“The two dark men had glistening bodies. Their fists were clenched and their stares were frightening. They told each other that I had a ‘good body’, and I saw the tip of the tongue of one man, at the corner of his mouth,” said Herath Menika (27) speaking to The Sunday Leader.
By Ranee Mohamed
Born on November 3, 1984, a resident of Welikandagama, Meethalawa, Gampola, Thushari Priyangika was easily the most beautiful girl in the village. Yet she rejected proposals of love and offers of marriage and set off to a strange land, armed with the confidence of her ability to work hard.
Life had never been easy for this young girl who was born poor. However, just as the breeze that drifted through the abundant greenery in the neighbourhood calmed her; her short walks to the Aramaya nearby fanned away her fears. She believed that with the kind of love and compassion that she had in her heart, problems were the last things to come her way.
“My friends advised me to get married. But I could not bear the suffering of my father. He used to leave home early in the morning and come back panting. They said he had ‘stones’ in his system. I just could not leave my parents and go away,” she said, tears in her eyes.
It was a sacrifice she had to make and a risk she had to take.
The day before her birthday, on November 2, 2009 Thushari Priyangika Herath Menika left behind her ailing father and her heartbroken mother and flew to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Her greatest longing was to build their house and give her parents a better life.
“From the day I landed in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the days and nights seemed to pass and I was too tired to notice. I could not differentiate between day and night for I was always inside the house. The work began early in the morning and I barely had time to breathe. During the first few months they fed me, but thereafter they began to give me rotting food from the refrigerator. The bread given to me had fungi growing on the edges. The family drank bottled water and I was asked to drink water from a pipe that led to a dirty tank,” said Herath Menika.
“But when the face of my father appeared in my mind, I was able to tolerate just about anything. Life was not easy. I had to beg for my salary, though they kept insisting that they will give it all to me when I left the house,” said Herath Menika.
For one and half years she had worked in the house of Hessa (full name withheld due to the inability of this writer to contact this address in Bahrain).
According to Herath Menika the mistress of the house, Hessa, was a 53-year-old, stocky school teacher who was childless. However, her younger sister and 32 year old nephew too lived in the same house situated at building, in Rafa, Kingdom of Bahrain.
“There were no ‘husbands’ around and I had to do the work of these three people. I had to wash their clothes, clean the house, cook for them, make them tea and sandwiches and make food for visitors and also the work in the garden,” explained Herath Menika.
“Each day I woke up at 4:30 a.m. On holidays they liked to have breakfast in bed. On other days, I made sandwiches for the madam and poured tea to a flask for the madam to take to the school. Then I cleaned the two bathrooms and the three halls of the large house. The madam’s sister and her son woke up at 9:30 a.m. and thereafter I made them tea and breakfast too and cleaned the two bathrooms upstairs and their bedrooms. Then I helped to cook lunch by cleaning, cutting and chopping the meat fish and vegetables,” explained Herath Menika.
“I treated my madam like I would treat my own mother. She was always tired when she returned after school. She was also diabetic and used to sit down the moment she returned home. I would keep pressing hot towels on her legs for about half an hour and apply medication. Then I would serve her food and take it up to her and then place a glass of water next to her,” said Herath Menika.
For one and a half years, Thushari Priyangika Herath Menika worked in this house. “I believed in being honest. Those were the principles of Buddhism inculcated in me from my younger days. I had love and compassion in my heart,” said Herath Menika.
Then came a request from her madam – to finish the work in their house and complete the work in a sister’s house far away.
“I found it difficult to cope with the workload in that house. And I just did not want to go elsewhere. I also heard that the two maids in that house had runaway due to sex-related issues. So I kept refusing my Madam. She was very angry about my continuous refusal. It was her sister, and she told me that her sister was ill and that I had to go, but I did not give in. With each refusal she would throw baskets of dirty laundry at me, demanding that they be hand washed,” recalled Herath Menika.
