I came back from Lebanon broke after nine years, Kenyan woman narrates

Kenyans in Beirut
Kenyans in pitch camp outside the Kenyan Consulate in Beirut. [Photo AfroNews]

For nine years, Teresia Wambui learnt to appreciate simple things such as walking out freely, making phone calls anytime she wants and meeting friends but had to learn the hard way.

Wambui, a mother of two who hails from Thika, Kiambu County left Kenya for Beirut in Lebanon in 2011 with the hope for a better future for her including her kids. What she did not know is that she would live a life of fear for almost a decade, with someone always looking over her shoulder whenever she goes out or makes a call.

When she returned on September 4 following much agitation pushing for her return together with that of other Kenyan women in Lebanon, she sighed with relief.

In her narration, she recalls being subjected to sexual harassment, insults and modern-day slavery and her effort for a year to return home bore no fruit.

It was until the Beirut blast in August that her plea together with that of other Kenyan women got the attention of the government crafting their return.

 “I may not have returned with anything from Lebanon, I’ve come back empty-handed but I’m happy. At least I returned alive and with my children,” she told Nation in an interview.

Wambui recounted that upon her arrival in Lebanon in 2011, her employer confiscated her passport only to learn later that she had “been bought”.

She was subjected to racial discrimination and inhumane treatment and work for long hours.

“I was not allowed to eat with them, touch their children with bare hands and I would work from 5 am to 1 am. It was exhausting and I was suffering,” she quipped.

Years later, so much had happened and when she visited the Kenyan Consulate $2,000 was demanded from her for the processing of her travelling documents.

For Esther Kageha who flew back to Kenya two weeks ago, the situation was no different. She describes working for a Lebanese as “difficult” recalling an incident where she would be called a donkey by her employer.

Just like Wambui, Kageh delights in seeing her children play and can move and talk freely.

Her most frustrating days were the last 10 months when she walked to the Kenyan consulate in Beirut seeking assistance to travel back home and in the process lost her hard-earned $600.

“I was told to go back and look for more money. They did not return the $600 they had taken and have not [done so] to date,” she recalled.

She was forced to share a single room with nine other Kenyan migrant workers in Beirut trying to pool resources to get back home.

When the Lebanese economy dipped in 2020 followed by the Beirut blast, life became harder and eventually, she was able to come back home after weeks of protesting outside the Kenyan consulate in Beirut.