Out of curiosity, last Saturday, I called a friend, a community mobliser, who had worked in Bwaise Kimombasa for years rehabilitating sex workers and connecting them to health care services and education programmes for their children. He had shared their stories with me but I wanted to hear and see for myself. I wanted to treat my curiosity, I wanted to know what would force anyone to go into this “World’s Oldest Profession”. With an open notebook, a curious mind and loads of questions, I was in Kimombasa Bwaise.
Sheila was the first person we met. This is the story of Sheila a 29-year-old sex worker.
“My father worked at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Our home was at Old Kampala Block 20A5BS New park. My mum was a business woman that would go to Dubai for months to do business. I don’t know what business she was doing. While she was away, my father had a different woman every month, some of the women that he brought home, beat me up and one of them burnt me. Look at these scars on my chest, this was a damage by one of my stepmothers because I scored a first grade at P7.
I decided to run away from home. This is where my running started, and since then, I have been on the run. I am 29 but any escape route from this misery I will run. I am a runner.
When the burns healed, I ran to Kasese, a nun picked me up l told her that I was an orphan- at least that is what I felt. I stayed with her for one year. One day, someone told the nun that they had seen a picture of me on TV. My parents were looking for me. The nun gave me transport and I boarded a bus back home, when I got back home, my father asked
“Ogumwana naruga nkahi?” Where has this child been?” My father asked.
He beat me badly, my latest mum pleaded with him to stop. She was the only mum I liked.
I asked my father that I would go to the village so that I can study there, I had been a city child, in primary, I studied at Kyaggwe Road Primary School. Life was different in the village, I walked a mile to school. My grandmother would park my food in a banana fibre, many times, I ate the food before getting to school. The walking was too much for me.
I decided to run away again.
I got into a bus to Kashenshero to become a housemaid, in that household, my English accent was better than for my boss’ kids they asked me to start coaching the kids. She took me back to school up to Senior Four. I had good grades but I couldn’t tell them that I was a Kampala child, they would chase me away. My boss liked me, she wanted to help me be a better person, she requested that I at least show her one of my relatives. I knew that this wasn’t going to end well for me. I would end up at my father’s house. I didn’t want to go there. I never wanted to get there ever again.
I ran away again, to Ishasha at the Congo border through Kihihi, I made sure I have enough money to get me to my destination, it is the bus conductor that bought me a snack on that trip.
In Ishasha, I got a restaurant Job, then moved from one home to another as a house maid.
I was tired of running. I went back home but then the neighbors told me that my family had shifted to Kabalagala Kironde road where they had built a house. I looked for them. I found them but my father was dead.
“You girl, where have you been?” My mother asked “Don’t ask her many questions she will disappear again.” she said. “Kwonka mwanawe nozenga”
She called my seven uncles her brothers and my father’s brothers. At night, they mobbed me and flogged me like those petty thieves in the market. To them, I was a disgrace.
“Why did I come back home?” I wondered.
I should have followed my gut feelings. I didn’t have a relationship with my mum, she was never there. The only woman that gave me some love was one of my many ‘mums’. Unfortunately, she is dead.
From my housemaid experience, I had learnt how to work. I busied myself with house chores as I nursed my injuries and hatched a plan for my next move.
I wish my mum had sat me down and asked me why I was doing what I was doing. She said that if I ever tell anyone about the beating, I should die without ever coming back home.
When the bruises were healed, I ran again. This time to Arusha, with a man, who took me with him for a tour. I had a good time, he cared for me. Unfortunately, he was married, he escorted me back to Kampala, gave me some money and returned to his family.
I couldn’t go back home. From the money he gave me, I went to a lodge. I met a friend who told me that I don’t have to suffer alone. So she took me to her workplace at night. I started selling my body.
People ask me why I am selling my body. But they don’t know what I have been through. I don’t enjoy sleeping with men. I sometimes make up my mind not to go back but then I submit to hunger. In 2014, I vowed to stop, someone connected me to a rich man in town to work as a maid. I was sure I would save and start a business but one of their sons raped me, I conceived, when I gave birth, I was chased away, I couldn’t take care of the baby, I took the baby to a babies’ home. I went back for the baby but they have refused to give me the baby. I don’t even have papers to get him because I left them at that place I used to work.
Look, I have three thousand shillings, I made 5000 shillings yesterday, I ate 2000 shillings so that I don’t have to sleep with men today. Please don’t judge me for selling myself at 5000 Uganda shillings.
Last week, my best friend was killed in a lodge in Kisenyi. When I learnt of her death, I drunk so much that I wanted the cars to run over me but they all kept dodging me. I feel lost. This friend would call me to remind me to take medicine. I am HIV+, now she is dead. I think as you listen to me you realize that there are some people that are not meant to be alive. I think I am one of them. I am lonely, I feel alone, I keep to myself these days.
I wish my parents had understood me. I have no family; I am my family. I last went home last year to bury my mother. I don’t want my kid to suffer, I don’t want him to end up like me. When I am with women around here, I cry- Yeah I cry all the time these days.
You know that song, I know who I am? I don’t know who sang it. I know who I am. No one around this forsaken place believes my story but I know who I am.
You know, I like Juanita Bynum, Oprah and Joyce Meyer. I like their stories.”
For the next couple of weeks, one story each week, I will be documenting the lives of sex workers around the slums of Kampala. Why am I doing this? I don’t know. But how about listening to the other side of the story. Thanks for passing by my blog. I hope to see you next week.