By Monicah Mwangi
Prostitution has for a long time been seen as an illegal business in the country but a huge number of women have ventured in it and taken it as their full time career. There is no clear figure of how many prostitutes there are in Kenya mostly because most of them operate secretly and barely disclose their work.
When the word prostitution is mentioned, everyone thinks of Koinange street unless one has been on Luthuli avenue at night. This is the street where the business is currently booming. It’s usually a nightmare for a man to go through this street alone past 10.00 p.m. The prostitutes lineup along the street and if one is not careful they drag them to some upstairs bar where they drug and rob them off.
Some bars on this street have taken advantage of the situation and have gone as far as recruiting prostitutes to operate in their clubs and in return get their rooms fully packed throughout the day.
We recently visited one of these bars to get first hand information on the situation. I had been alerted that women get cold reception here so I requested a male friend who had visited the place in the past to accompany me. On entering the bar we notice there is a woman on each of the tables, smartly dressed. We settle at the counter and within no time a man appears and greats my male friend by name. He is the manager of the downtown bar and they had been to the same school. On serving us he left and now a woman, dressed in tight blue jeans and a red top sets in.
She is one of the recruits in the bar. After along idle talk, Joyce, not her real name, slowly opens up and tells us how she joined the place. “I had been married for four years but we had a lot of disagreements with my husband and we ended up separating.”
With 2 children to take care of Joyce went to their rural home in Kirinyaga but life was not easy. “There was no one to rely on to bring food on the table; I had to do it myself.” With pain written on her face she remembers how she lost his son to pneumonia for lack of money to get proper treatment. “I did not have the money to buy him medication,” she says.
During the burial, her long time friend, Joan, not real name, approached her telling her she had a job opening for her. She was so happy that she packed the same night and together with her daughter left with Joan to Nairobi the following morning. “She gave me encouraging words saying how hard life is but it was upon us to be harder,” she remembers. “We got to Mwiki in the evening and Joan left us saying she had a night shift at work,” Joyce says.
After a week of staying indoors, Joan told Joyce what she does and told her if she was interested she will introduce her and show her how it is done. “I decided to take the risk and that’s why I am here.” Joyce does not take alcohol and she attends church service every Sunday. Though she does not like what she does she says it’s a job and it feeds her and her daughter and sometimes gets something to saves. “On a good day I can take home Ksh2000, not many people earn that much out there,” she joke and laughs loudly. She however notes that like any other business there are some bad days, “today is one of the bad days, I have only had one customer and the next shift is almost coming in.” She turns to my male friend and attempt to be ‘nice’ to him. “This is how we work here, u have to be very pleasant, smart and patient.” She says she likes it there because there is security, “there are no police or city council askari’s running after us.”
She adds that the management of the bar did a good job to introduce the initiative, “we all benefit after all, we feed ourselves and we bring them business.” She tells us she has about 10 regular clients who would not talk to any other prostitute in the bar. Though she moved out of Joan’s house, they still work together with and share a lot. On her part, Joyce says she uses protection adding that there is nothing she fears like being HIV positive. “If a client insists on sleeping with me without a condom I simply let them go.”
I leave Joyce to try her luck with my friend and joined the manager to see if I would learn something.
To join the place, Njoroge, the manager says one has to be well known by the old staff, have a national identity card and pay a registration fee of Ksh800. “This is to ensure that no client loses anything when they get to the room.”
He says that their women are well behaved and they don’t steal from customers. A room here costs Ksh200 and few people take more than 1hr in the room. There are 10 rooms in total and the club is open 24hrs with prostitutes coming in in 2 shifts, “there is the day and the night shift but they alternate after every week, they claim there are more jobs at night than during the day,” Njoroge says. The club currently has 18 registered prostitutes