Vivian and Shiko are in the business of selling their flesh. The two have ventured onto the streets as sex workers in the City of Nairobi to ply their trade, which they also conduct on phone.
The two women have been in the business for years now, and they have come out to speak about the struggles they go through to make their ends meet.
While most of us would rebuke what they do, they narrate their story beginning with why they opted for the job.
“Commercial sex work is work like any other job because when you have kids, and you have house rent to take care of, there is no way you can just sit and expect money to come by your door,” Vivian said.
She narrated her journey and how she settled into being a sex worker.
“I lived in Nairobi for two years looking for employment but to no avail. I sold muguka (miraa) and even worked as a bar maid. Working as a bar maid is what really triggered me into doing sex work because I used to work at night and sometimes, I would go home without even a coin to buy food. Nikaona it’s like my boss was taking me for granted. I started getting clients from the place, which to some extent was feeding me, and that is how I realised it was not a bad job. That is how I started sex work.
Right now, I can afford to pay for a house and even educate my kid as a single mum.”
The duo believes that for one to be employed in Kenya, you need to have a godfather, which they did not have, despite efforts to look for a more decent job.
They opted to have their own business that does not require any ‘capital’ other than their body, but “lazima pia ukue umejitambua by carrying your condoms for protection”.
There is a difference between sex work and commercial sex work, and they (Shiko and Vivian) explained it.
“We are now commercial sex workers but we started it very low because for one to get to where we are, you have to go through so much. Harassment by city council, sometimes the clients deny you your money and even at times you are beaten up.”
So how do they get their clients?
“When you are in the street, you become a random sex worker, who can be picked by anyone. But you have your regular clients who call you to their homes or any place, so long as it is fit for them,”
“You also have your boyfriend so you will be forced to go in a different junction away from where you live.
“My boyfriend knows that I am a sex worker. We have been together for six years now and he is okay with my work. Si hii ni kazi kama zile zingine?”
However, Vivian does it in secret because her boyfriend is taking care of his kid after his baby daddy abandoned her child.
“He knows I am working but as a bar hostess,” she said, adding that if her boyfriend knows what she does, he would not be happy.
“I am sure he will cut all the support he has been giving me, so I do it under his knowledge. But even without him, I can still manage to take care of my child.”
What are the problems of being a sex worker? Vivian said:
“Just like any other job, ours too has challenges. Sometimes you fall sick, with the common diseases being sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And when you go to public hospitals, the nurses want to expose you to the other nurses to come see you. In your hood, you are not respected once people know your are a prostitute.
“In school, your child will be humiliated by other children and even the teachers. Another place you face humiliation is in the church, where the pastor will major their topic on you.
“Apart from that, there is harassment with your clients. Sometimes they do not want to pay you. The Kanjos, too, harass you a lot.”
They say their family members also know the kind of jobs they do in Nairobi.
Shiko said: “Part of my family knows what I do because there is an organisation called Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme that deals with helping the adolescent girls and women who usually have sex with multiple partners like us here.
“In that organisation is where we go for HIV testing, and if found negative, they give you PEP to protect you from getting HIV infection, ARVs if you are already infected and even counseling sessions. This organisation really helps us because sometimes it is really hard for us sex workers to the extent we feel like committing suicide. We like it because there is more privacy with our work.”
How much do they earn? To answer that, Vivian said:
“For me, this job has money, and even the Bible tell us to use what we have. Per day I get to earn myself about Sh5,000 or even more. I think I am so much better than that person who just stays in the house physically fit but does not want to work. I save a lot.”
Shiko, on the other hand, says:
“In my bad days I get like Sh10,000, because it all depends on where you are located.”
Would they ever get enough of that and stop being sex work and start their own business?
“I can’t stop being a sex worker but I can open a business, and give it to someone to run it. Job ishikishe mahali pengine but mimi niendelee na hii yangu. Like I be the boss of my job. When it’s down and when it’s booming, I will be okay.”
Shiko replied saying:
“I have so many jobs running but I can’t honestly. I can’t leave the job unless when time will tell. But for now, I am not leaving it.”
How do they still manage to be sex workers in Kenya, yet it’s illegal?
“Yes, it is illegal, but we are fighting so much for it to be legalised because there are many people who are jobless in Kenya and they need to feed their children. We are not ready to get married. If it is not business, I am not ready to have you as a man.”
Perhaps one day commercial sex work will be legalised, complete with a format through which they can pay taxes. And when this day comes, it will be safe for Vivian, Shiko and the countless other women who are engaged in it. Until then, the pair will continue to use their wits and bodies to etch out a living.