Book: Tormented servants in Arab homes

Reuters, Tuesday 12 Mar 2013

Lebanese writers Hazem Saghia traces the life of a Sri Lankan servant working in Arab homes, suffering torture, detention and mistreatment

Komari from Sri Lanka
Komari From Sri Lanka book cover

Ana Komary from Srilanka (I'm Komary from Sri Lanka)by Hazem Saghia, Beirut: Dar Al-Saki, 2013. 93pp.

In a mix of investigative and creative literary work, Lebanese writer and journalist, Hazem Saghia, writes from the perspective of a Sri Lankan woman about the sufferings of foreign servants in a number of Arab countries.

The book's protagonist is hit, starved and kept in confinement, deprived of her salary and accused without evidence.

The author weaves her story with facts and details entrenched in reality. He begins by introducing Komary who's born in 1971 in a small village near the city of Kandy in the middle of Sri Lanka, where Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians live together, divided into Tamil and Sinhalese origins. "I never noticed in my childhood people speaking of religion as much as they did later in my life, maybe they never spoke of it at all back then. Fear was never a good they traded between religions and sects, for everyone was poor and similar in their livelihoods," Komari describes.

Deprived from continuing her education, she goes off to work in tea plantations and various other jobs before deciding to go abroad. Following being a victim of a fraud travel agent who promises her work and a visa, she travels to Kuwait, carrying a different woman''s passport. Her work starts well, but eventually the woman of the house where she works accuses her of attempting to poison the family and hands her over to the police who brutalise her. After this ordeal she works for an Egyptian lady who takes her to Egypt and leaves her there without any official papers. She eventually pays an enormous amount to be able to return to Sri Lanka to tend for her sick mother.

Back home she marries and has a child, only to discover that her husband was already married with another family. They start harassing her until she has to leave again, this time to Lebanon where the mother of the house mistreats her, her Sri Lankan flatmate steals from her, and even when she finally remarries, her new husband falls into alcoholism and drug addiction. Komari describes her misery and how she just wishes for a quiet evening in front of the television after a hectic workday, and that upon returning to Sri Lanka she may build a house for her and her daughter, "for whom I have done all I have done; for her I lived outside my country, suffering starvation and bore the pain instigated by unbearable people. I thank God every day for a life not as bad as those who are subject to rape, burning, torture and many of whom ended up committing suicide."

Saghia's book carries a description on the last page that "Komari isn't a number or a thing. She's like every other human, but the life she received is more suited to numbers and things than to humans... these pages are lengthy investigations of the torments of a woman we meet and deal with every day."

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