Sadly, the following story–first submitted to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge–is based on facts, although the girl is fictional. I combined a personal testimony of a girl we met in Orvieto, with details I read on the Internet.
My name is Hope. I’m from Nigeria. I’m the girl on the street you try to ignore as you hurry past. Just before you turn your head away, I see your cold eyes, the corners of your mouth pulled down. Don’t worry—you don’t have to buy what I’m offering. But why do you despise me? Is it the color of my skin? My poverty?
I lived with my family in a village in Edo State, the South of Nigeria. My parents were jobless. We were always hungry— sometimes, my mother cooked tree leaves for dinner.
When my brother met a man whose niece in Italy would have work for me, I was thrilled. I could help provide and give my little sister the opportunity I never had—to go to school. The man promised, “You’ll get rich working as a hairdresser.” I’m good at plaiting hair. He even advanced me the travel expenses. Little did I know that it was a ruse.
Before I left, my brother took me to a juju priest for good luck. The grim man, all dressed in red, cut off some of my hair and took blood from my hand. Then he made me kneel before him and swear to pay my debt and be obedient to my sponsor and his niece; otherwise the evil spirits would torture me and take my soul. He marked my forehead with clay, so the spirits would recognize me. I longed to go to Italy, but the pictures next to his shrine scared me—the horribly disfigured faces of girls who had broken their oath.
I didn’t travel alone. We were crammed into the open back of a truck, more than thirty Nigerian girls. At day time, fine desert sand penetrated our clothes as we drove under the scorching sun. At night, the escorting men raped us. I struggled to break loose, but they had knives. “You’d better get used to it,” they scoffed. Some girls complained that they didn’t get paid for the job. They were going to Italy to be prostitutes and mocked me when I said I was going to be a hairdresser.
To cross the Mediterranean Sea, we loaded into a rubber raft, which almost sank under our weight. We had no food, no water. One of the girls fell into the choppy waves. She screamed, but the boat continued steadily forward.
When we arrived in Italy, I found out the other girls were right. The niece had no hair salon; she was a madam. She said that I would have to work hard to pay my debt—50,000 Euro. I had no idea it was so high. At first, I cried every night standing on the curb, shivering and barely dressed. Tears attract no men and no money, so Madam beat me often. Running away was impossible—the evil spirits would find me. I just tried not to feel anything.
One night, I met Victor. He didn’t want sex; he just gave money. He asked my name and talked with me. “Hope, do you know Jesus?”
“Yes. My grandma told me about Him—said she liked Him more than the other gods she worshiped.”
“Jesus is the only God. There are no others. And He loves you.”
“How can God love me?” I wondered. “I do bad things.”
Victor read from his Bible how Jesus blessed and restored women like me. “If you want, I can help you start a new life.”
“No. My oath…the spirits—”
“Jesus is stronger than any evil spirit. You’re safe with Him.”
Victor got me to a women’s shelter where Madam cannot find me. I also met his wife. She teaches me about Jesus and helps me to get my documents, so that I can find a real job.
For now, I’m still on the street, but instead of selling my body, I sell fabrics and other household items. I don’t make much money, but I can send all my earnings to Nigeria. My family is proud of me. And my sister is going to school! I pray that Jesus protects them from the evil spirits, and from the men who threaten them because I escaped.
I’m not afraid anymore.
“You want to buy tissues, ma’am?
“Sir, do you need socks? Two pairs for five Euro only.”
My name is Hope. I’m from Nigeria. Please, don’t ignore me.
For more information on human trafficking in Nigeria, see: