How I ended up as a modern-day slave in the middle of NYC

By Gabrielle Fonrouge |

Famatta MassalayFamatta MassalayPaul Martinka

Living in a cramped concrete house in the heart of Liberia’s sweltering capital, 8-year-old Famatta Massalay always dreamed of seeing snow.

One day, her mother told her she was about to get her chance.

But first, “we have to play a game,” Massalay’s mother said.

The mom taught the girl how to write a name that wasn’t hers and to tell authorities she was 10, not 8. Then she took her daughter to the immigration office in Monrovia to get a visa.

Soon after, on a stifling January afternoon in 1978, Massalay set off for JFK Airport for what she was told would be the adventure of a lifetime — the chance to see New York City blanketed in a perfect swirl of white.

The child wore a freshly sewn bell-bottom pantsuit and no coat and carried a small suitcase as she kissed her parents goodbye and waved to them from the stairs leading to the plane.

“I’ll see you tomorrow!” Massalay recalls telling them, confused by the tears pouring down her father’s face.

It was the last time she ever saw them.

Shortly after her arrival in New York City, the girl’s exciting journey became a waking nightmare. Massalay learned she had been sold into the modern-day slave trade as a “house girl.” She would be trapped in domestic servitude for the next six years — cooking, cleaning and caring for strangers while being beaten, forced to sleep in a bathtub and raped, giving birth on the day she celebrated her 14th birthday.

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Massalay during her teenage years.Massalay during her teenage years.Paul Martinka

Massalay believes her parents were duped into paying a family to take her to the US, thinking their daughter would be provided safety and an education they could never give her.

It turned out the other family was part of a labor-trafficking network.

“I remember spending hours and days crying, just praying, ‘God, come get me. When are you going to come get me?’ ” Massalay told The Post

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About Cholo Brooks 11651 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.