ABU DHABI // Mohammed Bezabh remembers his sister Kedija as a quiet, calm girl. She dropped out of school to help provide for the family, he said, but "she was so good at school and so proud that she could read and write". Despite having dropped out, when Kedija moved from her native Ethiopia to Abu Dhabi to work as a maid, she wrote home regularly. "Now we will never get one of her letters in her writing ever again," Mohammed said.
In October, Kedija Bezabh walked into Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. She was suffering a fever, and quickly slipped into a coma. Two days later, the 30-year-old was dead. For more than six months her body lay in the SKMC morgue, unclaimed and unidentified. When she entered the hospital, her ailing state did not allow the charge nurse to discern anything other than her first name and nationality. No other personal information was available in her medical records.
Because the meningitis she had contracted is highly contagious, no one looked inside the imitation Gucci bag she was carrying, and that was kept with her body. If they had, they would have found some old letters, her gold earrings, a bottle of perfume, Dh2.25 and a battered photo album. In it were pictures of friends and family in front of a mud-brick home in their village near Jima, 400km south-west of Addis Ababa.
Her passport was there, too. It shows that Kedija was born in Jima on September 13, 1979. According to entry stamps and visas, she arrived in Abu Dhabi in November 2007 to work as a domestic helper. "Kedija is the eldest," Mohammed said, "so she wanted to help when our father became too sick to work. "So she left to clean houses in Abu Dhabi and she used to send us some money home every two or three months." Neither Mohammed nor his parents had seen Kedija since she left.
In Abu Dhabi, Kedija worked for Um Ahmad al Mansoori, the wife of her last known sponsor, in Ghayathi, in al Gharbia. "Kedija was a good servant," Mrs al Mansoori said. "She was never very ill and only got sick like anyone else does, minor things. "She never took care of my six children or cooked in the kitchen - her job was just to clean the house and make sure everything is tidy." Mr al Mansoori said she last saw Kedija when they took her to get her visa cancelled at the end of July last year.
At that time, she said, they gave her some Dh10,000 to Dh12,000, as well as enough money for a ticket to Addis Ababa, and left her at the Abu Dhabi Naturalisation and Residency Directorate. Little is known about where Kedija spent the months between July and her final trip to SKMC in October. According to Mohammed, their parents became sick with worry. "We had no one to contact when we didn't hear from Kedija month after month," he said.
She was listed as an "unknown case" until hours before she was due to be buried on May 12 in the communal Muslim cemetery in Bani Yas. As morgue officials were getting ready to wash and prepare the body, they came across her unopened bag. In it, they found not only her identity papers, but also contact details for her family. "We got a call that she is dead," Mohammed said. "We just want her home to bury her." But the family did not have the money to bring their daughter's body home. Instead, "we waited for anyone to send us her body".
It fell instead to members of Abu Dhabi's Ethiopian community, who started raising money to repatriate Kedija's body. Two weeks ago, they finally had the necessary Dh11,300. "People were generous and wanted to help," said Mohammed Redi, who acts as an intermediary between Ethiopians in the capital and official bodies. "We all would want the same for ourselves if something like this happened to us and we could not get back home."
Now Mohammed and his family are grateful for the generosity of their compatriates. "All we can do is be thankful that strangers cared enough to send her body to us out of the good of their heart," he said. "They are good Muslims. Because of them, my sister was able to come home for the last time." @Email:email@example.com