Cafe Encounters in Norway

BY ELISABET ENGSBRATEN

      [OSLO, NORWAY]

       I had a short conversation a while ago. I walked over to where a girl was sitting and asked how she was doing. At first it didn’t seem like she wanted to talk, - she was having a difficult night, but after a few minutes she had more or less told me her life story. She is the oldest of many children with the same father, and her mother is one of his many wives. She also has children herself. She helped raise all her siblings and half-siblings, and as she got older her parents expected (and needed) her to contribute financially as well.

       As many other young girls from her home country in Africa, she travelled to Europe. She had work for a short while, but the workplace was recently shut down. Her only option was to travel to the next country, and the profession awaiting her here was what some girls call “the business”. Now she has no job during the day, and at night she sells her body on the city streets, not far from where I live.

       A long list of things explains why she is stuck in her current situation. She has no job opportunities in her home country. Her parents expect money from their daughter. After all, she is one of the lucky ones living in prosperous Europe. In addition, she most likely owes money to the people who brought her here. Witchcraft is also common where she is from, and it is frequently used to threat and control young girls. She lives in fear of her own life and the lives of her family. It all started with her simply being born into poverty. She wasn’t sold by her parents, she wasn’t kidnapped. Her story is more complex than that. Exploitation has many different faces. Including ones that can easily be concealed.

       We were sitting in a cafe close to where I live. In the safe and wealthy country where I happened to be born. It’s fair to say that a conversation like this interrupts my generally comfortable life. We talked for a short while, and we prayed together. She is rightfully angry and tired of life, but for some reason she seems to have more hope than most people. I couldn’t tell her what would happen in the future, but I did tell her I would continue to hope with her, because I believe there is hope!