When she made up her mind to leave Nigeria last year, Chidubem knew she was flying into Lebanon to meet the demand for cheap domestic help.
Before then, she had lost much of the capital she gathered to start a cosmetic business.
The 28-year-old told SaharaReporters that she was running a programme at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) but could not raise money for her tuition. Her search for a job failed.
Before she embarked on the journey to Lebanon, sickness was taking its toll on her. She had a stomach ulcer and was struggling to recover from an accident sustained in December 2018.
Her hopes were hinged on working with the right family in Lebanon for two years and saving enough to start over in Nigeria. That hope was dashed when she landed into frustration in Lebanon. She shares more about her ordeal with SaharaReporters.
How did you get to Lebanon?
Since the beginning of last year, I’ve been looking for a job. I needed to pay my school fees. I was running a little business selling perfumes, but most of my customers bought on credit. All the places I applied to kept telling me, ‘we will get back to you’ but no one did.
So, I reached out to a friend and told her I needed something I could do to earn money. She told me of the domestic job market in Lebanon. First, I told her I would never do such a job. I told her not to worry.
The year was running out, and nothing changed. One day, I called my friend. She said she was in Lebanon. She told me the work was not easy but that I could manage it if I found the right family to work with.
I started praying and considered the opportunity. My friend connected me with the agent that helped her. To be honest, the agent told me I was going to be cleaning in Lebanon.
How much did you pay the agent?
She said I would pay her two months’ salary. I was earning $200 (N61, 000 at the time) per month. She said I would pay her $400 (122,000) at the time.
You said you missed your flight two times, why?
After my visa and ticket came out, I changed my mind. I told her I didn’t want to embark on the trip again. I missed my flight twice; I was very reluctant to go.
My agent was furious; she said she had already invested so much in me. She said she was the one who processed my documents and that she was going to pay immigration guys at the airport. Unknown to me, it was the agent at Lebanon who paid for the papers, except for the Nigerian passport which I procured myself.
What happened when you got to Lebanon?
When I arrived, my first employer said my job was to take care of her seven-month-old baby. Aside from this, I was shuffling between her house and her mother’s house. I was working in two homes. She was disappointed when she found out I wasn’t a trained nanny.
The agent in Nigeria told me the visa was a three-month probation visa. I took this to mean I could come back before the three months elapsed if I found out that I couldn’t do the job. The agent in Nigeria did not tell me that someone paid for me.
I told my first employer in Lebanon that I wanted to return to Nigeria. She said no problem, but she demanded I refund her. When I relayed this to the agent in Nigeria, she said I would have to pay $1,500. My first employer begged the Lebanese agent to allow me to return home. He said I would pay $750.
The Lebanese agent gave me one week to raise the money. Both of them said they would use the money to buy my return ticket and prepare travel papers for another girl to take my place. I knew my family could not raise that type of money in one week, so I just had to give up.
The Lebanese agent now took me to his mother-in-law’s house. That woman was not feeding me well. She was giving me khubz – Lebanese bread and leaves to eat. Before I travelled to Lebanon, I’d been having stomach pains. I ran a scan, and it showed that I have an ulcer.
I numbed the constant pain a little with some drugs in Nigeria but it came back in this woman’s house. I stayed in this house for three weeks.
While I was there, my family reached out to the Nigerian agent that she should please give them time to raise the $1,500. She spoke to her partner in Lebanon. He called me and said I should pay $2,350 in seven days.
He said $2,000 was for my Madame and $350 for my ticket. I said he should not worry that I would stay and work.
I did all I could to come back within those three weeks, but the agent in Nigeria frustrated all my efforts. The two agents are business partners; the guy in Lebanon will always listen to the lady in Nigeria. At last, the Lebanese agent found another house, where I worked until I came back.
How were you treated in the new house?
In this new house, I attended to two aged siblings, a 90-year-old woman and her 82-year-old brother. I had no off days. I cleaned, I dressed them and I bathed them.
In the first week, the old lady would sleep by 11:00 pm and shout my name by 1:00 am. I had to warn her not to do that anymore. I was always bending or standing. I had to jerk the old man up every morning, he would sit down back, and I’d wait to help him stand when he was ready to get up. I did this for months; it started affecting me. The pain in my stomach became worse.
I reached out to the agent in Nigeria; she said I had not sent her any money. She said I had only sent her N50,000 and that she lost $1,500 because of me as if she doesn’t care about my life.
You mentioned that you were unable to walk at some point?
I was unable to walk because of the stress of the work I was doing. I was always carrying this old man, and he is chubby. After the accident I had in Nigeria, I remember my doctor warned me not to ‘carry anything heavy, stand for long, bend down always, except I wanted to exercise your waist’. My job in Lebanon required me to do all these.
Who among them mistreated you?
The old siblings’ nephew did. He first started by asking me to take a picture of my breasts and send it to him. When I was bathing; he asked me to send him nude photos. Instead, I sent him pictures of my face. The old woman told them not to connect me to the internet; I had to use my IQ.
I lacked peace of mind in that house. I slept on the chair, a hard one. At night, I’d be turning and twisting, searching for a comfortable position. My waist, where I had the fracture, started throbbing, my neck was constantly aching.
When did the beating start?
The beating started when I told them I wanted to go home. They knew I was sick; still, they insisted I was not going anywhere.
When I told them I needed to go home and that my family wanted me to come back so that they could take care of me, their attitude towards me became worse. The old man hit me with his walking stick; he spat on me twice. There was a day he slapped me. They abused my family.
How did you eventually leave?
I told one of those at Project Ferry to threaten the agent in Nigeria with a lawsuit. That got into her. So she called the man that harassed me. She begged him and his family to release me and that she was going to get arrested if they kept me. I put a lot of pressure on them; I even contacted NAPTIP – National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons so that they would release me.
Now that you are back in Nigeria, what is your plan?
First, I want to be able to walk again. Then, I want to treat the ache in my stomach. I want to start a business again; I want to return to school. While doing my business, I want to learn a skill, preferably web design. I have a passion for that. I did a bit of desktop publishing before I travelled.
What do you make of the domestic work market in Lebanon?
I hope it will stop. It is not nice out there. They should just stop sending girls out there. People there don’t find it funny. They are not happy with their lives. They are suffering in silence.
SaharaReporters, New York