“Then on June 3 this year, I had finished the cooking and was cleaning some green leafy vegetables that were brought to the house, when the madam came upto me and hit me with a slipper and pushed me upstairs. She kept hitting me with the slipper all the while. When she reached my bedroom she pushed me in and asked me to go to my bathroom and have a bath. She asked me to remove my clothes. Just then I saw two well-built men walk in just behind her. They had dark, glistening bodies and their fists wer clenched as they stared at me. I saw the tongue one man at the corner of his mouth. He told his friend in Arabic that I “had a good body.’ Though they spoke in Arabic they were of Asian origin. My madam left me with the men and went away. I have never felt such fear. I locked myself in my room, while the men were waiting for me to open the door. There was only one door. So I removed my slippers and got onto my bed. There was a small window above, just enough to squeeze myself out. Through this window I jumped down from the two storied building. I was careful not to jump into our own compound,” said Herath Menika.
Thushari Priyangika Herath Menika had landed on the cement floor of her neighbour’s house in a heap. “I lay crumpled upon the floor when their Filipino maid rushed out. She could not understand what I was saying. I gestured for water and drank four glasses of water. By now my madam was outside their house, knocking on the gate,” said Herath Menika.
” ‘Get up, why did you jump? Get up and go and bathe,’ she shouted at me,” said Herath Menika.
“She then pulled me to the main road. I felt myself crashing over the hard stone and dirt. There were pieces of dirt on my head. Then madam began to hit me with a slipper again. The people of the area began to crowd around me. Madam began to feel uncomfortable and she telephoned the police,” said Herath Menika.
“The young police officers who arrived asked me why I jumped. I showed them the top, but I did not tell them anything more. I feared that something more may happen to me. I begged them to take me to hospital. Then my madam spoke to a private hospital. It was called the “Askari Hospital.” The police asked madam for my passport, but she gave them a copy of the passport. I was placed on a trolley and pushed into the ambulance. The police requested that someone accompany me. But there was no one for me. My madam asked them to take me away. As I was being taken away, I heard a police car chase behind the ambulance,” said Herath Menika in tears.
“Before I was admitted to hospital, they asked me for the details of my workplace. I did not want to tell them about the men. I was scared. It was their country and their police. I had heard of cases where housemaids have spoken out and then were never heard of thereafter,” said Herath Menika who believes that she was able to return to Sri Lanka only because she kept quiet.
“Besides, I was taken to a private hospital and not to a state hospital. They wrapped a bandage around my legs and spine. I was not given any kind of treatment from June 4 to June 7. Nor was I given any food. On the second day I could not bear the hunger anymore. I began to beg visitors for food,” alleged Herath Menika.
“On the third day I began to cry and ask the nurses why they were treating me this way. Then they brought a bottle of saline and hung it above me. I watched it from morning to evening but not a drop fell by,” allege Herath Menika. “They kept bringing me forms to sign but I refused to sign them not knowing what was written in them,” she said.
By this time, Herath Menika had begged for a telephone from a visitor, which she used by purchasing a card for one dinar. “I was able to call Sri Lanka and inform my father,” she said.
“It was around June 6 when I got the news of the fate that had befallen my daughter,” said Herath Mudiyanselaga Ivan, speaking to The Sunday Leader. “I tried hard to reach out to her and was fortunate to find a Sri Lankan gentleman who helped my daughter by speaking and acting on her behalf,” said H.M. Ivan.
“ I cannot understand why such a fate befell my beautiful, kind and peaceful daughter,” cried this fruit seller.
“The Sri Lankan gentleman who came to see me brought me rice and curry and stringhoppers. He helped me to get back to Sri Lanka. Many housemaids from Sri Lanka too came to see me,” said Herath Menika crying at the memory.
Herath Menika arrived in Sri Lanka on June 17. Today she is seeking native medical treatment. This treatment from an ayurveda physician has made it possible for her to sit up.
Now there are two patients in bed in their home in Gampola – as her father lies ailing too.
Herath Menika’s giant steps are over and adversity has set in. “Take ten steps today, 20 steps tomorrow and 30 steps thereafter,” the ayurveda physician has advised Herath Menika.
Her legs are broken, her heart and mind are wrecked with misery.
She is trying to bear the physical pain. But there is an unbearable deeper anguish within her. “I have no money to look after my father,” she cries as she stumbles towards him, almost as if she is learning to walk, all over again.