“Why aren’t you dead yet?” Brenda clearly remembers these words triggering in her so much fear that she gained back the energies to get out of bed and continue working. That morning she felt her health deteriorate to the point she could barely stand. Though hearing those words from her employer’s wife instilled in her pure terror. She was sure that they would have had no qualms in getting rid of her, they did not care. For them Brenda was not a human.
She had been sick for weeks, experiencing chest pains, coughing blood, and non-stop menses. Her multiple requests to receive medical attention were always answered by severe beatings. Her employers never agreed to take her to the hospital. The only relief she could get was from painkillers provided by a fellow Kenyan working in the same household.
When she requested to have her employment terminated, she was informed that she owed the employer $6,000 as debt for costs incurred in taking her to Saudi Arabia. Her freedom was now tied to this debt.
In search of a better life, six months prior, Brenda posted on Facebook her availability to travel abroad to get a decent salary. She was quickly contacted by an agent and accepted a job for a monthly salary of $285, which seemed a good opportunity.
Only upon arrival at her employers in Saudi Arabia, did she understand that she would be working in a four-storey house with a 30-person household. Despite there being other employees, she would work at least 15 hours a day. To make matters worse, her pay was significantly less than the agreed-upon amount, and her complaints to the recruiting agency fell on deaf ears.
Brenda's attempts to get in touch with the Kenyan Embassy in Riyadh and the recruiting agency were unsuccessful, and she was left with no other option but to put out a plea on social media. Fellow Kenyans in Saudi Arabia suggested she run away. They even arranged for her a driver to pick her up.
Thankfully, he came and took her to the house of a Kenyan residing illegally in Riyadh. He arranged for her a doctor's visit, who was unable to do much since she was now of illegal status (runaway/kemboi) and could not go to the hospital. She was really concerned since her period had not stopped for more than two months.
She went to the Kenyan Embassy in person seeking for help and guidance. There, the functionary insulted her and suggested: “Go hustling as all of you ‘runaways’ do”. Out in the streets, whilst walking to nowhere, a Kenyan lady approached her and took her to a shelter. The lady found her a part time job, despite her deteriorating health.
Eventually, she had no other option than to surrender herself to the Saudi police who arrested her and took her to the Kharj deportation center, where she spent 21 days before traveling back to Kenya, in October 2021.
Upon her return, she had lost her home due to rent arrears. She had no money and felt ashamed. She decided to deal with her health issues and depression by herself and never spoke with anyone about what she went through in Saudi Arabia. Brenda has allowed us to share her story, hoping that it will contribute towards raising awareness and amalgamating forces to end exploitation of Kenyan women in the Saudi Arabia.