The story of Oro:If only I knew

Salwa Homsi

The story of Oro:If only I knew

My name is Oro, (name changed) I am 28 years old and a mother of two. In my home in Ethiopia, I used to hear of many Ethiopian women who would travel to Lebanon for work to support their families. Like them, I also wanted to provide for my children, to pay for their school fees, and to buy them clothes and shoes. I knew that I could not rely on my husband who spent most of his money on alcohol, so I decided to travel to work as a domestic worker.

Through an Ethiopian recruitment agency, I was offered a job in Lebanon, which I could only accept by paying the agency their fees. I did not have the required amount of money, so I borrowed it from my father and paid the recruitment agency in Ethiopia.

At the airport in Lebanon, I was greeted by mister who immediately took my passport from me and drove me home where I met madam and their three children. 

Upon my arrival to the house, I was instructed by madam to shower, to do the dishes, and then to go to sleep. But there was no private room for me, madam told me that every night I should make a bed and sleep in the hall. I was already there, in their house, so I agreed, although in Ethiopia, the recruitment agency had told me I would have my own room. The agency had also said that every month I could call my children, but sometimes 3 to 4 months passed before my employers let me call them.

I stayed with them for two years and three months. After one year and two months, their insults increased and they started hitting me. One time madam hit me so hard with a wooden spoon that the spoon broke and cut my hand. They had to take me to the hospital to stitch it up. Mister also used to whisper inappropriate things in my ear. Once, madam wanted to take me with them to the beach but mister refused because he said he did not want to pay for my entrance ticket to the beach. When madam and the kids went to the beach, mister came home and I was alone. I was scared so I ran and locked myself in the bathroom and waited for him to leave… but I tolerated their abuse for the sake of my children.  

At some point, they also stopped sending my salary to my family. Whenever I asked them for my missing salary, they would tell me to calm down and they will pay me eventually. Sometimes they would get mad and yell, other times madam would say “Ask mister for your salary” and mister would say, “Ask madam”, or they would say tomorrow they would pay me, but they never did. They did not understand that I came to Lebanon to work and send money back home.

By the end, I did not care anymore about my unpaid wages, my contract was over, and I just wanted to leave. When I was able to, I called my father and I told him what is happening, he said that I have finished my contract and should return home to Ethiopia immediately. I told my employers I wanted to leave and they told me that they are fixing my residency papers and I should stay. But one more month passed by, and I still did not know when I could return home. So I kept insisting I wanted to return to Ethiopia. Some days I refused to work because I wanted to return home but as a punishment, they made me sleep outside on the balcony for four days.

I truly hope that other workers in Lebanon can get protection from abusive employers so that they do not go through what I went through.

I hope that workers are respected, listened to and treated as adults.

I hope that the police visit the domestic workers to make sure that they are okay and help them if they need help.

I hope that recruitment agencies can help domestic workers when they visit the employer by reporting the abuses domestic workers face.

I hope that workers are told what to expect from the families they are going to work for, and helped to find work with good employers. Had I known that this is what was going to happen to me, I would not have decided to come work for them.