Monday, December 29, 2008

Egyptian Slave Freed From Slavery... In America

Shocking story this week about an Egyptian girl kept enslaved as a house maid for three years by a rich Egyptian family... in the US.

At nine years old, Shyima was "hired" by a wealthy Egyptian couple to work for their family first in their Cairo apartment, and soon after as a "maid" in their California home. Her duties forced her to awake before dawn and work until past midnight, cleaning the luxurious five-bedroom mansion. Her "employers" kept her in a windowless garage that was neither air-conditioned or heated. The light bulb in the garage blew out shortly after she arrived, and was never replaced; Shyima consequently spent her personal life in the dark... in more ways than one. "I thought this was normal", she answered when she was eventually asked why she didn't just run away.

Thanks to sharp-eyed neighbors, who anonymously tipped off Los Angeles authorities that a young girl seemed to be living in Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim's garage, Shyima was saved; since the trial of her "benefactors" she has been adopted into a family that, unlike the Ibrahims, takes her to Disneyland to go on the rides, not just to carry everyone's bags. Shyima's video interview is a welcome reminder to keep faith in the possibility of happy endings:

[Shyima] graduated from high school this summer after retaking her exit exam and hopes to become a police officer.
Shyima, now 19, has a list of assigned chores. She wears purple eyeshadow, has a boyfriend and frequently updates her profile on MySpace. Her hands are neatly manicured. [This detail is in contrast to the earlier observation made by the police who first rescued Shyima: "They noted her hands were red and caked with dead, hard-looking skin."]

She has had her future given back to her; if only the same could be said for other children still trapped in the bonds of slavery:

The trafficking of children for domestic labor in the U.S. is an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. Families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer.

The custom has led to the spread of trafficking, as well-to-do Africans accustomed to employing children immigrate to the U.S. Around one-third of the estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States are servants trapped behind the curtains of suburban homes, according to a study by the National Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and Free the Slaves, a nonprofit group. No one can say how many are children, especially since their work can so easily be masked as chores.

[Hat Tip to Hot Air]


truepeers said...

Thanks Charles, interesting story.

a welcome reminder to keep faith in the possibility of happy endings

Well, if we can talk of happy endings at age 19, she has one because she found herself by great fortune in a country that has been made modern through Christianity. Back home in Egypt, her own family thinks she is in the wrong and the slave owners have another girl in chains. This is for such people an age-old story. Good for Shyima that she refuses to speak or think in Arabic.

So, faith in the possibility of happy endings has to have a specific religious character, or else the story with a happy ending will just be primitive myth: that which hides (it is not even conscious of) its own dependence on sacrificial victims, just as the happy family shown partying in the video was dependent on the little slave girl to scapegoat to make their lives seem blessed. (I bet the confusion of the slave owners' kids, when interviewed by police, was largely genuine and not simply a case of being caught in a conscious lie.)

America sent the rich Egyptian woman to prison, but couldn't cure her of the desire for another slave. Only engagement with the demanding faith of Christianity could have worked such magic, but the result would not have been "happy" in any kind of ritualistic-mythic sense, but rather the kind of happiness that can only come with the hard and patient and never-ending work of fighting to know good and evil and also to accept patiently the necessary limits to our attempts to build the Kingdom of God in this world.

Walker Morrow said...

What a terrible story to have to even think about, much less write about.

It's quite sad when slavery is still thought of as acceptable, especially when that mindset is smack in the middle of a country which fought a war to abolish the act.