Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

‘I was pregnant and had nowhere to go’

Nine women lay bare why they went to Brazil and what they experienced once they got there. Not all migration stories are the same.

18 March 2021, 5.30am
São Paulo, Brazil
imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

My story is very long. I will not be able to say the names of all the countries I have been to since I left home, but I went through a lot of difficulties. I left my country not because of war but because of conflicts in my family. My family didn't have much money. When my father died, he left a few things and his family took everything from my mother and her children. We became homeless. As we had no place to sleep, we had to split up. Each one went to sleep in a different place, and we would try and get together later.

I worked selling cell phones. I earned little, but I saved as much as I could so that one day I could get out of there. One day a friend of mine told me that she couldn't take it anymore and that she was going to leave the country. I also couldn't take it anymore. I looked at the situation with my family and saw that it wasn't working. We couldn't buy rice or chicken to eat. I made up my mind to leave, but being a woman and the youngest daughter I couldn’t tell my mother. She would not have let me go. In my country, if you go out and disappear for a few days, your family will get worried and start thinking that you are dead.

I was 29 years old when I decided to leave. I escaped on a ship that was coming to the American continent. We arrived in Ecuador, but it was bad there. They didn't have much help for us. There were two boats leaving, one for Cuba, one for Colombia. My friend and I had no money to pay for the ticket, but the men on the boat took us to Colombia without charging anything. It was very difficult for me. I didn’t know at the time, but when I left my country I was already four months pregnant. The journey to Colombia took two months, so I arrived there six months pregnant. When I arrived in Colombia they stole all our money and our passports. We stayed there 10 days – I slept on the street, under a tree. I had no one to call to ask for money.

There was a man who worked taking migrants through the countries there. He saw I was pregnant, I told him that I was alone, that my son’s father wasn’t with us. He liked me and said he was going to help me. I didn’t pay him, and I didn't have to do anything with him, thank God. He told me that I couldn't stay there for long, because a pregnant woman alone could be caught – they could do something to me. He said he was going to buy me a ticket to go to Peru. He did everything for me. He put me on a bus that took me to another place, another country that I’ve forgotten the name of, then I arrived in Peru.

The man had told me that I should go to São Paulo, Brazil, and he had given me the number of someone who took migrants there. But when I arrived in Peru I didn't have a phone, so, I started asking people, ‘How do I get to São Paulo?’ I had nothing on me, not even one Real. I started crying at the bus station. I was pregnant and had nowhere to go. A woman, Aunt Linda, came over and said she was going to help me. She said, ‘You cross to Rio Branco and when we get to Rio Branco I will put you on the bus to São Paulo’. When we got there she took me to her house. I met her daughter, Carina, and her husband, João. I stayed there for five days. She asked me to rest and said that afterwards she would buy me a ticket to go to São Paulo. She asked me if I had a family there. I said no, but that I knew someone living there.

All of this had happened and my family still didn't know where I was.

When I arrived in São Paulo I went to a migrant's shelter. I was exhausted, still pregnant, but as God is good, an African at the shelter told me that she couldn't stay there anymore and that she was going to live in an occupation, a squat. I didn't even know what an occupation was, but she explained it to me. I said, ‘Take me, I can't stay here.’ I was eight months pregnant.

The woman who organised the squat gave us a room to live. Things started to get better. The organiser of the squat helped me a lot. After my son was born she gave me a job, she said that I had to work. She got me a job in the squat’s kitchen – she said she was going to pay me and that I wouldn't be too far from my son either. She told me that I didn't need to pay the space fee yet, that I could save that money. All of this had happened and my family still didn't know where I was. Today they know.

When I started to earn a little money, I thought, ‘Now I am going to start helping my family back home.’ I called my brother and asked if everything was fine. He started crying on the phone. He thought I was dead. I said I was in Brazil. He asked where Brazil was. I said it was Latin America. He asked how I got there. I said that I had gone through many things, but that I was alive, thank God.

My mom got on the phone and started crying. Everyone thought I was dead. In our culture, when someone dies, we call everyone to eat together, to have a coffee and forget the pain. They had done that for me already. I asked where my mother was living. She said, ‘I've been living in the church for the past six months. We – the family – are split into churches.’

I said ‘Mom, look for a house with a living room, bedroom, and kitchen for $150.’ At that time $150 was around 500 Reais. I wasn't paying my contribution in the squat and was earning 1000 Reais, so I could send that to them.

I sent money to my mom. I sent $300 to make the deposit for two months. I never thought I, the youngest daughter, could help my family. I thought that my older sisters would help me. When I sent this money, my mother and everyone else cried. I raised my family.

N. M., Seven years in Brazil


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