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lt's a dog’s life, says Linet Makena held in Egyptian police cell for three weeks

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Linet Makena during the interview on June 7, 2024. She was held in an Egyptian jail for three weeks. 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete | Nation Media Group

She left the country in January 2018 and landed in Cairo, Egypt, with high hopes of fulfilling her dreams as a domestic worker earning Sh60,000 per month.

What Linet Makena did not know was that the promise of an attractive salary was bait.

While the salary turned out to be Sh15,000, she was left destitute after her boyfriend, who had paid for the plane ticket, demanded a refund of Sh300,000 for the expenses she had allegedly incurred. 

Linet Makena with her mother Julia Mwitari when she returned home on June 7, 2024. 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete | Nation Media Group

At this point, Makena knew her life was ruined as it would be difficult to repay such a sum on her meagre salary. She was trapped and enslaved, but looking back home, giving up was not an option. She stayed on and worked hard, resting only a few hours a day.

In desperation, she entered into a relationship with a Tanzanian student, hoping he would help her pay some bills. The product was a baby girl, and the boyfriend left her the moment she told him she was pregnant.

To make matters worse, her child developed a condition linked to anaemia, and she spent all her income on treatment.

Then, earlier this year, the worst happened - her visa expired. With no money to renew it, she began living on borrowed time, playing hide and seek with the Egyptian authorities after they launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants. But this was short-lived. 

The family of Linet Makena celebrates her return at their home in Ruiri, Buuri constituency on June 7, 2024. 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete | Nation Media Group

"At around 5pm on May8, we were in my house with my friends when we heard constant knocking on the door. We knew it was the police. When we refused to open, there was a loud bang (on the door)," Makena told Nation.Africa during an interview in Ruiri, Buuri Constituency.

"Rather than let them break the door and cause me more trouble with the landlord, I decided to open the door. Three of us were arrested for being in the country illegally," she said.

On Sunday, heartbroken, weak and distraught that she had failed to achieve her goals, Makena recounted her ordeal in Egyptian cells, saying the experience of being detained was the worst chapter of her life.

She finally arrived home on Saturday after well-wishers helped secure her freedom and paid for her return ticket.

Makena said at least 25 women from different countries, including China, were crammed into a small room where they slept on the floor with the toilet in one corner.

"It was a dog's life. For three weeks I did not have a proper meal because we were not provided with food. We relied on friends to bring us food, but then the police would deliberately touch it with dirty hands and force us to throw it away," she said, recalling that the only food she ate was leftovers given to her by two Chinese women.

"We slept on the floor, packed in like sardines. If you wanted to turn around, you had to wake up the next person. Once the toilet overflowed and we stood for more than 24 hours without sleeping....My legs wobbled and I could not walk was horrible. It breaks my heart to think that I left two Kenyans in that cell to be tortured...".

Makena was eventually reunited with her grandmother, Hellen Kairuthi, who raised her, but expressed disappointment that she had not fulfilled her promise of a better life for the 80-year-old.

"When my mother moved to Nairobi when I was about 12 years old, my grandmother took care of me. She was my confidante and when we went to church every Sunday, I used to tell her that one day life would be better. When a job opened up for me in Egypt, I knew that fortune had smiled on us. I was wrong," says the 28-year-old, tears in her eyes.

Getting travel documents for her four-year-old daughter was also a process, as they had to communicate with the former boyfriend. He wrote a letter confirming that Makena was the child's mother and that he had no problem with her travelling to Kenya with his daughter.

Her mother, Julia Mwitari, who lives in Nairobi and works as a domestic helper, said she was happy that her daughter was finally back home.

She said before Makena's daughter fell ill, her daughter used to support the family. On the day of her daughter's arrest, she had spoken to her on Skype.

"She told me, 'Mum, I'm sick but I don't have money to go to the hospital. But don't worry, everything will be fine', she pointed the camera at the pain under her chest and I told her it was probably pneumonia. Later that evening, I got the news that they had been arrested," the single mother said, sobbing.

"I am happy that they are finally back home and I thank all those who made their return possible. It would have taken us months to raise the over Sh200,000 needed and only God will reward them," she said.

Mr Timothy Kithinji, a local leader who mobilised well-wishers to help Makena secure her freedom, called on the government to show more concern for Kenyans living and working abroad.

"This is not the first time we have witnessed such incidents. Kenyans are suffering out there and while some come back with nothing after suffering untold hardships, others come back in coffins. The government should come up with a system to track how Kenyans out there are coping with life, especially in the Middle East," said Mr Kithinji.

"We thank our leaders, area MPs Mugambi Rindikiri and Felicity Nkirote Biriri, for heeding our calls to donate money and facilitate Makena's return," he added.