This was an essay entitled, It Feels Like Yesterday, that I wrote two years ago. It was in my nonfiction writing class with Professor Kate Kysar at Anoka Ramsey Community College. I decided to share it as a personal reflection since it’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
It feels like yesterday. It’s been six years already. How time flies! Where has the time gone to? On October 16, 2013, it will be exactly six years since I began a journey into freedom with my son as a survivor. We are indeed, both survivors. I am a survivor of domestic abuse; I am a survivor of human trafficking. You have no idea what it feels like to be imprisoned until you lose your power to freedom for a moment. You have no clue what it means to crave for food as a pregnant woman but not able to eat, not because there is no food, but because you are being tortured for a crime being committed against you. You cannot phantom working while someone else is collecting the money. I have lived it. I have survived it. I am a survivor.
According to various sources, one in four women experience domestic abuse in their life time. Eighty-five percent of abuse occurs by an intimate partner. The rate of domestic abuse is high where “Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year,” (Domestic Violence Resource Center). Human trafficking, on the other hand, is higher where it is described as the third largest crime in the world, next to trafficking of firearms and drugs. Human trafficking can happen as a result of fraud, force, or coercion. More so, human trafficking can occur, not only among strangers, but also among family members. It is the modern day slavery. It is interesting to find out that sometimes, human trafficking can be hiding under domestic abuse. It takes further investigation to reach this conclusion.
Since 2009 when I decided to go public by putting my face to my story, it has been both rewarding and fulfilling for me – some victims are now able to identify themselves, others who come in contact with victims are helping victims to reach out for help. The first person who reached out for help was one of my hair braiding customers – Hope (name withheld). It was about six o’clock in the morning. I was in the kitchen getting ready to prepare breakfast for my son and before heading out to church for the Sunday morning service, I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge thinking “what am I going to prepare this morning?” As usual, I bent down a little bit with my right hand holding the door to the fridge; and my eyes scanning through the three layers in the fridge holding pots of soup, plastic containers of cooked food, vegetables, eggs, left over foods, and just about some of the little item a fridge can hold to get an idea of what to prepare that morning.
I was yet to decide when my cell phone rang. “It’s early! Who could be calling at this time of the morning?” I thought. I closed the fridge and went for the phone to unplug it from the socket where I left it to charge overnight. When I reached the phone and saw the caller ID, I was happy that my prayer had been answered. I had just barely finished praying and went into the kitchen to get ready for church; and, a customer is calling already? Every day, I pray for my customers; more so, I pray that they call to make hair braiding appointments. Well, not so fast. It was a prayer answered but not for hair braiding.
A victim of human trafficking needed help. When I answered the phone, “hello, good morning Hope,” the response I received was, “Bukola, those people that helped you, can they help me?” with a dejected voice. For a minute, I forgot that I was looking for food in the fridge; I concentrated on the telephone conversation. Meanwhile, all kinds of thoughts flashed through my mind simultaneously – so, some of my customers are victims of domestic abuse; some are victims of human trafficking; some are not safe at home. It was a good idea that they read my book for free or bought it at the shop. I controlled my thoughts to come back to the present conversation and said, “Yes, they can help you. The help is not only for Bukola, but for everyone who needs help.” I told her, “hang on, let me look for the number.”
While she was waiting on the other side of the phone, I reached into my contact list to look for the number of the host of the support group for Immigrant Women and Refugee where I had been helped as a foreign-born victim. I knew she would be the best first contact for Hope. She worked at the Home Free shelter for battered women in Plymouth, the same city where Hope resided. “Hello” I said. Hope said, “hello.” “Okay, take down this number and call now,” I said. After dictating the number to her, I assured her that she would be fine. When the call ended, I felt like I had just won a battle. The reason I published my book has come to fruition. Apparently, Hope was one of my customers who had bought and read my book when it was published in 2009. She never said anything to me other than, once, she recommended that I should have my book in book clubs and book shops around the Twin Cities.
Hope called the number I had given to her and she moved to the shelter with her twins. Her husband who was the culprit had run back to their home country in the southern part of Africa. I did not ask for the details of her story other than sending her to the right place; however, I continued to follow-up with her by calling and checking to see how she and her kids were doing. I support her in little ways that I could like braiding her hair for less and one time, I braided her daughter’s hair for free. I offered words of encouragement as she went through the process of restoration. For a foreign-born victim of human trafficking, it is a very long process because some of the needs are getting a status to remain and work in the United States legally. It is therefore very challenging for someone with two kids when there is barely any means of income for survival. Thank God for the shelter where basic needs are provided, but there is a distinct difference between earning an income to keep yourself and children and surviving with the help of a shelter.
However, human trafficking is becoming a prevalent crime around the world. The United Nation estimates that over two million people are being trafficked around the world. In fact, President Barack Obama declared the month of January human trafficking awareness month two years ago to create awareness and prevent the crime in the United States. In the past few years, many non-profits organizations have sprang up to advocate, rescue, or restore victims of human trafficking. The media are also paying attention to the issues of human trafficking with reports flooding the various media from print to online, sensitizing the community of the heinous crime. Hope is just one of many who have reached out to me for help since 2009. I have recorded victims reaching out for help from outside of Minnesota. I have seen victims reaching out for help among students at Anoka Ramsey. A victim reached out at Scholastic University in St. Paul after sharing my story.
It’s only been six years and I am happy at how far I have gone with my advocacy efforts. I am happy to see others reach out for help. Currently, a victim of domestic abuse all the way in Georgia is getting help because he was referred to me. Right now, I feel like no matter how dark the night might be, the sky will show it’s brightness in the morning with or without the sun.
Domestic Violence Resource Center. Domestic Violence Resource Center. n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2013
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Bye for now, until next time.
PS: Have you checked out my blogger page yet? If you have not, you can check it out here. There I share everything that I am connected with in one place; hence, the name of the page, All Things Bukola Oriola.