. “Kwani ni wewe wa kwanza kubakwa?” “Are you the first one to be raped?”
The first time Selestine saw her boss passing by the kitchen fully naked, she innocently thought he was not right in his head and continued to work on her chores as if nothing happened. She did not think that that would eventually become a habit. He started touching her suggestively. And this aggressive behavior escalated very quickly from this point on. He would sneak into the bathroom while she was showering, force her to open her mouth for him to urinate in it and demand that she swallows it. When she threatened him to report everything to his wife, he took a gun, hit her head with the pistol’s butt and raped her while she was unconscious.
She woke up at the hospital, in lots of pain from the rape and previous childbirth vaginal tear. The employer warned her not to tell anyone of the incidents, but to say that she fell from a ladder while working. She was discharged on painkillers.
Back at the house, Selestine called the Nairobi Agency that recruited her reporting the rape incident. On the other side of the phone, she had to listen the agent saying:
“kwani ni wewe wa kwanza kubakwa?”
“Are you the first one to be raped?”.
Before blocking her number, they told her she had been bought and now they could even kill her. Since then, she was never able to get in touch with them again.
In her desperate search for help, she decided to reach out to the Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia. Juma, the gentleman who answered the phone, after listening to her story, asked her to send him a photo, which she did immediately. He called her back saying:
“Wewe ni mrembo sana, hata kama ni mimi, ningekufanyia venye boss yako amekufanyia”
“You are very beautiful; I would have done the same thing that your employer has done to you”.
Helpless, in the hands of the employer, Selestine was raped about 30 times, at times raped at a gun point, other times taken up the stairs and threatened to be thrown down when she resisted; she was beaten, stabbed with a hunting gun spear (which left her with permanent marks on her body, including her intimate parts). “He would not be satisfied until he sees my blood running over”. When she started suffering vaginal infections, the employer humiliated her and threatened to penetrate through her anus.
Desperately scared, she decided to approach the wife of her employer. After all, when she arrived one year earlier, the lady had welcomed her warmly with food and tea. In Selestine’s words “Mama alikuwa mzuri sana”; “The Madame was very good”. She did not tell her about the abuses, she just insisted that she wanted to quit because she was stressed and the Madame, understanding, had her husband take her to the agency’s office.
The agent explained that she had only two options: going back to the same household or paying back all the money incurred to get her a job. Selestine had not received her salary already for several months and could not pay. She had to go back with her employer, who told her: “Those people cannot hear you nor help you; they only listen to me!”
“Nilikaa wiki mbili bila chakula, nilikuwa nakula tissue iko na maji kujaze tumbo”
“I was so starved that I started eating wet toilet paper to fill my stomach”.
When she saw her returning, the Madame was very happy. She could leave for errands and have Selestine make tea for her husband and his friends who had come to visit. On approaching the living room to serve the tea, Selestine overheard their conversations.
The ten of them were laughing and planning to rape her all together, then they would have killed her, and thrown her body into the garbage. In shock and fear, she dropped the tea, ran out of the house, locked the door from outside, and ran away to the nearby police station where she declared she did not want to go back to her employer’s house.
The police delivered her to the Saudi agent ordering him to take her to the hospital. On examination, a Nigerian doctor diagnosed her pregnant and advised her, not to mention her status to anyone, as they knew she would be either objected to a risky forced abortion or killed. The doctor in his report wrote only that Selestine was repeatedly raped and suffered severe infections. She was discharged on medication. The Saudi Arabia agency instead provided for her only paracetamols and took her immediately back to the office.
There, Selestine was informed that they had found for her a new employer. She was happy. All she wanted was a safe work environment. In a few hours, she was in a new household. There, the situation was clearly bad from the very beginning. In the house there were more than 30 people and she was the only domestic worker. The employer explained that she could only take water from the toilet, and she was not entitled to food or leftovers taken from the garbage.
