Fear A Survivor’s Account of Human Trafficking

Fear is the most complex emotion that we all have to deal with in our everyday life.

Editors’ note: The author of this piece is a survivor of human trafficking and has been kept anonymous to protect their identity. In line with expert recommendations, this essay has been lightly edited to ensure the author’s comfort with sharing sensitivities related to their story. Otherwise, words are as originally shared by the author.

My name is Khalih, an African Kenyan girl raised in a very humble and Christian family. There are six in our family, I being the fifth born child. I was born and brought up in a ghetto- Majengo in Thika, Kenya, and life there was a real struggle for everyone, not only my family. Surviving was the only thing we prayed for since we didn’t know any other life. My parents toiled to make ends meet, and I thank God that we managed to finish high school even though we were six in our family. Sometimes we stayed home for two terms without attending school, and the funny thing about everything was that we were still enrolled in the following classes. ‘Kumaliza shule tu ndio muhimu,’ we used to say, so at times, we would go home for lunch and end up drinking water and going back to school on empty stomachs.

‘LIFE WAS HARD’

I dated this guy since I was in high school and even after high school. Mungai was his name. At the age of 23, I got pregnant. We were blessed with a bouncing baby boy. Even though we used to stay together under one roof, I can’t call it marriage. Because we knew nothing about marriage, we only managed three years together of which was not easy. Mungai, now Baba Jabali, started drinking alcohol too much to the point that he was uncontrollable. He became violent, and I had no option other than to move out; by this time, my son was two years. I moved into a small single room, which was small enough for two of us, and at least it was peaceful.

But life was hard. I remember very well that it was a Thursday when I was coming from my son’s school. I met this charming man, Charles, uncle to Hamisa, whom we grew up together, so he was about my age, mate. We chatted, and he told me about Hamisa, and he gave me her number. The same day in the evening, I communicated with Hamisa and told her I got her number from her uncle. We really chatted that evening until late since we had not talked to each other for a very long time. She told me about the ‘kuomoka’ life she was living and gave me ideas on how she will help me get a job abroad.

Since life here was a real struggle, I decided to try, and I was in for the idea.  Without wasting time, Hamisa communicated with me the plans she had for me to join her there. I told her it was not financially sound to book a ticket to India, where she was inviting me to join her. She even promised me that since I was her long-time friend, she would arrange a flight ticket and visa for me since I had my passport already. She gave me a mobile number to a lady named Ruth. ‘She will help you in getting the visa very fast.’ Ruth was also the one to get me the yellow fever card too: International Certificate of Vaccination. After getting all my things ready, we communicated with Hamisa, and she sent me a ticket through email. I took the printout and contacted Ruth.

On the 15th of the same month, I boarded an Air Arabia flight from Nairobi to Sharjah then Delhi. I arrived at Delhi Airport at around 4:00 a.m., where Hamisa was waiting for me. Since it was my first time, it was not easy for me, but I managed to get myself out of the airport. Before exiting, everyone was to fill in some information on the destination, and so I did as Hamisa had instructed me. Little did I know it was a wrong address. I spotted Hamisa, and we hugged each other, and even tears of joy ran down my cheeks. It was also my first time traveling by air, so happiness ran all over my blood because of this new experience. She helped me with my bag and directed me to the car she had come to pick me up in. Before getting to the car, she introduced me to two Nigerian men, and surprisingly, we went home together. Deep down, I felt confused because I thought she was alone and she had told me nothing about the guys.

‘I KNEW EVERYTHING WAS WRONG’

On our way home, I suspected something was not okay.  I decided to calm down and wait for what was going to happen and what Hamisa had planned for me. After a 45-minute drive, we arrived at her place, where I took a cold shower and ate fish that she had prepared for me. Without wasting time, I went and slept in the room Hamisa had shown to me as mine. I felt tired and sleepy because of the long journey.

