I wanted to be 'normal' to survive
Kehinde from Nigeria knows from early age on that she is a lesbian. Her family wants to change it by force. After a traumatic escape, she now hopes for a new beginning in Germany - together with her little son, who even speaks Bavarian now.
Kehinde sits in her 15 square metre room in Allershausen near Munich. The room is small, with little means, but lovingly furnished and thus a clear contrast to her old life. Her black hair is twisted to short dreadlocks and occasionally falls into her face. Her positive and open attitude is immediately contagious. But behind this energetic person lies a life story that is more shaped by suffering than by life. She pulls her loose trousers up showing both legs up to the thigh. Deep burn scars are showing. Scars that tell a story: of torture, human trafficking and flight.
It all started in Nigeria, in Lagos, a city with over a million inhabitants. At the age of 13, Kehinde gained her first experience with a woman. When she kissed a girl for the first time at school, her twin sister told their mother about it. But their mother didn’t want to even hear about that. One of her girls is a lesbian? Mother dismissed it as something absurd.
Five years later, Kehinde begged her mother's best friend not to turn her over to the police. The reason was that he "caught" her daughter and Kehinde having sex, for which in Nigeria there’s a prison sentence up to 14 years. Thereupon she informed Kehinde's mother. She had her daughter tied up by several men and transported out of her friend's house. "They were very tall and strong men, my mother knew that if they were men, then I wouldn't fight back because they are stronger," she explains. They unloaded Kehinde to their aunt, who works in the military.
She mistreated her niece with a whip and a hot iron, to be able to exorcize her out of being a lesbian. "She beat me like hell that day," says Kehinde, depressed as she looks into the distance, absent-minded, as if she were seeing the incident in front of her mind's eyes. After this torture, Kehinde’s mother locked her up at home for months, as a punishment and as a supposed re-education measure, because: "In Africa they believe that homosexuals are the spirit of the past - they don't believe that we are who we are," Kehinde says. In order to escape this psychological and physical violence, there was only one option left for her - to escape.
Kehinde goes to one of her lockers and takes two packs of medicine. The Ibuprofen 600 for her physical ailments and another pills for her mental health for when her thoughts get too much again.
After she escaped from home, she found a shelter in Surulere, the nearby village, with her ex-girlfriend Shakira. The friendship turned into love and they became a couple. Kehinde got a job in a hotel and lived together with her girlfriend. - everything seemed to be going well. But one day everything changed. Their neighbour learned the truth about their relationship and sensed her chance. She pretended to be an employee of a travel agency and offered them a chance of escape from Nigeria to Europe for money. This "Travel agent" promised them future and freedom - in Europe. They both had to pay 300,000 Naira in advance, the equivalent of 733 euros for the escape. But this was nothing like selfless help. Today, Kehinde knows that she had come across a ring of human traffickers. The trafficker took the money from them, booked the transport to Libya and put the couple on the bus that was going to take them there. "From then on it was bad," Kehinde says in a hushed voice. Through Nigeria, over Niger, they were brought to Libya by various buses - since apparently the flights to Europe only went from there.
At that time they have been already sold twice. Arriving in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, they were forced into prostitution. The leverage on them was their sexuality - if they wouldn’t do what is demanded of them, they would be arrested. 5000 Libyan dinars, the equivalent of 3182 euros they were supposed to work off, then they would be free. At first Kehinde defended herself, but at some point she let everything go over her head. Shakira was sold to another woman, contact with her broke off. She was locked up for six months "without seeing the sight of the sun or the rain", says Kehinde. With the help of a suitor, who bought her out, she managed to break the never-ending cycle.
Her old life has not only left scars, but also created a new life. There is a crib in the corner with various plush toys. On the floor there is a blue ball and some more toys. Kehinde lives with her four-year-old son in this room. Every day she picks him up from a kindergarten by bike and they spend the rest of the day together. "He even speaks Bavarian," she says and laughs. Their integration is difficult. For four years now she’ waits for her asylum permit. That is why she is not allowed to work. "I would love to work so much, I love to work," says Kehinde.
After she got out of prostitution, she worked several jobs, including working for a fast food chain. She found herself a shelter with various men. But they expected a physical exchange from her. They threatened her again and again, threatening to bring her back to the pimp. "I didn't even think about my preferences anymore, I just tried to be 'normal' in order to survive in the world," she explains in a hearing of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
During that time she got pregnant. The fact that’d soon become a mother encouraged her to take the next step towards Europe. Through a colleague from work she got in contact with a smuggler. Eight months pregnant at the time, she spent two cold November days at sea until she arrived in Italy. «That is when I felt Europe for the first time - Welcome to Europe," she smiles. Because she wanted the best for her child, she then fled to Germany.
Nowadays, the 30-year-old appreciates the freedom to be and to love as she pleases. "I am tired of hiding. That's me! People should accept me and my sexuality," she says with euphoria. She has found a partner through Letra, the counselling centre for lesbian women. Her hope is to finally get her asylum permit approved, to work and to rent her own apartment with her son.
Text: Antonia Franz
Photos: Anne Puhlmann