Starving and hopeless, a young Kenyan woman is locked up at her employer’s house in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, waiting “to be shown fire” by an angry boss.
Diana Chepkemoi notes her boss is away on safari, but had promised to harm her upon her return. Locked up thousands of miles away, she can’t do much, except await her fate.
Chepkemoi, who hails from Bomet County, went to the Gulf state last year in search of money to pay for her final year study at Meru University where she was pursuing a Bachelors in Food Science Management and Technology degree.
Her worried mother, Clara Cherotich, says that her daughter went to Saudi Arabia in May after failing to raise fees.
The last time she saw her was in March last year, when her daughter informed her of her plans to travel. She could not see her off at the airport due to Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions imposed by the government.
“I feel helpless that my daughter’s life is in danger in the hands of a foreigner in a far away land and there is nothing I can do. I just want her home,” she said in an interview.
Lorraine Cheptoo, Chepkemoi’s sister, revealed that her sister has not been paid her salary for the last three months. And that they were on the verge of dropping out of school because they depended on their sister’s remittances for their studies. Cheptoo is a second-year student at Tom Mboya University.
As they pray for their loved one, who is the second born in a family of five children, to return safely back home, things are not promising for the 24-year-old stuck in Saudi Arabia.
Her phone, her family has learnt, was confiscated by her employer’s daughter, identified as Reema, who manages the house. She only talks to them occasionally via Facebook.
Chepkemoi is at risk of not completing her studies or returning home.
On social media, normally, “before and after” photos show how people or projects depicted have improved, but for Chepkemoi the opposite is true. Her once glowing eyes, full cheeks and confident pose radiating warmth have been replaced by an emaciated version with gaunt eyes, hollow cheeks, unkempt hair and visible shoulder blades, a testament of her pathetic state.
A copy of the Standard Employment Contract for Domestic Workers bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Chepkemoi was handed before leaving the country gives details of her employer – a Mr Mohamed Fahad Saad, of national ID number 1000097209, living in Riyadh, street number 4216. It also lists both his telephone and mobile contacts.
Further, the contract indicates that the employer is represented by a Saudi recruiting agency named Ghalaan Recruitment Office, with licence number 3901658, located in Eshbilia District in Riyadh City.
This document, initially coming with the promise of greener pastures for the determined Kenyan, has morphed into a heavy yoke, tightened around her neck.
Chepkemoi is also sickly. She was rushed to hospital earlier this week, and results of tests done on her are expected out in a week’s time.
Scared and alone, she reached out to her Kenyan friend via Facebook and her texts, though brief, tell it all.
“Hello. Sorry to text you this late but I am really scared. The lady called threatening me and told me there is nothing I can do. She has cut off the embassy and when she comes back, she will make sure my life is hell,” says a text message.
She then gave out her workmate’s phone number for her family to communicate with her in the future.
“In case I go silent from my end, this (is) my workmate’s other number. She (boss) said it is either she gets her money back or I serve a punishment until the end of my contract.”
Though the details of the “punishment” were not given, Chepkemoi strongly hinted to her friend that she fears for the worst.
In a previous interview with the Nation, Lucia Wanjiku, who runs Vidaj Agencies Ltd, which takes Kenyans to work in the Gulf, explained that the money used to train the domestic workers, pay for their medical check-ups and flight tickets to the Middle East is usually paid by the employers in advance.
The women usually have to work for a particular period of time with either part or no pay until the entire amount is repaid. It is highly likely that this is the money Chepkemoi’s employer is demanding back.
Chepkemoi, however, was never made aware of the “debt” she owed and only came to know about it later.
“I have no debt. I don't know, I Googled and it's showing me that agents charge around Sh250,000 to Sh300,000. I’m not sure about that. The Kenyan agent has to call the Saudi agent and ask them how much money this family paid,” she says.
“That lady has really instilled fear in me to the point I felt I was making a mistake asking for help,” she added.
An audio in Nation’s possession of a conversation believed to be between the employer and one of her workers in her house reveals her boss’s temperament.
She categorically denies harming Chepkemoi and insists that her employee is a pathological liar who wants to ruin her, which she stresses several times, she will not allow.
She even says Chepkemoi, whom she sarcastically refers to as “Princess Diana” and at times, derogatorily as a “b****” is sick, simply because she wants to talk to her boyfriend.
Diana Spencer was the princess of Wales. Chepkemoi’s boss often calls her the name to denote that maybe she forgot her position as a househelp and thinks of herself as a princess, the stranded woman says.
“I know everything about her, pictures, video, everything and I sent it to my government. She will not go until she takes the punishment. She knows about everything. She goes to the cinema, she takes gifts, she sends her salary and she goes with us everywhere, to the hotels. I have everything, photos and videos,” vows the employer. “So, the liar, she has seen my heaven, when I come, she will see my fire. Because she is playing a dirty game. Okay, good. In my house, there is no one who is a liar in my house. Any liar in my house will see what I can do. Only liars,” she says.
The woman then admits that Chepkemoi has sought several means to leave but scoffs at the attempts, saying the helpless Kenyan has no power to stand against her.
“Even if she wants to talk with the embassy, the police and anyone, she is not strong enough in front of me (before me) because she is a liar, because she is a b**** and she knows this,” she rants.
It was after the call that the stranded woman knew things had become tougher.
“I am just scared to be honest. She was so harsh on the phone. She said if I wanted to leave, she wants her money back. I really don't know what to expect. Apart from my health condition, my anxiety is really draining me. Will I get help? If it fails my life here will be a nightmare,” says Chepkemoi, before explaining she had to go offline.
Kevin Migwe, a lawyer and a friend to Chepkemoi’s family, has been actively engaged with the agents as well as the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia with little success.
“I have been in touch with an official in the Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia as well as the local agent who took Chepkemoi to the Gulf state but the embassy is yet to give me any feedback regarding her case. Her agent is willing to go get her but she still needs the assistance of the embassy to do that,” he said.
Her Kenyan agent, the Nation has learnt, is a newly elected Member of County Assembly at a ward in Nairobi. Calls and text messages sent to her regarding Chepkemoi’s fate went unanswered.
“My agent had promised to come for me from Kenya last Tuesday but she is yet to arrive. The Kenyan Embassy has also been quiet since Sunday,” she said.
The Nation reached out to two agents identified as Abu Fahad and Aziz at the Ghalaan Recruitment Office as well as the official at the embassy who was informed of Chepkemoi’s case.
They all received the text messages sent to them, but by press time none had replied to queries regarding the woman’s ordeal, whether they had conducted any investigation into the matter or the steps they had taken to ensure her safety.
Meanwhile, Chepkemoi’s ordeal continues to unfold as her family hopes she will return home safely.