Shamila Shaban is only 23 years old but has gone through a lifetime’s worth of pain. She, like many other women who seek a better life in the Middle East, rues the day she decided to go to Lebanon to work as a nanny.
When she walks into the room for our interview in Mombasa, Shamila (pictured) is calm. She has a gappy smile, the result of losing a tooth in a street attack she and another Kenyan woman suffered in Beirut, Lebanon.
The video of the attack, which went viral in July, shows Shamila and Rosa being pulled by the hair by a man who was joined by a crowd which repeatedly struck the women.
The attack provoked outrage with the Kenyan government demanding an apology from the Lebanese government. Kenya also demanded that the attackers face the full force of the law.
The Lebanese Justice minister Salim Jreissati described the incident as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist”.
The incident exposed some of the dangers that Kenyan women are exposed to when they look for work in the Gulf countries.
Speaking for the first time since the incident, Shamila says the video only showed a very small part of the ordeal she suffered.
“I had visited my friend, Rosa, who is married to a Lebanese. While out on a walk, I was hit on the side by a car when the driver swerved to where we were walking. The driver parked a few metres away and alighted. Rosa confronted him about his reckless driving. His response was to grab me and Rosa by the hair and hit us. Other people joined him in beating us.They accused us of being prostitutes. They said we did not deserve to be in their country. There were women in the crowd. I thought they would help. They just stood and watched and some of them even joined in the battering. When the police came, we were arrested and taken to a police station,” she says.
Both women were detained as they allegedly did not have residency papers. Shamila’s friendmwas released after two weeks.
“That is how long it took her Lebanese husband to get her the proper papers that would allow her to remain in the country,” Shamila says.
Shamila stayed in police custody for a month and a half before she was released without charge.
The attacker, an off-duty soldier, and his friend were arrested.
“The first two weeks in jail were a living hell. We were not being given any food or medical attention. We were transferred to three different prisons,” she recalls.
Lawyers from the United Nations helped Shamila in her fight to stay in the country to seek justice while the man who had assaulted her took the case to the army court and was trying to get her deported.
“A week to the trial, I was given a one-way ticket back home. To this day I don’t know who bought the ticket but I think the army and my kafeel (employer/sponsor) saw this as the best option. At first, I refused to leave but later decided to sign the papers. I did not want to fight anymore. I just wanted to go back home. I was banned from ever setting foot in Lebanon,” she says.