Out of body, out of mind – Rhianna Prewitt

The sale of a kidney is a complicated matter. Many things must be considered: the price of your kidney, who the recipient will be and, most importantly, whether your kidney is worth a dangerous passage to Europe.

At first, I was approached in a friendly manner by a stranger. He offered a considerable sum of money I had never before had the opportunity to obtain. The discussion quickly became sinister. It became clear he wanted to buy my kidney. Time was required to decide, but the broker was impatient through no fault of his own. He too wanted to travel to Europe. The procedure, he claimed, was safe. The reward? Five thousand pounds. How could I say no? Nothing in life is handed on a plate, so I knew I had no choice. Of course, I did not want to sell my kidney. Even the idea of allowing strangers to put me to sleep made me feel sick. Realistically I was given little choice. The broker visited daily to persuade me into agreement, he recalled stories of distant friends who had also sold their kidney, one now lived in a chalet in Sweden, another in a high-rise tower block somewhere in the UK. Eventually after many weeks of persuasion and a couple of sleepless nights, I reluctantly called the broker and told him I was ready to have the operation. After the phone call, I spiralled into panic. A lump emerged in my throat and I became restless, there was now no alternative and I was forced to accept the terms of the arrangement. I had been told that I couldn’t go back. No matter the circumstance.

Us immigrants, the Eritreans, the Sudanese and the Yemenis who populate the streets of Cairo all know of poverty, violence and instability and we all know that we must make sacrifices. When I found myself living in a cramped refugee camp in Sudan, I met many who had sacrificed far more than me to leave Eritrea. Many Women there had been trafficked for sex and many men had worked for many weeks in harsh conditions only to receive little or no pay. Although Malnourished and beaten, the people I met still felt that they had more they were willing to sacrifice. Forced military service and desperate poverty in my home Eritrea meant that I could not turn back, to turn back would to be to give up. We can choose not to leave and stay hungry, stay ill and stay desperate. But what sort of life is that? I am not trying to migrate just for me, I am trying to migrate to earn money for my family and to create a life for my brothers and sisters. The stories of those who finally make their journey and arrive in safe asylums without the threats of war and hunger motivated us and made sacrifices seem worthwhile.

The operation itself was far easier but more daunting than what I had imagined. I was brought to a cold, makeshift operating theatre full of strangers. As an Eritrean immigrant trapped between home and Europe, one gets used to living and breathing amongst strangers, but the cold was something new, something unfamiliar especially when I had grown use to the scorching heat of Northern Egypt. One man instructs me to strip, hesitantly I did. Then after pulling the gown provided over my body, I noticed the needles and sharp hospital knives by the side of the mattress that the strangers would use to cut open my stomach and retrieve my kidney. I began to feel light headed. I was then instructed to lie on the cold operating bed, which appeared to be a mattress dressed by a sheet of plastic. A feeling of total vulnerability overcame me. Then my worries were lifted as the anaesthetic they injected me with took effect and I entered a deep sleep.

Then I woke with a sharp piercing pain in my lower abdomen. I began to swear under my breath. I realised that I still felt cold despite being away from the operating theatre. The scar hurt a lot, but I was alive and appeared to be okay, if anything just a little confused and very alone. I felt an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I had no one to care for me through the recovery, no representation guarding me and no laws protecting me. I knew Europe cared more about keeping me out than keeping me safe, this was made clear by the rising costs of the painful journey to Europe. My kidney was gone, sold and processed and I was paid a visit by a smuggler. His name was Yonas, a young fellow Eritrean hoping for something better. We joke about films, music and family and he seems honest. He claimed he was a talented musician also hoping to earn enough to send home to his family who like mine were struggling. I trusted Yonas so when he suggested that the kidney money should be paid directly to him in exchange for a safe passage into Europe, I agreed.

Over many weeks I recovered, I built up strength slowly but surely and started to feel even more enchanted by the promises of a new life. I decided when I arrived in Europe, I would train to become a teacher or a nurse and buy a house in a coastal town. I had felt that in return for kidney, I had been given hope. I laughed with the strangers I met and slept better than usual in the crowded apartment I lived in. Eventually I felt ready to leave, to migrate further than I already have. I had been displaced for so long, that my motivations for leaving had seemed to have grown thin. The cause forgotten and my emotions numbed, I had been in no rush to reach Europe. But now I was ready, I was in a rush.

After I had adjusted to the pain in my stomach, I called Yonas, it rang but there was no answer. I rang again. And again. And again. My patience grew thin, so I attempt to call my broker but again no answer. My heart racing, my mind spiralling I felt tricked.That same feeling of dread that I first felt in the operating theatre revisited me. Perhaps I rang the wrong number. Or maybe they were busy. I made the decision to not immediately throw away hope. Soon a daily routine emerged as I called each number day and night until both numbers eventually became inactive. Out of desperation I asked around, talked to fellow immigrants and described Yonas and the broker but to no luck. As the situation became increasingly clear I began to hear of others who were tricked and stolen from. It was far more common than organisations like the EU would like to accept, it is a reality here. We sold our organs and received no pay nor European destination. Instead we received ridicule.

Soon after I realised what had happened, I took it to the police. I explained the tragedy, the desperation, the dire circumstances of what had happened, and they explained it was in fact me who as an illegal immigrant had broken the law by selling my own kidney and that in fact, I was powerless and a criminal. Not only had my kidney been ripped from me but so had my dignity. So, I left the station and contemplated the events of the past weeks. The sacrifice I had made were now a complete waste and I felt I had been naive; I could not sell another kidney. In a literal sense, I had nothing left to give. I lost my trust in myself and others, I lost trust in the journey I was trying to make, and I lost trust in Europe itself. Anger was another emotion I had to come to terms with. It made me angry that governments recognised but neglected our needs. We did not ask for much, just a home and a stable job, we wanted to contribute to society not stagnate within it.

Over time I came to terms with what happened. I am still trapped in the scorching heat and busy streets of Egypt without a job or real accommodation and no real plan to migrate further, but I am resilient and take each day as it comes. To shed light on the situation, I have met many new friends who have approached me with stories of their own about the kidney trade here in Cairo. Together we warn fellow immigrants like you of the dangers of the kidney trade to provide some protection to those like to us. If the governments won’t do it, we will. So, with my kidney out of body and my dreams of reaching Europe temporarily out of mind, I have no other choice but to remain hopeful.


Rhianna Prewitt was a senior Runner Up in the 2019 Orwell Youth Prize responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked Rhianna about the inspiration for her piece and what motivates her to write: 

What was the inspiration behind your piece?
I was motivated to write my piece because of a Guardian podcast discussing the hardships faced by refugees and immigrants and why they are being forced to result to sell their organs to pay for their travel. This was due to the harsh regulations placed by the EU that had put pressure on Egypt to keep immigrants out. I was also motivated due to the negative bias adopted by British newspapers when discussing the migrant crisis. I hoped that my story would change the narrative of the stories of those who aren’t being listened to.

Why did you pick the form you did?
I chose to write a short story because I felt that it was the best way to share migrant stories from an empathetic view. I wanted the reader to really connect with the story so they can understand the unfairness of the situation.

‘Why I Write’
I write because it is an alternative method to communicate political ideas and can connect with people in a way that oral debate can’t.

Advice to fellow young writers
Write about what you care about. If you care, your writing will be passionate and will be able to engage others.

A piece of writing/poem/novel/article that has influenced me

‘Organ trafficking in Egypt: ‘They locked me in and took my kidney’ -Seán Columb, The Guardian