier. We stayed by her side, while she spoke to the Kenyan and Somali border guards and paid a total sum of about 150 US dollars for both of us to cross the border. She seemed to be a very powerful person in the area
We had no choice, now we were at her mercy!
Once we were in Somali territory, It took about 45 minutes to reach Madame Aida’s house, If I remember right it was about 7.00 in the morning on the 10th or 11th of January 1975. On arrival we were served with bread and mutton curry, probably the best meal we had since we left home.
When we had finished our meal she took us to a small house situated on the same land. There we were given a room along with mattresses, towels, soap and other esentials; we rested the entire day and met with the Madame only on the following day. Since we did not have any clothes to change into I requested her to take us to the city where we could buy some. After exchanging the Kenya money for Somali currency we visited the town and purchased our requirements.
My sister was given the name Zareena and I was named Amina by Madame. This didn’t matter to me because we were migrants with no family or a motherland to call our own.
My sister worked in Madame’s house under the supervision of a largely proportioned Somali woman. I was taken to the so called hotel which turned out to be a night club where prostitutes from East and Central Africa visited.
Initially I worked here as a toilet and kitchen cleaner. Thereafter, I worked as a waitress for a few months, only until a customer consumed beer and left without paying the bill and this loss was recovered from my wages. And coming to the subject of wages, it was only after about three months we were paid, I got a salary equivalent to about US Dollars 25 and my sister about US dollars 15 per month.
My sister had problems with the two sons who wanted sexual intimacy with her all the time. We were helpless in this matter as Madame did not show any interest when it was brought to her notice. My sister got pregnant twice and was forced to abort.
Life went on miserably. About a year later Madame Aida fell ill and was left bed ridden with my sister looking after her until she passed away three months later. With this incident we both moved out on our own and due to our inability to find employment, we were unfortunately forced to take up to the oldest profession in the world.
In the course of my occupation I met a high ranking Police Officer who agreed to help us obtain Somali passports. However, the Police was the biggest problem for all of us girls, especially the two of us because we were considered illegal immigrants. We had to spend much money to get our Somali passports, but it was well worth it.
It was only after we left Madame’s house that we were able to attend Sunday mass at the small church nearby. The parish priest, an Italian and the two Rev. Sisters here had previously helped us when we were sick. They persisted as before that we should give up this "profession".
The question remained on what we would do after that?
The priest tried his best to find out about our family back in Kenya but was unsuccessful. He kept telling us "Do not lose faith. God will help you to find your family." He also helped find contacts in Kenya and told us to meet a particular priest when we reached Nairobi.
One evening he informed us that Italy had instructed him to leave immediately and he would be flying to Rome via Nairobi where he would stop over for about three days to meet the other priest. The Rev. Father took with him our details.
We had both collected sufficient money and were planning to go back to Kenya soon.
We asked a Somali boy who had worked with us previously to accompany us on this journey. We felt this would boost our security and since he had a Somali passport, high school grades and could read and write many languages it would be helpful.
Her story to me ended here…but not the real life story of the two sisters.
Her narration of the harrowing ordeal life evoked empathy in me.
I hope they were able to achieve their dreams of a better life.
The question that still remains unanswered in my mind is “were they really prostitutes”?
In most cases women who had turned to prostitution were compelled by circumstances beyond their control.
I ask God to pardon them as Jesus forgave the sinful woman.
Bible reference, Luke 7: 36 -50
Words of Jesus as per holy bible, Matthew 21: 31-32 "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this you did not repent and believe him."