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The Voice of the Silent Ones

Guest Blogger: Marci Renée


They all get to a place in their story, a place of fear, a fear beyond words. “I can’t tell. I can’t tell. I can’t tell.” So they don’t fear the mafia, fear for their families, fear for their own lives, fear of death, torture, pain . . . keeps them silent.


Their story stays stuck inside of them, infesting their already broken souls. I sit across the table from the human rights lawyer and the safe house director. A first phone call in 2019 to come to the safe house to help with Arabic translation turns into many.


One by one, Moroccan women are rescued off the streets of Spain. One by one, vulnerable and traumatized girls arrive in the safe houses, shattered perhaps beyond repair on this side of heaven. They can’t speak a word of Spanish. Alongside fear, a language barrier keeps their trauma, their brokenness, their experience, and their story hidden in the dark.


Translation and Story Collection


Little by little, slowly and gently crossing the translation bridge, their deep, hidden pain awakens. It manifests in their words, expressions, gestures, and tears. They speak in Arabic. I listen. They tell their story . . .


These Moroccan women board the boat in their homeland on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, packing in their suitcases poverty, vulnerability, and desperation. They also carry dreams and hopes of a better land, a land with “streets paved of gold.” El Dorado.


When these women arrive in Spain, they are blind and deaf. Most of them are uneducated, illiterate, and without a word of Spanish. They don’t know where they are, and they are at the mercy of everything and everyone.


They come to pick strawberries, the “red gold” of Spain that supplies berries to most of Europe. Tens of thousands of Moroccans arrive each year to pick berries. In a few months, these women can make money to feed their poor families in Morocco. If I were in their shoes, I would sign up. Wouldn’t you?


The Lies of the Strawberry Fields


Their dreams are quickly shattered in the inhumane living conditions inside the steamy sauna of the plastic greenhouses. The blazing sun squelches their skin and breaks their bodies as they bend over ten hours a day with a rectangular basket strapped to their backs.


Strawberries grow on the ground. Their backs hurt—physical pain. El Dorado? Where are those “streets paved with gold”? It’s all a mirage. It’s just an illusion.

Another opportunity soon arises for a better life, a better house, a better boss, a better job, better pay . . . better everything. “You can bake bread at this house and make money. You can make couscous for these people and have a good job. You can . . .”


Anything is better than sweating and crying in the strawberry fields. If I were in their shoes, I would sign up, wouldn’t you? These Moroccan girls sign up. They go. They have no idea, but they are about to step foot inside a brothel. Outside of a miracle from God, they will not escape once they cross the threshold. They arrive with a debt on their head, a debt they can never pay.


Physical pain from the strawberry fields quickly transforms into emotional and mental pain. These girls become slaves, forced to take drugs, drink alcohol, and pay for their room and board with sex . . . day and night on a filthy mattress on the kitchen floor, with men lined up at the door. El Dorado? Where are those “streets paved with gold”? It’s all a mirage. It’s just an illusion.


These women lose everything—their home, their country, their language, their culture, their family, their dream, their dignity, their religion, their identity, their honor, their clothes. Yet, in this place of darkness and evil, where one woman sleeps in a room with boarded-up windows and a broken light bulb, a beacon of light appears.


Beacon of Light


Anti-human trafficking and Christian organizations, humanitarian agencies, and undercover police squads show up boldly on the streets to build trust with the women and to offer them a way out. “I didn’t know who these people were, but I saw light, and I knew I had to follow,” said Habiba, a rescued woman.


It takes great courage and risk to flee. After a fast and furious mission, these shattered survivors arrive at the safe houses with their sacred stories locked inside their hearts.

“I can’t tell. I can’t tell. I can’t tell.”


Fear keeps them silent. The inability to speak and be understood keeps them silent.

Every day, after translating for the women, I write. I vomit their trauma, filling page after page of my journals. Very few have heard their story.“These people don’t know. The world doesn’t know. They need to hear. We need to tell them your story,” I tell Habiba as we sit on a bench one day, watching the crowds walk by.


"Tell Them My Story!"



She looks me straight in the eyes and speaks with determination and authority as if to give me a command. “Tell them. Tell them my story.” That’s what I did when I wrote Our Journey to El Dorado—Two Women, Two Immigrants: A True Story of Faith and Freedom From Human Trafficking.


I wanted to be a voice for Habiba—a “Silent One.” I thought her story was an isolated one. It wasn’t. I started calling these women “The Strawberry Girls.” They all had a similar story. Their point of entry into Spain was through the strawberry fields, but it didn’t end there. It ended in the brothels. Some were lucky enough to escape to freedom. 


More and more women speak up and tell me about their journey from Morocco to the strawberry fields of Spain to the brothels. I sit and listen. I step into their shoes, feel their pain, hear their cries, see their tears, collect their words, and translate them onto the page. I pour out their trauma, bleed out their pain.


 No Longer Silent!


And, I weep. My own tears soak the pages of my journals. As I listen, I begin to witness and notice a pattern: a sex trafficking line between Morocco and Spain. I begin to discover, research, and learn. I begin to talk, speak, and advocate. I begin to scream, yell, and shout. “This must stop!”


I keep writing and ask my artist friend, Kim Peters, to help me tell the story of “The Strawberry Girls.” One year later, with 83 pieces of artwork and many poems and words later, we founded a non-profit association as two artists, two voices, using art and stories to fight human trafficking. Our art is our weapon. Our art is a stage, a platform to tell their story. Our audience becomes theirs. We hope and pray that telling their story will bring healing, hope, and redemption to “The Strawberry Girls.”


Make a Difference


Perhaps it will make a difference to one, save one, free one. Perhaps it will disrupt one traffic line, catch one depraved man, and stop one slave purchase. Perhaps it will call one person to action, one agent of change to intervene, one person to pray . . . to give. Just one, and it is all worth it.

 

Perhaps there is power simply in the telling of the story—for her, for them, for me, for you . . .

 As we tell the story and raise awareness of “The Strawberry Girls,” we feel the earth shake beneath our feet. As we shout from the mountaintops, we hear the walls tumble down. As we tell their stories, we see doors open.


Today, people around the world, like you, are listening to their cries. Today, people across the globe, like you, are hearing their voices. Today, people everywhere, like you, are seeing their faces . . . the faces of “The Strawberry Girls.” Today, other voices join ours and scream, “STOP!” What about you?


Who is Marci Renée


Marci Renée is a global nomad who has lived around the world with her French husband, four sons, and dog. She is the co-founder of the organization “The Strawberry Girls.” She is a published author, public speaker, writing coach, and anti-human trafficking advocate. Through her deep reflections, poetic words, and impactful speaking, she is a voice for the “Silent Ones.”


You can find her and her books at www.strawberrygirls.org and www.culturalstoryweaver.com


Join us on  Beacon of Light Podcast on Tuesday, June 18th at 6:30 pm Mountain Time for this riveting conversation about Marci’s Book, Our Journey to El Dorado—Two Women, Two Immigrants: A True Story of Faith and Freedom From Human Trafficking.


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