— by Edem from Nigeria
This is the story of a friend of mine I recently met.
My name is Avi, I am a 17 years old girl from Togo. I came to Nigeria 7 years ago and since then I have lived in four different homes as a domestic servant. It was my uncle who brought me to Nigeria. He said it was so I could attend a better school rather than the one in my home Tampasa, a remote farming village in an area called Bassa, located in the northern part of Togo. I was eager to go to Nigeria. I had heard such great things about that country. There were huge houses in Nigeria, people rode big cars and attended loud parties. Children did not go hungry there, they were wearing nice clothes and had shoes. They did not have to go to the farm in the morning and go again in the evening. Things were very flashy in Nigeria. In fact, many of the children in my village had exciting stories to tell about Nigeria, not that they had ever been there, but they had heard them from their relatives who were lucky enough to have visited the place. I too wanted to go there. It was every child’s dream in my village to visit Nigeria.
That fateful day, I was returning from my village school in the evening. From outside our small house, I could hear voices from an indoors conversation. I recognized my father’s voice but the other two I did not know. One voice belonged to a woman. As I was about to go in and greet the guests, my younger brother ran out of the house holding a colorful nylon in his hand and smiling happily. When he saw me, his smile widened. Pointing towards the house, he whispered in excitement “uncle Yusuf is around. He has come from Nigeria and he says one of us can go back with him”. Hearing the news, in that instant my heart began to pound furiously. I had never met my uncle Yusuf but growing up as a child we had heard so much about him. He was the lucky one in my family who had left for Nigeria. He was the son of my father’s older brother and after his father died, he began living with my father. He was about 17 when he left for Nigeria.
My uncle was small in stature and not very good looking compared to what I had imagined a person living in such a sophisticated place would look like. He spoke our local language very fluently, as if he had never left, but when he spoke to the woman who accompanied him, it was in another language. I assume that was the language spoken in Nigeria. The other guest was very impressive. She appeared to be an Alhaja because she wore the traditional covering associated with Muslim women. She looked fancy in her white lace outfit, gold jewelry and heady perfume. They both looked up when I entered and greeted my father. As I was turning to greet my uncle and his friend, I noticed her penetrating gaze fixed on me. It made me uncomfortable. My uncle gave me a colored nylon with some items in it, just like the one I saw my brother holding minutes earlier. He said it contained my gift from Nigeria. I took it smiling, eager to find out what he had brought me all the way from there.
That evening, my uncle sat with us children and shared tales about his life in Nigeria. It seemed like he was very rich and successful in Nigeria. Life in Nigeria sounded truly wonderful. At some point I saw the Alhaja whispering something to my uncle’s ear. My uncle looked my way and asked, in my local language, “Avi, would you like to return to Nigeria with me?” I was suddenly shy. I muttered something about being in school. The Alhaja laughed. I glanced at her in surprise; did she understand my language? “There are good schools in Nigeria, actually far better schools than the ones you have here” she said, speaking in her own strange language. My uncle translated. “I can put you in one of these schools and whilst you are there, you can live in my sister’s house”. My uncle said Alhaja’s offer was a very kind offer and I would be foolish to refuse an opportunity to get a better life in Nigeria. My siblings looked envious. They all wanted to be the ‘chosen’ one.
Later my uncle spoke to my father. Baba did not seem to dislike the idea. The three of them spoke for a long time. After a while, I noticed the Alhaja handing over a small bundle to my father. Later that night my father called me to his side and said that I could go to Nigeria with my uncle but I would only be away for 2 years, after which my uncle would bring me back home. I was delighted. I too would be amongst the fortunate few who got the chance to go to Nigeria. That night I packed my small belongings eagerly and the next morning, at dawn, we were on our way.
Little did I know, that day would mark my permanent displacement from my home and country and the beginning of a journey in the world of child trafficking. I was only 10.