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“Scars in my heart”

Laila

Laila
“I cried a lot and so did the others.”
Laila

Laila thought she was finally safe. Then they told her to get out of the country.

The whole thing started when I got pregnant without being married. To my father and his family it was shameful to have a child outside marriage. “Don’t tell father, he will take you to the hospital at once”, my sister said. She was sure that he would force me to have an abortion. I knew she was right, so I didn’t say anything, but one day my father discovered my swollen belly. He went crazy, and was at me the whole time, so I was forced to run away. I have scars all over my legs from falling and cutting myself when I ran away from the people my father sent to get me.

When I was small I dreamt about working in an office. I loved learning and I liked school. Besides, I was determined to have an adventurous life, I had a strong feeling of having just this one life and how we have to live it to the full. Where I come from it is not possible for a young girl to have freedom. Girls and boys cannot meet freely, and the girls especially live under very strict rules. The wishes of children and young people are not important, parents usually decide everything. This way, young people become ignorant, without experience in a lot of important matters. Parents use violence if they think their children are not obedient. All parents behave like that where I come from. Sometimes you have to kneel on the floor with your arms stretched upwards, and then they place heavy things in your hands and you have to stay there for a long time. Everything parents like that tell their children falls on deaf ears. I don’t think I would have become pregnant if I had had a bit more freedom in my early life.

Illustration: www.colourbox.noIllustration: www.colourbox.no

In high school many of my girlfriends had boyfriends. I was teased because I didn’t, so the next time a boy talked to me, I started a relationship with him. But I knew nothing about sex, and didn’t understand how you make babies until I fell pregnant. In school we had learned to mark the calendar when we had our periods. If it was delayed we should go to a doctor, the teacher told us. When I didn’t get my period, I thought for sure it would come the following month. I started being sick in the morning, my breasts changed and I was tired the whole time. I didn’t understand anything until I told my friend everything and she told me that I was pregnant. The thought of having a baby made me happy, but I was scared too. Even if I knew my mother would be on my side, my father was the one who decided everything. I had to run away, with my father and several relatives searching for me. I moved several times and gave birth while staying with an aunt who lived far away from my home town. She suggested I find a lasting solution to the problem, I couldn’t continue running away, she said. My aunt offered to take care of my baby and said she knew of a woman who could help me.

“I can save your life and nobody will know where you are”, the woman said when I met her, “do you know how to be a waitress?” She told me she had a restaurant in another country and needed people. It was a possibility I couldn’t turn down. I didn’t know where we were going when I left my home country together with several other girls and one man. The journey was very tiring. We walked a lot and sometimes we had to hide from the police. In a big city I met the woman again. She took me to a house where several women lived together. At night she showed me a street where they offered sex. I didn’t understand what we were doing there. “Where is your restaurant?” I asked her. “Here”, she said. When I told her this was not for me, she said she knew where my child was. She said I owed her money and terrible things would happen if I didn’t pay off my debt. If I hadn’t had a child, I would have sued her, but in the country I come from there is no justice for people like me. She would have paid the police, the judge and the lawyers and while she relaxed at home I would have been the one that had to suffer.

I was there for several years. The woman got all the money I made, except what I needed for essential things. It wasn’t a good life. I never experienced violence, but I had to accept men who smelt very bad and who said terrible things to me. A lot of men think they have the right to treat you without any respect. It is important to react and not let them think that you will put up with everything. Some of the men said they had a bad situation at home and wanted to talk. Many of them were married. I never stole from the customers like some of the girls did. If I slept over at a customer’s house I stayed awake all night. I pretended to be asleep, but because I didn’t know them, I was prepared for anything. I tried to live one day at a time and have never given up hope. I just had to rid myself of the debt and get away; this was all I could think of, to endure everything for the sake of my baby.

When I think about the past, I start crying. A body is not meant to be sold, it is not something you can let anybody share. And when you have to do it, it is not a good life. The woman said I owed her 55000 Euro. I thought it was a lot, but sometimes I met others who had to pay more. Almost nobody talks about this, because they are afraid of what will happen to their families back home. That is the big fear. The people behind this don’t need to be afraid, they have enough money to be able to bribe everybody who wants to try and persecute them. I took 50, or maybe 40 Euro from every customer, this gives you an idea of the calculations in my head.

One day I was caught by the police. I had to go to jail because I didn’t have any papers and while I was there, the police found out that I had been in Norway. That is where the woman had sent me to first. I was arrested then too, shortly after arriving. I knew nothing about this country at the time, knew nobody, all I had was a phone number I received from the woman who organized everything. When I called the number, a man came with a car and drove me to a city in another country where the woman was. When I came to Norway this time, I told the whole story. “Do you want to sue?” they asked me. I didn’t dare for fear of what might happen back home.

Illustration: www.colourbox.noIllustration: www.colourbox.no

I am fine now. I am learning Norwegian, and have more plans for what I want to do if only they will let me stay. I have had regular contact with my child since I left home. Imagine if we could have a new future together here, that is my dream. It is a big thing for me to be out of prostitution, I never want anything more to do with it. I feel so much stronger now and I can tell my story so that people might understand the reasons why so many women are led into prostitution. It would be good if it was easier to get a work permit. When women don’t have the papers they need, it is even more difficult to break free. I’ve never met anybody who is happy in prostitution, not one single woman. I cried a lot and so did the others.

I wish my home country was like Norway. A lot of people suffer where I come from. Only the rich have what they need. If the doctor tells you that your child is very sick and needs an injection, you have to pay for it first, otherwise they won’t give it. Children die from ordinary diseases because people don’t have enough money. The government only looks after their own interests, nobody cares about the poor. That is why many people want to go to Europe. But they don’t know anything about Europe. They come here without papers and suffer here as well.

P.S. When I told this story, I felt lucky and full of optimism. Then I received the information that I cannot stay. It made me so depressed, I totally lost my way. The Norwegian words don’t stay in my brain anymore; all thoughts of work and a home seem hopeless now. I have appealed. At night I just lie awake, waiting.

The exhibition

“Scars in my heart” is a web exhibition presenting the life stories of eleven women from around the world, who ended up in prostitution in Norway.

Cand. polit. Rachel Eapen Paul and Unni Rustad, writer, at KILDEN Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway interviewed them after their escape from the traffickers who brought them here. Unni edited the material.

As much as possible, the women’s own words are kept as they were spoken, but details have been changed to protect the women’s identities.  The women read and approved their own story before publication.

Published: 09.12.2008
Kilden
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Illustrations: www.colourbox.no