Eventually, Hamisa came to wake me up, and by this time, it was already evening. I realized they had tampered with my phone. I confronted Hamisa, and she told me they had done away with my Safaricom Kenyan line and inserted Vodacom Indian line for accessible communication for me, but I still had my Kenyan Airtel line on since the phone was a dual sim. As I was going back to sleep, Hamisa told me I was to have a meeting with one of the Nigerian guys, whom she introduced me to as her fiancé. I went ahead because I thought it was a welcoming speech, but I was really shocked because of what came out of his mouth. He asked me to bring my traveling documents and my passport. I told him they were safe since I didn’t know what was going on. He shouted at me and so I had to go for them and gave him. He smiled and told me that I was to pay them 400 rupees for helping me fly there.

My body started shaking because I knew everything was wrong. Immediately after the questions, I received a call from home. It was my mum, and she wanted to know about my arrival. I told her it was okay, and I could not hold my tears, but I promised her everything was going to be all right, she should not worry but pray for me as much as she could. So I wiped my tears and went back to where we were having the meeting. He concluded by threatening me if I don’t do, as they say, I will suffer the consequences. So, I was forced into prostitution to pay the amount of money they had told me, but deep down in my heart, I prayed, ‘I’m not going to do this, God will have his way, and I’ll go back home.’

I was told to prepare myself and start earning immediately. Hamisa took me to a bar in the neighbourhood, and the fiancé remained back in the building. They called the place Kitchen where Nigerian men were drinking, and African ladies were sitting and moving around waiting for the Nigerian men to choose them for the earnings. After some time, Hamisa’s fiancé joined us and forced me to drink alcohol. I had no option because I didn’t know where I was precisely, and they had my passport. After a while, one of the unknown Nigerians chose me,  and Hamisa communicated with the guy, and I was forced to go with him to his place, which was also unknown to me.

When morning came, the Nigerian man contacted Hamisa, who told him to book a taxi for me to be dropped back, and he told me to give Hamisa the money he had given to me as my payment. The taxi driver dropped me at Hamisa’s place, where she came down and picked me up and went back to the building where her ‘fiancé’ was. They both took the money. I was taken straight back to my room, and I was locked inside. I went directly to bed and slept, and when evening came, I was told to prepare myself for the same procedure once again.

This time, I refused and asked Hamisa about the job she had promised before I came there. I was told that if I was not ready to work, I should contact my family back at home to send the 400 rupees, equivalent to 400,000 Kenyan money, as a ransom to free me. I told Hamisa that I could not get such an amount from home since she knew my financial background. But I told her to allow me to talk to them to see how much I could get at the maximum. I communicated with one of my friends who was a businessman, and he managed to speak with one Indian man they worked with, who then communicated with the embassy and police who organized for my rescue. A contact from the embassy advised me to cooperate with Hamisa and her fiancé because they could harm me or even kill me if I did not cooperate. In the process of being rescued, by bad luck, Hamisa’s fiancé hit me and pushed me to the balcony, where I fell and lost consciousness for three days. Lucky for me, I was helped by the embassy who took me to the hospital where I was admitted and received treatment and discharged after two weeks.

‘FEAR IS THE MOST COMPLEX EMOTION’

Since few people from home heard of my story, one of my friends managed to reach Awareness Against Human Trafficking  (HAART) Kenya organization and told them my story. HAART agreed to help me, and I received a call from HAART’s contact, Sophie Otiende, who confirmed that my traveling ticket had been paid for. I was very happy about everything, and this is how I believed in miracles. Coming back home, the first person I saw at the airport was Sophie. She was an angel sent from heaven. I was finally reunited with my son, family, and friends. I was very happy to get back home safe.

Thanks to HAART Kenya for bringing me back home, and even after coming back home, they have been taking care of my son and me. I received psychosocial support, which included therapy sessions for more than one year, which was really helpful to me and changed me for the better. They also helped me start a small business selling ‘mitumba,’ second-hand clothes that I was running until the COVID-19 pandemic started, and it was hard for me to continue with my business and eventually closed down. In April 2020, HAART selected me to participate in one of their projects, which has been very beneficial to me. I came to meet people who had similar experiences to mine, and we later became friends. Before that, I didn’t know anything about human trafficking, but I am now aware and more educated about it.

Fear is the most complex emotion that we all have to deal with in our everyday life. Thanks to John, my caseworker, who helped me to face my fears. He was and still always there for me. He reminds me that happiness is a direction and not a place, and it depends on ourselves

The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected]