by Sr. Mary O’Malley MMM
It was very clear to me that the young woman who came into our office was in great distress. As we introduced ourselves to each other and Lily began to talk – slowly at first – then most of it flowed out in copious tears. I realized that the “Beirut Blast” in August, 2020 had taken a terrible toll on her life. After a painful separation from her husband because of infidelity in July, 2018, she left for ‘greener pastures’ in the Lebanon. She trusted that her 10 year old daughter would be safe with her mother.
Life was hard in Lebanon and Lily was forced in her own words “to do the work of three people.” But she decided not to complain and it was extremely painful when she learned that the first 3 months of her salary was ‘directed’ to her airfare. Then from the fourth month, she received less than half of what was promised. At times she felt angry as most days she was on her feet for 18 – 20 hours or more in back-breaking drudgery. The family she worked for gave her no day off. She said “I was driven like a slave.” (I nodded in agreement). Some days prior to the blast, Lily felt she could take no more and decided to escape, but life on the streets in the capital city was a different kind of nightmare. She joined some Kenyan women who had an equally checkered history of life in Beirut as homeless African women. They all slept in one room and took turns that one waited behind to care for the children, while others worked in various casual jobs during the day.
One night when all the women went out as ladies of the night and while all the children were sleeping, Lily was dragged out by a group of young men who kicked in the door. She was savagely raped by the gang. She said “I went in and out of consciousness”. At that point I was not surprised that she had terrible dreams and nightmares. With the help of a skilled psychiatrist, cum PhD in Clinical Psychology, she healed eventually. But these terrible memories of her experience remain part of her life story. After the blast, people of various nations received some form of assistance from their embassies, but Kenyans did not. So, they got together and decided to storm their embassy. Aa a result, at least 129 of them received tickets to return home.
A New Chapter in her Life
Thankfully, Lily was among those repatriated and came to our office three weeks later. To add to all the woes in her life at that moment, she suspected that she might be pregnant. If I could come with her to the hospital she agreed to go and find out the truth. She shed many tears when the result read Positive, but she bravely told herself and me “it’s not the fault of this baby” Now more than ever Lily needed all our support. As with most victims/survivors of trafficking she had multiple needs to help to heal and restore her back to life.
Together with her medical care, counselling, housing and livelihood, we felt happy that since she had experience in selling fried fish at the market. We felt confident, with her, that it would be a good choice to sustain her, both in the long and short term, no matter where she set up house in Kenya. But in the current sharp downturn in the economic situation, her sales were slow and the fish proved a disaster!! Reason? As she had no means of refrigeration, she was inconsolable after being forced one evening to throw her precious commodity to stray dogs. Next day she requested to come to our office. She had spotted a small secondhand freezer in the market. However, she was halting in her enthusiasm and said “but, Sr Mary, you have done so much for me”. I did not hesitate for a moment and suggested we purchase it and have a man pulling a cart (mkokoteni) to take it to her home. From that time her project has gone from strength to strength. On a good day her income can be Euro 25.00 or just Euro 6.00, if customers are few.
“My Beautiful Lebanese Daughter”
In June, 2021, Lily gave birth to a baby girl. She called me to say “I have a beautiful Lebanese daughter.” Only a woman of extraordinary courage and a heart full of forgiveness could make such a statement. Of the months of counselling, she said: “only for this gift of counselling and the means of livelihood, I could never have coped so well and be where I am today.” Lily’s 12-year-old firstborn (girl) is now ready to join First Year in secondary school shortly, it will be a good test of her ability to cope with these extra expenses. We wish her well and are here to support her.