Full of Opportunity?

Content warning: The stories throughout this issue may be especially activating for some readers. Many of these pieces involve descriptions of traumatic experiences including sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, queer/transphobic violence, in addition to the violence of states and false borders.

Immigration is the movement of people from one country (mostly developing or underdeveloped countries) to another (usually developed countries) in search for better livelihood. Homelessness is the state of one being without shelter. The main causes of both immigration and homelessness are poverty and unemployment, which make it impossible to afford basic needs and can force a person to be homeless or move to another foreign country with the hope of securing a job with at least minimum wage.

My name is Ashina (though it’s not my true name). I come from the most remote part of South Kivu province in Congo. I am from a humble background: a family of six siblings and our single mother. My mother tried her best to bring us up but there was never enough for us all to go to school and have at least two meals in a day. When things got harder, I dropped out of school and was connected to a job agency that promised to get me a well paying job in the United States. In all my life this was the first good news I had. 

The joy of going overseas, the stories told of how safe, clean, and full of opportunities America was, and happiness all flashed through me. I thought I had finally made it in life, that I would change my family’s story. All I could think of is how I would be sending money home to educate my siblings and provide decent housing for them. Due to my naivete, I did not think any dangers would befall me. I didn’t know yet that things would not go as I imagined. 

A month later, all my documents were together, arrangements were made, and I was set to leave. October 4, 2020, is a day I will never forget. That day, my situation got worse. It marked the beginning of a time I yearned to die and get away from all my troubles. I felt like I was a cursed lady with no chance of good luck around the corner.

By around 11 a.m. the next day, I was in California and was picked up by people who took me to San Francisco to meet my employers, who seemed like a really nice Christian family. They received me well and showed me my room in the basement of their house, where I was to live. For that month, things were just fine and peaceful. But at the beginning of November, everything changed. This Christian family became my doom. The lady of the house had two grown-up sons and an abusive husband. 

The men started mistreating me, demanding I do my chores in a bikini when the lady of the house left for work. I could not refuse, since I was in a foreign country with no one to run to. Weeks later it graduated to sexual harassment. All the male members of the family would break into my room in the basement and take advantage of my innocence. I tried talking to the boss lady but she turned a blind eye. Instead she accused me of seducing them and plotting to steal from her. She took away my phone and passport, limiting my movements out of her place.

My whole body was in pain. I was physically, mentally and emotionally abused with heavy beatings every now and then. One time, the boss lady burnt my feet for breaking a cup, and wouldn’t allow me to go to the hospital so I wouldn’t report them to the police. My wounds got worse, popping and bleeding every day. A bad smell started coming out of the wounds but instead of getting help, I was abused and told that Black people should be strong and should be seen but never heard. 

Enough was enough. I ran away to try and save myself from this harsh and dangerous family. I followed the first route I found to a church we once attended when I was new. Near the church there was a homeless shelter which only had a roof with no walls and was overpopulated. I stayed there for some days and made one male friend who introduced me to a new way of earning a living by selling drugs on the streets. He taught me how to avoid the authorities, the best selling points and territory and camouflage in case we were ambushed either with our rival drug gangs or the police. Having left my passport and papers, I became homeless and hopeless.

At first it paid, and I was able to buy some clothes and covers for the night, living day by day. One day, while on my routine duties of selling my portions, the rival gang ambushed us, claiming that we had infiltrated their territory and were in to fight us. I was caught in the middle. I knew this was the end. I had no papers, no passport and no money, and worst of all I had no contacts. I hid, but the boy who introduced me to this business was badly hurt.

I couldn’t do anything to help because I was running away to save my life and to avoid the police. My plan is to start fresh, for even when I think of going home, it feels like I will be giving in to the hardships I had promised to work and change. The reality is that the suffering out here on the streets is real. What remains is that I have to get documented to live free and work to achieve my goals. It is the only way for me to survive, since I am far away in a foreign country.