She later came to learn that her second employer was in fact a brother to her first employer. “I was working 15 hours per day. I had no access to the phone. I was so starved that I started eating wet toilet paper to fill my stomach”.
One day, one of the sons to the employer tried to rape her but she screamed, and the mother walked in the room and found him stepping on Selestine’s abdomen. She took her to the hospital as she was bleeding heavily. Also the new doctor suggested that for her safety the pregnancy should not be disclosed and discharged her on medications.
Back at the house Selestine was invited to sit and eat food that was set aside for her, which was very suspicious since they ordinarily denied her food. Walking into the room she saw the Madame insert a small sachet into her bandeau. She also noted that the food had a different color from what she had cooked earlier. The Madame told her that she had added Covid-19 medication. As she had not eaten for a couple of days, she went ahead and took a bite. A child came and warned her that the food had been poisoned. “Five minutes afterwards, my stomach was burning”. She understood she would not survive long in that household, and she managed to reach out to a friend in Kenya and telling her: “If they do not kill me, I will kill myself”.
Luckily, the sister of her friend worked for IOM South Africa. IOM called the Saudi Agency office, ordering them to take Selestine to court. Yet, the employers refused to let her go. The police had to organize her rescue, having her jump from a window on the first floor. In court, as instructed by IOM’s staff, she just said that she wanted to go home. The court ordered the Saudi agency to send her back to Kenya. It seemed to be the end of that nightmare. Yet, it was just the beginning of a new one.
“nilidhania nitakujiwa nilipofika uwanja wa ndege, lakini hakuna mtu alinikujia, kila mtu alinikata”
“I thought I will be picked at the airport, but no one came for me. No one wanted me”.
In the custody of her agent, she was taken back to the office. There she was beaten until she lost consciousness. “While beating me he was targeting my wounds and I was bleeding. I never understood what kind of human beings they were, I was just a persistent mother trying to provide for my children. I could not see where all their hatred was coming from”.
When she regained consciousness, she was lying on the floor of a bathroom of an apartment where 15 more girls who had won court
cases stayed. They were waiting to be repatriated back to their respective countries. The boss of the Saudi Arabia office was mad at them and in anger beheaded a Bangladesh girl in front of everyone. He was out of his mind and before leaving he promised that they will all die like her. The ladies had to wash off the blood after her body was taken away.
When one of the ladies lit the gas to warm water, there was a sudden blast. The agent was trying to get rid of them having left the gas leaking. They were the living proof of his abuses. Scared to death, the girls managed to break a window and jump out. They never looked behind for the woman who caused the explosion. As per today, Selestine does not know if she is dead or alive.
Streaming through the dark, they walked together not knowing which direction to run to. After 7 hours between running and walking, they stopped to catch their breath, when they were spotted by a passerby who called the police.
There was a second court hearing. The judge was mad at the agent because all the ladies were supposed to be already repatriated. The Saudi agency had now no other option than to arrange for the repatriation of the women under the supervision of the police who ensured the safety of the group until they were escorted to the airport.
Selestine finally landed back to Kenya in February 2021: “Not even landing in Kenya helped me feeling better. I regret it instead. No one came for me at the airport, and no one wanted me back home. No one wanted now to be associated with me”. The Kenyan recruiter of Selestine used video material she sent to prove sexual harassment to convince her family she was a sex worker in Saudi Arabia and her complaints fell on deaf ears. “My dream was to give my children a different life from the one I experienced growing up. Now I cannot even see them”.
That stigma kept Selestine between occasional shelters and the streets for months. One day she ended up in the hospital because of severe pain. There she was told that she had to terminate her pregnancy, otherwise she would not have survived. After the abortion, her depression became more severe. She made several suicidal attempts but has since undergone counseling thanks to the help of several organizations. Yet her situation is not yet stable, and her physical and psychological scars are still far from being healed.
“kama singeenda Saudi, ningeweza kujilisha and pia kulisha watoto wangu” “Could I have not gone to Saudi Arabia, I would currently be able to take care of my children and provide for them.