Are You the Ones Who Help the African Ladies?

Eden’s baby was still nursing when she was left behind in Africa. As a single mother, it was not Eden’s plan to leave her baby behind, but not much was going her way. The breaking point came when Eden’s father died unexpectedly. Her stepmother sold their home and took off with all of the inheritance. Grief and resentment smothered Eden as she showed up on her grandmother’s doorstep with her baby tied snugly against her back. Her burden was heavier than the suitcases she balanced on her head. A grieving sibling held onto her from each side looking to her for security. Of course Eden already knew her grandmother could give her no more than a roof over her head and she would be responsible to find food for all these hungry and grief-stricken children.

Eden had learned how to do hair, but moving to a new location it was hard to find work. Eden did not know how she would pay for daily expenses let alone her siblings’ school fees. Word traveled to “Ellen,” her high-school friend, who stopped by to visit. “Ellen” sympathized with Eden and then told her she had a friend in Malaysia who was hiring for her beauty shop. Pulling out her smart phone she dialed a number and connected Eden with a woman who offered her a job making $400 a month. Eden wrestled with the thought of leaving her nursing baby and her siblings behind, but she was desperate.  

A week later, Eden arrived in Malaysia. Her breasts were in pain from not having nursed for 24 hours. “Ellen’s” friend “Susan,” picked her up at the airport and asked for her ticket, passport, health card, and ID card. Eden hesitated, but “Susan” insisted. She was to start right away. It was night and Eden was tired. She pleaded to sleep, and asked for medication to reduce the pain and swelling.

They let her sleep – until midnight. When they woke her, they gave her some skimpy clothes. Eden gasped, “Is this the way your staff dress for the beauty shop? I will wear my own dress.” The women laughed at her. “Who said you will work in a beauty shop? You are a prostitute.” Eden protested, “No, you told me I would work in a beauty shop. You promised me.” “Sandra” retorted, “If I told you the truth you would not have come.” Eden began to cry. Her body ached, she was tired, and scared, but she knew she could not be a prostitute. “Sandra” threatened her, “If you run away we will call the Nigerian gangs. They will do to you what they did to Lina when she tried to run away. After they finished with her she could not work for two months. You cannot escape us.” Eden trembled as she dressed. She fought back the tears as the controller took her to the streets.

The next 10 months were a living hell. Time after time she was taken to an apartment only to have the client invite his friends to join in raping and beating her. When Eden was sick and in pain she begged to see a doctor, but the controller gave her aspirin instead. “Sandra” left the country using Eden’s documents as her own to avoid the police. Eden was stuck in a foreign country with no documentation and no way to get home. She felt herself dying inside.

Another African befriended Eden and, after listening to her stories for many months, offered her a way out. She would pay for the service of a Malaysian known to get people into Thailand. Eden waited for her window of opportunity. One morning the controller left the apartment with the other women on some errands. Eden knew it was then or never. She called her friend who directed her to a bus leaving for the border of Thailand and a number to call when she arrived. It was a long ride north and Eden was nervous traveling without any documents. What if they found her? She had heard of other African women who had been murdered by the Nigerian gangs in Malaysia. Eden prayed that she would make it to Bangkok safely and that she would live to see her baby.

When Eden arrived in the border town, a taxi was sent to pick her up at a hotel. “Get in the trunk,” she was told. Eden climbed in, her heart racing as the lid shut her into the dark compartment. She felt the car moving and held her breath as it slowed down for the border crossing. She heard an exchange of voices and then the car moved again. They drove a ways further and then the car stopped. Was she in Thailand?

The trunk opened and Eden was told to get out. Eden grabbed her bag and followed the man into the darkness. They walked through some marshy grass and up a hill. She followed him to a path behind some buildings and then to a hotel. “You are in Thailand now,” the man said. He gave her some money for the hotel and for a bus ticket to Bangkok, and then he left.

Eden was in Thailand, but she had no idea where. She had been smuggled into a new country with no documents and no one to help her. She slept restlessly that night and the next day took the bus to Bangkok, hoping no one would stop the bus and check documents. She was still a long ways from home with no idea still of how she would ever return.

When Eden arrived in Bangkok she took a taxi to an African neighborhood. She saw an African woman and approached her for help. The woman agreed to let her stay with her a couple nights. The woman told her all the African women go to the street at night. Eden was tired and overwhelmed. She had escaped her trafficker and this was not what freedom should look like. By the next night, though, Eden stood on the street waiting for a customer so she could pay for her room. Here at least she would not be forced to turn over all the money to a trafficker. Ten months in Malaysia and she had not been able to keep anything.

Eden was forced by circumstance to do the very thing she had hoped to escape. When it began to feel like she would be trapped forever, a woman she had known from the streets called her from Africa. “There is a group that can help you. They helped me and now I am home. Here’s the number…” Eden felt a flutter of hope. Could it be true? Really? She had been deceived by her friend 10 months ago and by many since. She kept the number and studied it. She started to call and then hung up. It was getting harder and harder to go the streets. She longed to be truly free. Eden picked up the phone and called the number, “Are you the ones who help the African ladies?” 

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