The invisible girls [Archives:2008/1136/Opinion]

March 10 2008

Dr. Raoofa Hassan
“The Invisible Girls” is a title of a documentary film on housemaids who migrate from other countries to Yemen. The film focuses on following up the everyday life of four dark-skinned girls from Ethiopia and Somalia working in Sana'a houses belonging to families originally from Hodeida and other areas nationwide. We see these maids moving in the early morning, from homes furnished with plastic papers and thin sponge mattresses that hardly protect their bodies from cold weather, to other luxurious houses where they clean floors, walls and kitchens, as well as iron clothes of family members, cook their meals and look after children until the end of daytime.

In their videotaped stories, one of these maids narrates the story of her husband's murder in Somalia and her subsequent migration to Yemen with other refugees with her eyes shedding tears. She recollects what has happened to her and her family, forcing us to burst in tears. The victim continues narrating her daily business in order to provide for her fatherless children.

Another victim told us about her interest and fondness of music and theater. She also spoke of her studies prior to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict that divided her family between both conflicting countries. As a result, she was forced to seek a job that can ensure her survival in this life.

This maid disclosed the mistreatment practiced against her by a Yemeni individual in charge of transporting housemaids to Yemen. She also narrated the story of how she fled her exploiters who were harshly mistreating her. Consequently, she found herself in an illegal status without even a passport, and with the passage of days, the fine imposed on her for lacking a passport increases, thus becoming unaffordable for her to pay. Neither the Ethiopian government may treat her as an Ethiopian citizen nor may the Somali government accept her as a Somali national.

Images shaped by tales:

While reading the tales compiled by the Yemeni storywriter Mohammed Abdulwali, Ethiopia and Addis Ababa were depicted in my mind as trade stores or groceries that have certain corners for migrants who come from rough mountains to rest and sleep in. Voice of the late singer Abdullah Al-Sima was repeating the “Balah” – a Yemeni lyric – thereby depicting in my mind the difficult voyage in the sea and restless wages in the eve of sealing through the Red Sea toward Asmara.

The film of “The Invisible Girls” included an Ethiopian young girl from the countryside who attended school until she became able to communicate with her family members and tell us of her news and stories and likewise receives their news and stories. She is working here in Yemen to provide for her mother, brothers and sisters, who are still living in their homeland in order to make their life easier.

The film takes us to Ethiopia and lets us know about a family that sent two of its girls to work – One in Yemen and the other in a Gulf state – in order to bring them money. The mother revealed how eager she is to see her daughters and via the camera we had a glance at their rural house with pictures of the Christ on its walls. The film exposed to us the Ethiopian lifestyle and the beauteous elements of nature in the African county such as the high mountains and flowing rivers.

We communicated with the girls once again while gathering at the home of one of their compatriots on Friday, their weekend. We saw them watching an Ethiopian singer on the T.V. Screen and at the same time repeating what he was saying. Seemingly, the song focused on exodus, forcible departure, homesickness and dreams of a better tomorrow.

What made you tolerate bitterness?

The film tells us something about ourselves. The camera moves in the street screening traffic men grazing at housemaids while on their way to the houses where they work. The camera sometimes concentrates lengthily on the famous buildings of the Old City of Sana'a, thus granting the ancient location its unique color.

From time to time, we listen to voice of the English novelist revealing the ancient civilization of our country, plus the situation of housemaids that is closely related with their masters. Maids with good financial conditions since they are working with rich families were not included in the film and they are mostly from Philippines. The film only concentrates on the maids who migrated to Yemen illegally via the sea, and therefore their survival is put at risk.

Source: Al-Thawri State-run Daily