This article is one of a series from my recent Pulitzer Center-funded trip to Madagascar. To find all of my reporting to date with photojournalist Rijasolo from our project, “Madagascar: When the Aid Dries Up,” click here. To read the full article in The Nation, click here.
Maurice Pierre Herynirina holds a photograph of his wife, Solange Razafindrasoa, in an Antananarivo cafe last December. He learned in February that she had died in Saudi Arabia, where she was working as a domestic servant. Image by Rijasolo / Riva Press. Madagascar, 2013.
Annick Andriahsatovo sits at the table before our interview, cooing over her 9-month-old son, Alydioh. Andriahsatovo is 22, with a disarming smile and an easy, maternal air. She also has a nightmare story to tell. In September 2012, shortly after completing her baccalaureate degree, Andriahsatovo—who lives in a suburb of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar—received a visit from a job-placement agency recruiter. The woman assured her that she could make good money working as a domestic servant in Kuwait, and also that there would be none of the labor-abuse problems recently reported in the media.
Andriahsatovo hadn’t the faintest idea how to find Kuwait on a map, but she immediately agreed. Her parents were out of work, and there weren’t enough decent-paying jobs in Madagascar to justify even looking. On November 15, her flight took off from Ivato International Airport. “I was sad to leave my family,” she recalls. “But I had courage.”
Her problems began the moment she set foot in Kuwait City. At the office of the Kuwaiti placement agency, she was “sold” from the employer listed in her contract to a second man, a retiree with a twenty-four-room residence. He wasted no time assigning her an impossible load of chores: cleaning all the rooms, cooking the food, washing the clothes. Her workdays lasted twenty-one hours, and she ate only leftovers from the family’s meals—provided there were any. When her performance failed to satisfy her employer’s exacting standards, he would strike her.
About two months after arriving, Andriahsatovo noticed that she’d stopped menstruating. An exam revealed that she was four months pregnant. Her boss was not pleased. He upped her workload despite her declining physical condition. On April 13, she felt sharp stomach pains. Not for the first time, Andriahsatovo implored him to call a doctor. “Tomorrow, tomorrow,” he said dismissively. Desperate, she asked a Filipino neighbor to call a taxi. The next day, at the hospital, she gave birth to twins—the girl stillborn; the boy alive, but more than two months premature.
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