Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nanny #2

Friday morning, Chip was up before I left for work. Berket was already in the kitchen looking at the day’s menu, making sure she knew her way around the unfamiliar pantry. She greeted Chip with a big smile and held out her ample arms and Chip dived right into them. With Chip in her arms, she limped to the big picture window and Chip waved me bye-bye as I drove to work.

The following week, things had settled. BigGeek was back to working unearthly hours, juggling work commitments and his MBA classes. So, late one evening, when I had done my song-and-dance routine with Chip, read him a book, fed him dinner and put him to bed, I asked Berket if she would like a glass of wine. She hesitated, and then accepted a small glass. BigGeek was away in Charlottesville for his MBA classes. I finally felt our life had slipped into a mundane rhythm again. Between tiny sips of a very dry Pinot Grigio, Berket told me what happened to her leg. It was a long story, she cautioned me.

The agency had given me a short bio. Berket held a nanny position in Dubai for almost two years, and then in South Africa for about six months. Had a 10 yr old son. She spoke her native Tigriniya, some Arabic, that she picked up in Dubai, a little Swahilli and of course English, but not so perfectly and with a thick accent. Her US asylum papers had just been approved.

I don’t remember which part of Eritrea she came from. There had been a misunderstanding, she told me. Between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which had resulted in her being deported to Eritrea while her young son stayed back in Ethiopia with her husband’s family. She was Eritrean, her husband Ethiopian. The match had not been blessed by either families and they had eloped. The families had broken off all contact with them, but grudgingly made good when she produced a grandchild. She was happy then. When her son was five or six, her husband had passed away. They had been married eight years.

I did not know what made me more speechless. The matter-of-fact narration or the sheer wretchedness of her situation. But there was more. This had proven to be just the beginning of her long journey.

Unable to return to Ethiopia, Berket persuaded a sister living in Kenya to bring her son there. She traveled to Kenya, but could not find worthwhile work. Then, she decided to go to Dubai and worked for an Arab family as a nanny and housekeeper.

“They had a jewellery shop. Gold.” Her eyes lit up. She had made good money there and ended up buying lots of gold. “Five thousand dollars of gold. Chains, bracelets, earrings, coins.” I was stunned by the money she had made. But then she had lost her job and her visa had expired, so she decided to go to South Africa. “Why there?” I asked. “It’s a good place. I found a job with old persons hospital. But money, not so good as Dubai.” She had worked there more than six months, picked up English and a little Swahilli, saved money and paid a South African coyote to take her to the US.

“How much do they charge?” I asked. One only heard of the coyotes in the news.
“Ten thousand” she replied.
“Ten thousand Rands?
“No, No”, she shook her head. She was laughing at my naïveté . “Ten Thousand US Dollars.”
“Wow. That much? What did that include?” I wondered if she had asked questions like that to the coyote. How do you find these coyotes anyway? Where did she find the money?

“I got a discount. The man was my boyfriend’s friend. Everything is in the price. Papers, tickets, money to pay guards, hotel, food. Everything, everything they take care. You only follow.” Like a tour guide. The hotels were booked, the airfare paid for, the buses, cars, and trucks all in place.

From South Africa, she had taken a flight to Rio De Janerio, Brazil. They stayed a night in the hotel and the next day, began a long road trip to Venezuela. Then to Columbia. They stopped at night fall, slept at a hotel and the journey began again in the morning. From Columbia onwards, she was unsure how they got to Honduras. But a few days later she knew she was in Honduras, where she was robbed.

“I sold all my gold to pay the man. Only 1 earring, 2 chains and 1 bracelet was left.” The one chain kept in her purse went missing in Honduras. “I don’t know how. It was there in the morning, at night it was gone.” From Honduras to Mexico. From a small town in Mexico, they walked to the border. "It was all desert. Very hot. We walked and walked”. For one whole day and at nightfall they crossed into Texas.

“There was a wall. I had to jump. It was very dark. I fell and broke my leg.” She was gently massaging her still swollen leg.


“We had to walk. Stopping was not allowed. We walked for 5-6 hours more before wereached a town." The coyote that guided them through the last leg disappeared. She had a little money; she called her sister and brother who worked in a restaurant in Maryland. They sent her a plane ticket. Finally in Maryland was she able to see a doctor, get her leg fixed, then a lawyer to file for political asylum. The doctors had put steel rods, the damage was extensive. She was lucky to not have lost the leg. For six months she could not walk.

“I had so much hope. Come to America, make money, get my son here. But I lost my leg.” There were no tears, no sadness. Just a matter of fact acceptance of her situation and a gratitude to have a brother and sister to put a roof over your head and food on the table.