Since 1902

Hardships in Saudi Arabia sent a woman into depression

By John Shilitsa - May 27th 2022
Evelyn Ombima holding her medical and passport documents and her relatives at Majengo in Vihiga county on May 24, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa,  Standard]

Everline Ombina sits pensively on the headstone of her grandfather’s grave at their home in Majengo, Vihiga County. On her left are the graves of her grandmother and aunt.

She seems unperturbed by our presence as we settle down to interview her about her experience in Saudi Arabia where she worked as a house help before returning home under not-so-good circumstances.

Ms Ombima was fine and lived a normal life. However, this was until she left for Saudi Arabia in 2019 in search of a job. She only worked for one year and came back home. 

On her return, Ombima appeared disturbed and was later to be admitted at Kakamega County Referral Hospital on September 9, 2021, where she was diagnosed with acute psychosis, a severe mental disorder.

She left the psychiatric hospital a few months ago, according to her relatives.

They say Ms Ombima was severely traumatised when she came back from Saudi Arabia and this plunged her into depression.

“I was born in 1981 and attended Ikumbi Primary School until 1997. I scored 302 marks in the KCPE exam,” she says.

School fees

“Scoring 302 out of 700 marks was not bad. However, I could not proceed to secondary school because my father did not have the means to pay my school fees,” she says.

Her elder brother promised to sponsor her to take a course at the polytechnic but this also failed due to lack of money.

Ms Ombima got tired of staying at home and travelled to Kericho in 2000 in search of a job. She did not find one. She got married in 2001. A year later, she gave birth to her daughter. However, the marriage failed and she left. She went into three other marriages that also failed.

“I left Kericho and went back home before leaving for Nairobi in 2004. I found a job as a house help in Pangani before securing another job at Pangani Muslim Girls. However, I lost it a year later when the school changed hands,” she says.

She moved to Mathare slum. For many years, she had no formal employment. In 2019, she heard an agency was recruiting house helps to work in Saudi Arabia. She decided to give it a try.

“I met the recruiting agent in Nairobi. Of the documents required, I did not have a birth certificate. He told me not to worry as he would help me get one easily. We were taken to Mombasa for a two-week training. I passed the exam and was among those chosen to travel to Saudi. I was excited,” recalls Ms Ombima.

However, the rosy life she envisioned in Saudi Arabia turned out to be a nightmare.

“By the time I was coming back home, I had worked in two homesteads. It was hell on earth. I had never been mistreated so much,” she says.

“My first employer was an elderly woman. I did all the work, from sweeping the vast compound, cooking, and laundry. I did all the cleaning and ran errands for her. My day would start at 8am and end at 1am. I worked like a slave. She only gave me one meal per day. She was also abusive.”

Ms Ombima says when she couldn’t take it anymore, she went to a nearby police station and filed a report on the abuses she was being subjected to.

As a settlement, her employer’s daughter who lived in a different part of the country offered to get her another job, still as a house help.

“I was happy when I was told to report to my new workplace. However, it was a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

“The second homestead had several young men. They really mistreated me. I worked for many hours without rest. They also denied me food. Sometimes, the young men would lock me up in a room. I hardly ever slept,” says Ms Ombima.

Once in a while, Ms Ombima would suddenly be withdrawn as she narrated her ordeal to us.

At some point, she went off tangent and started mentioning the names of men she says gave her a hard time in her second employment.

Forced to marry

She says they tried to force her to marry one of the men but she refused. She eventually left Saudi Arabia a year into her two-year contract.

“She came back home suddenly on the night of January 26, 2021,” says Nancy Atito, her sister-in-law. “She looked disturbed. When she left for Saudi Arabia, she was a bubbly woman.”

Ms Atito says Ms Ombima often called home and complained of the mistreatment she was being subjected to at the hands of her employers.

“We did not think it was serious until she came back. She was withdrawn and refused to talk to anybody,” says Ms Atito, who added, “There are times she talks to herself and laughs. There was a time she went on a careless spending spree and we knew all was not well. We took her to hospital and she was diagnosed with severe depression.”

Ms Atito says there were days Ms Ombima would go to the market and buy soda and bottled water for anyone she met. There were days she cooked a lot of food and took it to people who were working on a neighbour’s farm, Ms Atito says.

“One day, she went to the bank to withdraw money but was told her account had been depleted. She became violent and the police had to be called in to contain her. Luckily, the police were aware of her condition. They held her at the police station until her temper cooled down and released her unconditionally,” says Ms Atito.

No money for clinic

Ms Ombima’s mother, Sarah Kareha, is worried about her daughter’s condition. “She went to Saudi Arabia a healthy girl but now she is in this condition. There is nothing we can do but pray for her,” says Ms Kareha.

“She is supposed to attend clinic but this has not been possible due to lack of money. We are also unable to buy the medicine the doctor prescribed for her,” she says.

According to Ms Kareha, Ms Ombima has shown signs of recovery, but she is not yet there.

We asked her whether she was willing to attend the clinics and her response was an emphatic “no”.

“They refused to give me drugs and instead prescribed them,” she said.

The family says the bill at the psychiatric hospital came to Sh34,000 but they were given a Sh10,000 waivers.

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