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Beyond Words: A Migrant Worker Takes a Stand

25 February 2013 No Comment

Rahel Zegeye

Roula Seghaier, Peace X Peace guest contributor, interviewed Rahel Zegeye, one of many migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Zegeye, who left home country Ethiopia 13 years ago to financially support her family, transformed into a local leading figure in the fight against discrimination. For seven years, Zegeye used her nights to write a movie script, and her Sundays to direct it. Zegeye used her amateur skills and the help of her friends to finally film “Beirut” and show it to the public last year. She later worked on a play titled “Shouting without a Listener.”It was performed for the first time in January.


Can you tell us about your dreams growing up?

I wanted to become a judge. I was familiar with the job from movies. I liked the way judges dressed and behaved. Yet at school, I studied science until grade 12. One of my saddest moments in life was when my uncle died in prison. He was a strong man, but he died from mistreatment. I was 11, my parents thought I would not understand but I did. It made me want to become a judge even more.

Yet, university was so expensive that I could not attend. My father, who used to be a captain in the military, became unemployed due to the regime change in Ethiopia when he was only 41.

Is this what influenced your decision to travel to Lebanon?

Yes. We were a large family: 6 girls and 3 boys. My mother did not work, my father was unemployed. I came to Beirut to be a domestic worker. The first six years I’ve worked here have been horrible. I was at the verge of running away, but I knew what happened to girls who ran away. I was suicidal, I wanted to go back home.

But my father who influenced me so much taught me to never give up, so I did not.

What was left behind in Ethiopia?  Do you plan to go back there?

I have spent so much time in Lebanon that it should grant me citizenship (laughs). The only thing that I left behind was my family, especially my father. I did not have enough of him yet.

He used to tell me his stories of war and how no one helped him. He was a fighter. He taught me to take my rights with my hands. He used to grab my hair, and tell me to fight back. “You are not an animal, you are a human being. Do not allow people to abuse you, defend yourself. Beat me if I beat you,” he used to say.

Rahel's play

How was your play experience different from the movie?

It was more difficult since I could not change things while facing the audience. But it was also a good experience because I saw the audience being affected by our act.

Did you get any help from your embassy?

No. I tried to call but they do not answer. I want to tell the president that they sell us; we are like oil to them. They think I am projecting a bad image about my country. As Ethiopia grows, the authority’s ego grows as well. I am 33 years old and I can be up to my responsibilities, but they should be up to theirs.

Did your popularity reach the first family you worked for? If so, how did they respond to your progress?

I do not know if they heard about me. We are not in contact, even though we do not live so far apart.

Are you happy where you are now?

 Yes, I am happy because I am achieving my rights and bettering the name of my country.

How would you advise young women striving to impact their society?

At times when enough is enough, women should take responsibility for themselves because no one will act on their behalf. They should also be active beyond spoken words. It is great to raise awareness. I have been speaking for two years now, but speaking is not enough. Laws should be changed to support women.

Rahel Zegeye’s play Shouting Without a Listener will be performed at the American University of Beirut next month. Learn more about Rahel’s work on the Migrant Workers Task Force blog.


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