, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – “I fainted… my malnourished body couldn’t bear the news as the brutal reality that my three-year savings that would’ve amounted to more than Sh1 million were no existent – not a single penny.”
Every coin was earned through sweat and denying herself a comfy life from 2014 to late 2017.
The news that threw her into a spin was relayed by her own mother who she consistently sent money for safe custody.
“All along, I had comforted myself that my mum was saving, at least not everything but enough to see us through for some time,” she says.
One would be mistaken to think that the cash was invested in some income generating project, but there was not a single trace.
And as if that is not enough, a good explanation was not forthcoming.
“She said nothing to me, beyond the fact that life had become expensive,” an emotional Juliet told Capital FM News during a Skype interview she described “opened healing wounds, but necessary to create awareness.”
Juliet did not have cash to sustain her family even for another week and it was back to the drawing board.
-Back to tough times in the Middle East –
This is the tale of Juliet, a Kenyan woman whose dream was crushed but is now back in the Middle East, to retrace her steps and resume the painful journey she had started back in 2014.
Before Juliet could come back to her motherland from Saudi Arabia where she worked as a domestic worker – 18 hours a day for three years – she was forced to decline food and any work to compel her employer to release her.
She spent those 72 hours to crying until the employer gave in and gave back her passport after a year of being refused to travel back home.
“I really wanted to come home. In my mind, I knew that my life will never be the same since I had religiously sent all my salary to my mother’s account,” she told Capital FM News.
And truly, her life has never been the same, but not in the manner she had hoped and worked for.
What was more heart wrenching was the fact that her daughter, whom she had left with her mother had since dropped out of school for lack of school fees.
“What happened to the cash?” is a question Juliet has failed to get answers to a year down the line.
“I forgave my mother, but I will never forget.”
One might fail to understand Juliet’s story until you dig deeper.
Why would she send all her savings? Why would a mother be so insensitive? And even, one would ask, who is her mother?
– Health difficulties –
After three years of drinking untreated salty water in Saudi Arabia, her kidneys developed some complications. The bottled water in the house, she said would only be taken by her employer’s family and relatives.
In a country where high temperatures are a norm, she would drink the salty water but only when the thirst was dire, obviously draining her body system.
“At times I cannot even stand,” she says.
“You need to seek medical assistance,” I implored her. But she asked this question, which left my eyes wobbly. “I go to the hospital with what money?” she posed with finality.
-I was running away from my husband’s beatings-
Before she went to Saudi Arabia, Juliet’s health was good and to crown it, she was happily married for five years.
She still recalls how they would go to the market, deeply in love, holding hands with the man who would later turn to be her worst nightmare.
She had a nice paying job until the axe of unemployment fell on her.
“We would quarrel over petty stuff, but I only called it quits after he started being violent,” the mother of one says.
After years of doing laundry from one apartment to another hoping to feed her daughter, mother and siblings, she landed the opportunity to work in the Gulf.
“The agent narrated enticing stories that I couldn’t wait to go there,” she vividly recalls.
And miracles happened… the agent was able to get her a passport and air ticket in two weeks.
It is a journey that started at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), landing in Sharjah, Dubai, where she boarded a connecting flight to Saudi Arabia.
“In Dubai, I waited for the connecting flight from 7pm to 8am,” she still recalls explaining how she drank tap water in the airport restrooms, since she had not eaten anything for 24 hours.
Juliet was received ‘warmly’ at the airport by her employer.
Everything went well until she arrived in her employer’s 17-bedroom mansion.
There was this dusty kitchen store with a mattress on the floor that would be her room for three years.
All her personal belongings were confiscated – including her phone.
“The thought that I couldn’t call home and talk to my daughter killed me, but I told myself, it’s just for a while,” she consoled herself.
The three months that followed, she says, they were torturous.
It was work, work and more work with no salary to begin with. “I was on probation,” she would later learn.
At the same time, she was learning Arabic since “my employers didn’t know even a single word in English. We would speak in sign language.”
But one weird thing happened after the three months, she was told she could not keep cash with her – not even in a bank account.
The only option was to send it back home, to her mother through a money transfer company.
-Back in the Middle East in pursuit of my dream-
After two weeks of regrets and deep pain at her mother’s rental house in Nairobi, she again left her daughter.
This time she did not go to Asia but headed to Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa to join a friend she met in Saudi Arabia and had fallen into the same fate.
While there, she would sell fresh water and juice along the streets of Mombasa.
At the end of every day, the returns were not enough to provide for her only meal in 24 hours.
After it became evident that her motherland wouldn’t provide for her let alone the family, Juliet decided to make a “shameful return” to the Middle East, but this time in Qatar.
“I am in Qatar, which is a better country because I have a day off and I can save money in my M-PESA,” she noted during the Skype interview.
Even now, the duty of being the first-born is weighing on her shoulders heavily – she must send cash to cater for her three siblings’ secondary school fees and that of her daughter who is in class 3.
And after a long day at work, she has to retire to bed, not to sleep, but fight depression.
“I got depressed after all this. My life is complicated,” she says..
In the next four years, Juliet hopes to be reunited with her daughter and family, being more financially stable and ready to invest.
“I miss having my baby with me, but I have to pursue her dream first… our dream,” an emotional Juliet explained.
“I will not faint again,” she has vowed as she marches towards a fresh four-year journey.
NB: Juliet is not her real name since she requested anonymity to protect her family from unnecessary criticism.
(Desert Maids is a series of tales by Kenyans who return home to nothing after years of working in tough conditions in the Middle East)