HARARE – Several young Zimbabwean women, who were recently rescued after being trafficked to Kuwait where they worked as slaves, yesterday recounted their harrowing tales.
The women, who could barely hold back their tears as they told of their trauma in the Persian Gulf country, narrated in horrifying detail how they had ended up as “household slaves”.
Still visibly shaken and speaking with palpable fear in their voices, the young ladies — whose names may still not be revealed — opened up somewhat to the media yesterday after much persuasion from Women and Gender minister Nyasha Chikwinya.
“We cried until we could cry no more. Up to now I can’t fully say what happened … slaves do not sleep in Kuwait,” one of the women said.
A holder of a nursing and public relations certificate, she said she had ended up in Kuwait after falling victim to a bogus newspaper job vacancy advert.
After applying for the job and being replied to “speedily”, she was told “a bit” version of the Kafala system — whereby a sponsor would pay for her travel and whom she would reimburse later.
“It seemed a fair offer,” she recalled, and rationalising at the time that this was her chance to escape Zimbabwe’s worsening poverty and unemployment, she readily accepted the job as a nurse aide — where she was to look after a young boy.
“I went to church afterwards thanking God for answering my prayers,” she said.
But her joy was short-lived and soon turned to horror. Upon arriving in Kuwait along with other women, she was detained in the airport basement for a long time.
“From the way we were treated by the police, we started wondering what kind of an airport this was,” she added, also recalling how they had later been “sold” to bidders like cheap furniture at a village auction.
She said up to this day, she remained indebted to a Malawian lady who had warned her to conceal her phone away from the glare of the Arabian agents, a gadget that was to later prove invaluable.
“I was taken by the people who bought me. The first week was perfect. The lady of the house bought me earrings, night gowns, dresses, pants, everything … I thought okay, maybe it is not that bad.”
But all hell broke loose a little over a week after that.
Fighting back tears, she said the lady of the house started waking her up in the wee hours and belting her, while shouting, “why are you sleeping … wake up”.
“Initially, I thought maybe it was just a bad day for her, which was why she was treating me like this. But it became a habit. Even if she woke up at 2am, 3am or 4am, she would wake me up with that belt.
“After that, I could not sleep anymore… and it went on for two weeks. I could only go on by praying. I was now also angry with myself because it was so severe.
“One morning, the husband came in naked to the laundry room where I was ironing. He tried to touch me and I screamed. Luckily, the wife came in and he said ‘this kadama (slave) of yours I told her to iron my clothes but instead she is seducing me.’ They both beat me up,” she said.
She later stole a SIM card that she had found while cleaning the house.
“I started googling for help. I found myself googling human trafficking in Kuwait, plenty of pages came out — national human trafficking in America, IOM, project 189.
“I started sending emails to all those organisations asking for help.
“The one in America replied that they wanted my address, but I didn’t know where I was. They kept sending emails to me. They got in touch with one of their agents in Kuwait who asked me to send my location through WhatsApp.
“I was scared, worse still after I saw the Kuwait agent’s profile picture and noticing that he was Arabian. I said no, he is the same people. I said no, I won’t send.”
It eventually took the extremely serious abuse of the next-door Ghananian house maid to jerk her into action, and finally sending her location to the agent.
“I said if I am going to die, let me die, but not in this house. I sent my location to that guy and he came to my rescue,” she whispered choking with emotion.
However, she still feels very guilty that she had failed to find the courage to tell her rescuers of what happened to the Ghanaian woman.
“I am sure the people in Ghana are asking where is their daughter, when she is down the drain.”
Another woman who opened up yesterday had been orphaned at an early age and was raised by relatives. She later also faced the difficulty of raising her own children, until “the chance” to go to Kuwait seemed like her only way out of poverty.
She said she had also been told that “sponsors” in Kuwait were funding her travel expenses, and that she would reimburse them “little by little” with her $750 monthly salary.
“You know when you are travelling out of the country with the prospect of having a lot of money, the excitement is huge. I actually bid farewell to my kids (sic) and relatives at the (Harare International) airport.”
Although immigration officers approached her and questioned her about her trip, she brushed them off believing “if you get such an opportunity and someone is trying to stop you they are naysayers”.
But she was also soon to realise on arrival at the Kuwait airport that all that she had been told “were lies”.
“The police there treated us really badly. They took our passports on arrival and it was the last day I saw mine. Up to today I don’t know what happened to it. We were taken to the basement of the airport and spent hours there before some agents came to take us.
“My agent was called Leila. When I was going to Leila’s place I asked her whether what I was wearing was appropriate for the hotel job. She started laughing at me, saying ‘did they not tell you that you are going to work as a house maid?’”
She said although she had been shocked by this revelation, she had nowhere to run. The next day, she along with the other women, were lined up “like slaves to be sold to the highest bidder”.
“They called us kadamas and we did not know it means slaves. They told us to smile. We asked why, and they said you are supposed to smile, because you are being bought. On my side, I was bought for $3 000,” she said.
The Warren Park-raised lady went on to work in a 17-roomed three-storey house.
“I asked how much they would give me and the lady laughed, saying I bought you for $3 000. So, you will not be getting any salary. If I am to give you anything, maybe I will give you after two years.”
The woman recalled how she had cried until she could “cry no more”.
“When it comes to food they say their slaves only eat after their masters. I told them that in my country if you eat left overs you will have bad luck. So I survived on tea for the 40 days I was in Kuwait.
“Sometimes I would steal chocolates and oranges and hide them in my pants and go outside so that when I got a chance I could eat the chocolates and drink water, so that at least my stomach would be full.”
Her clothes were always kept outside and she was forced to bath an excessive number of times a day because they said “Zimbabweans smell”.
“I worked a lot. I am really sorry I have to skip some of the parts because it was really painful,” she said.
An advert that she had seen on the Internet prompted her to rush to the Zimbabwean embassy to get help to come back home.
“When we got home, we got different receptions. Some people welcomed us with open arms and some would actually laugh at us. Up to now, I still cannot say what really happened,” she said.