There are many stories in the world. This is an African story.
My name is Grace Okele. My father, Allistair, imported satellite dishes. We were not wealthy, but we had a good life. Whilst I was away in Zambia on a church trip teaching English to orphaned children in Lukasa, a journalist wrote articles about my father’s business and how it was a front for terror operations. My father confronted the journalist in the parking lot of a pub. It was argument. The driver for the journalist intervened. During a scuffle for the gun, a shot went off and struck the journalist. He died the following day. The driver told the authorities that my father murdered the journalist. He was the son of someone important.
My father contacted my Aunt Vivian who was then in South London. She arranged a ticket for him to come to London, travel to Barbados, and from there enter the United States. My mother and my two brothers would travel in several months, after he found employment in the U.S. I was to remain in Zambia for one additional month, then return to Lagos.
Plans don’t always work out.
When I returned to Lagos, I learned that my mother and my brother had been killed in a robbery, or so I was told. I lived with a sister from the church.
My Aunt Vivian forwarded me a letter that my father sent her to mail to my mother. It was in an envelope that had a return address “Two World Trade Center, New York, NY 10048.” The postmark was September 4, 2001.
It was the last time that I heard from my father.
My life became hard. I have now seen many things that I wish to forget. The husband of the sister from the pentecostal church sought to violate me. And, when I refused, he stood up in church during a prayer meeting and said that I had offered myself unto him in exchange for money. The sisters in the congregation became angry with me and asked me to leave.
I decided that I must get to the United States and learn if my father was living. Many Nigerians obtain student visas to attend school in the United States. But, I hear that you must have money to pay the tuition and money for travel.
I met a man named Jose Enrique de Guzman who said he would help me get to United States, He said that he a contract to provide maids and domestic workers to many families in European cities. He said that if I would work as a domestic worker for two years, he would put back a portion of my earnings and at the completion of the contract, I would get a student visa to enter the United States.
What choice did I have? What was I to do if I remained in Nigeria? How would I ever find out if my father were alive?
My first assignment was in Brussels at a hotel near the airport—on Bessenveldstaat. I am afraid to mention the name of the hotel. I worked in the laundry room. We worked some days for fourteen hours, with one day off per week. On off day, I would write my father at the return address on the envelope. Once per month, I would have enough money to purchase a calling card and try and contact my Aunt Vivian. She said that she has not heard from my father. The last three months when I have called, I have not been able to reach my Aunt. Now, I don’t know what has happened to her.
To me, the only reason for living is my off day. No one writes to me from home. In fact, it is clear that I have no home. When I first came to Brussels, I would go to church, but now I do not believe any longer. Allah, God, it doesn’t matter…neither one talks to me….I am no longer a follower of anything. I only have to go forward and find a way to get into the United States. That is my new religion. It is one of my own creation.
I have a friend from Liberia named Bettye. She wants to go to Canada. She says that in Canada, it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, people there treat all people with respect. Even Africans. She has a university degree in mathematics. Bettye and some of other girls have determined how to make extra money. It seems that there is a great need in the country for African prostitutes. I guess anyplace there are men, there remains a great need for prostitutes. Being African, I guess, is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. Although, I have been told the some Belgians are willing to pay Romanian or Ukrainian girls more than African girls.
Bettye works as a prostitute on her day off. She earns more on those days than she earns the rest of the month working in the laundry. She tells me that in eight months, she will purchase a visa and be able to immigrate to Toronto. From there, she said she would take the Canadian Rail train for travel to Vancouver. She says Vancouver is near the Pacific Ocean. A Canadian missionary came to her school in Monrovia and told her about the Pacific Ocean. It is from that moment the she became in love with it. She tells me that it will require 32 more days working as a prostitute to earn enough to leave. These days are marked on a calendar.
Three days ago, Senior Guzman approached me and asked if I would be willing to do this work. He says that the hotel is losing business and he is losing money on the contract. He says that some of the girls may have to return to Africa. (I did not think he is telling the truth. I have experience working with computers…on nights when the laundry is completed early, we have empty the trash from the staff offices. I saw the spreadsheet reports showing salary that was in the trash. The hotel is paying him 290 Euro for a 50-hour week. He pays us 150 Euros for 90-hour workweek.)
Anyway, he told me that since I could get to United States more quicker if I would go on dates with some of his business friends from India. He says they will pay him 20,000 Rupees for me to be with them, and I will receive 100 Euros. Fifty in cash, and fifty to help pay off my contract.
And, since I am still virgin, for the first time, they will pay 30,000 Rupees. He says that he will give me one-third after it is converted to Euros.
Before I came here, when I was still a believer, I would have never allowed myself to be rented… to be used. But now, whom am I saving myself for. A man? Because I am Christian? The choice seems clear to me. If I can get to United States before the end of the year, I will do whatever Senior Guzman asks of me.
What choice do I have?