The Slave in the Garage

Sold by her parents and smuggled into the U.S., one young girl did a family's dirty work for two years. And then help arrived.

By Mary A. Fischer
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2008


Courtesy of Irvine Police Department
Shyima slept in this windowless room in the garage.

Shyima was brought into the United States on an illegally obtained six-month visitor’s visa and settled into the couple’s two-story Mediterranean-style house in a gated community in Irvine. When she wasn’t working, she was banished to an 8-by-12-foot section of the garage with no windows, no air-conditioning or heat. Shyima says the family sometimes locked her in. Her furnishings: a dirty mattress, a floor lamp, and a small table. Shyima kept her clothes in her suitcase. Each day she rose at six with the couple’s six-year-old twin boys. She took orders from everyone, including the twins’ three sisters, 11, 13, and 15. She cooked, served meals, did the dishes, made beds, changed sheets, helped with laundry, ironed, dusted, vacuumed, swept, mopped, and washed the patios, and was often still doing chores at midnight. One day, when Shyima tried to do her own laundry, Motelib stopped her. “She told me I couldn’t put my things in the washing machine because they were dirtier than theirs.” From then on, Shyima washed her clothes in a plastic bucket she kept by her mattress and hung them outside to dry on a metal rack, next to the garbage cans.

Motelib and Ibrahim both hit Shyima, but the isolation and verbal abuse were worse. “They called me stupid girl and a nothing,” she says. “They made me feel less than them.”

She ate alone and wasn’t allowed to attend school or leave the house without Motelib or Ibrahim escorting her. The couple warned her against telling anyone about her situation. “They threatened that the police would take me away because I was an illegal,” Shyima says.

Though she never admitted longing for her mother, she cried openly in front of Motelib and Ibrahim when she came down with a bad flu. “They saw me suffering and didn’t care,” she says. “I still had to do my chores. They wouldn’t even get medicine for me.”

At night, exhausted and lonely, she stared into the darkness. Ibrahim had taken her passport, and she feared she would be held prisoner forever. When Shyima turned 12, there was no celebration. She spent her birthday doing housework.

Courtesy of Irvine Police Department

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