Almaz — one woman’s story
Every year, thousands of women migrate as domestic workers to Middle Eastern countries. With few employment opportunities in their own country, it’s a means for them to send remittances back home and provide for their families. Yet often the reality transpires to be very different from what migrant workers were promised before they left, and they face being exploited, underpaid (or not paid at all) and are victims of different forms of abuse. In extreme cases, such as that in 2010 when a Saudi couple hammered 24 nails into their Sri Lankan maid, women have been tortured or killed by their employers. As a result of these conditions, suicide is prevalent among domestic migrant workers.
Women move from Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia but also from certain East African countries including Ethiopia. According to IPS there are an estimated 25 million domestic migrant workers in the Middle East.
Yet these women aren’t just numbers, each has her story to tell. One of these stories is that of Almaz, a young woman from Ethiopia. This comic follows her as she moves to Riyadh to work for a rich family as their maid. Based on testimony received at a women’s refuge centre in Addis Ababa, this tells the true story of what life is like for some migrant workers. It takes you from Almaz’ nervous arrival to a strange new country, to how she is treated by her employers to the final unravelling of the story.
This comic is a project by Positive Negatives, an organisation that writes comics based on personal narratives to try to bring hidden subjects, and stories, to light. Positive Negatives has also produced comics based on the lives of Somali refugees around Europe and families fleeing from war in Sri Lanka.
Positive Negatives carry out extensive research in the topic before they start drawing, and they interview people who have lived through the experiences. To make sure that the stories genuinely represent the narrators, they are interviewed in a safe space so that they are free to talk and are shown the drafts of the comics for their comments and additions. Although Almaz is a comic, Positive Negatives have used photos in other projects, where appropriate, to add another level of reality to their work — these stories are, after all, based on real people.
Benjamin Dix, founder of Positive Negatives explained that they “aim to tell stories of people like Almaz who have lived through incredibly harrowing and exploitative experiences and do not have a voice to tell the world of these injustices. By using illustrations to depict their testimonies, we try and engage a wider and more general audience in understanding some of these issues that are of global concern.”
According to Migrant Rights, breaking the silence around the plight of domestic workers in the Middle East is crucial if things are to change.
However, there is also something important in the telling of a story in and of itself, particularly when it comes to those who have for so long been invisible and voiceless.