Heartrending tale of new-age form of slavery

Photo |  AFP A girl peers from behind a curtain. Eyo sounds like a girl we know – but then have just hushed about it because we think “it doesn’t concern us.

Photo | AFP A girl peers from behind a curtain. Eyo sounds like a girl we know – but then have just hushed about it because we think “it doesn’t concern us.

Human trafficking is the new-age form of slavery,” shouted the headline of a feature in the Daily Nation on Tuesday, August 10, 2010.

It was a heartrending tale of human exploitation and how brokers who smuggle people make as much as Sh4 million in one trip alone.

The story reminded one of the book Eyo, a new novel published in Kenya by WordAlive Publishers and written by hard-hitting Nigerian writer, Abidemi Sanusi.

The main character is a young girl named Eyo. And she was leaving behind all she’d ever known. They said she was lucky. They lied.

Unfortunately, she discovers this too late – when she had already been trafficked across the Atlantic and held captive by lustful men.

It’s usually hard to pinpoint the bleakest moment in a book. In some other books, it is easy to do so.

In Uwem Akpan’s award-winning book, Say You’re One of Them, the devastating deadpan line that highlights the bleakest point is, “Selling your child or nephew could be more difficult than selling other kids”.

However, in Eyo, the entire narrative is like one gigantic bleak moment. It was by deliberate design that the book was launched by the former nominated MP Njoki Ndung’u – who was instrumental in the crafting of the Sexual Offences Bill.

The novel opens with the 10-year-old Eyo selling iced water in the market. Gaunt and with her younger brother in tow, Eyo raises her voice and probably her hopes as she calls out for prospective clients.

Eyo doesn’t go to school. Her poor parents have sent her into the streets to sell iced water so that they can have something to eat. Eyo’s father is a drunkard and the mother is a poor housewife.

Needs maid

Money is tight. And they have no food. Then an “opportunity” presents itself. The parents are informed that someone needs a maid in London.

The father grabs the chance and convinces Eyo to go to London. “Anything is better than this,” her father says emphatically.

It is easier to judge Eyo’s parents and quickly brand them “bad” or “irresponsible”.

But do we really know what risk one can take when grinding poverty pushes them to the limit of inhuman existence? Is there a time when we can become so hungry that shame is a luxury?

Eyo is the kind of book that a man can read and leave him so shaken that he can wander for days staring at his daughters, sisters and other female relatives and silently close his eyes — even if he is not religious — and pray for their safety.

Eyo is guaranteed to leave the reader haunted. It’s a confessional diary that starts in a light tone with an innocent 10-year- old girl but the tone suddenly turns dark as she morphs into something unimaginable as she endures evil experiences in increasing measure.

Eyo uncomfortably sounds like a girl we know – but then have just hushed about it because we think “it doesn’t concern us!”

This is one of the things that has encouraged child trafficking; a quiet society that does nothing but watch – and talk in whispers or pray silently that the vice will miraculously disappear.

Just before she leaves for London, Eyo is sexually abused by her lustful father. Then she is illegally trafficked to London, using fake documents, where she is used as a sex slave, first in a private residence, then later in a brothel.

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