Never judge a book by its cover, until you have read its pages. Often times we make snap judgments on the precept of them being human in nature. Take for example, Anyango in downtown Nairobi, flagging down potential clients as they drive by on the notorious, red light district, Koinange Street. One late evening, on your way home from your demanding, high flying corporate job, you stop to buy take-out near her premises of operation. You can’t help but notice, and start to take a mental account of everything she is not, that you are.Her barely there skirt, exposes a set of twig like legs which you venture to guess, stay spread eagled from sunrise to sundown. That could probably only mean an infected coochie. The multicolored weave she wears was probably done in the poverty ridden, diseased infested, salon enclaves in one of the nearby sprawling slums that you have never been to, either Kawangware or Kibera. The red lipstick spilling over the corners of her lips, is probably a thank you gift from one of her regular clients, after a particularly pornstar satisfactory night. Her heavy, braless bosom is indicative of a bun in the oven, that will probably end up being aborted in the dark alleys of that city.
You think to yourself, “I could never be like her, nor patronize with her kind”! This dismissive, yet ‘thorough’ deconstruction of Anyango’s physical attributes, is nothing short of judgment. She has been completely reduced to a woman not worthy of any type of empathy or respect, other than the kind she commands. After all, she is a woman who ekes out a living, lying on her back-no effort whatsoever.
Anyango is a filthy whore, the lowest common denominator in society. How dare she, ask or even contemplate, respect. What does she know?
Prostitution is the oldest profession known to man, and in Africa, one without honor or accolades, only archaic patriarchal bs. Nowadays, the preferred term is sex worker which was coined in the 70s, thanks to the work done by activist groups. This term now, encompasses a person whose works may be sexual in nature, or one who works in the sex industry, and is not just limited to prostitution [thanks Wikipedia]. However, even with the creation of a much softer more ethical image, little has changed in the developing world, terms of how sex workers are viewed and treated. In Sweden, however, prostitution is not only legal, but one in which they are entitled to benefits and parental leave.
‘The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia’ was an intriguing documentary I watched over the weekend, about the aftermath of the Liberian civil war. In it, various topics were tackled, from murderous warlords who once led child soldiers in cannibalistic rampages to teenage prostitution-which caught my attention. Several young girls were interviewed, and each confessed to working as a survival mode, not choice. One of the girls bitterly lamented about the government’s failure in developing an economic infrastructure that could see her putting her beautician knowledge to use.
A beautician! Usually, discourse looks at sex workers from the vantage point of immorality, rather than a humane standpoint. Instead of digging deeper into the “why”, focus is on the “what”. Throughout, Anyango remains faceless, and without a voice to defend herself. Mind you, our dear Anyango is somebody’s daughter, friend, cousin, aunt, mother and wife.
This is her story
Anyango is only 25. She was orphaned early in life and came to Nairobi from her rural home in Alego Usonga, to make a living at the tender age of 16. With absolutely no guidance, she somewhat made a ‘decent’ life in the city. Fell in love at the tender age of 18 to a stone mason,got married and settled down in Kibera. Seven years later, she finds herself trapped. A mother of two young school going children, and the wife of an ailing man from prostate cancer. He no longer is able to work as he is bed ridden. Her job working as a domestic worker for the Omollos, in the exclusive Muthaiga residence, pays a paltry sum and is not enough. She has tried negotiating with Mrs. Omollo for a pay rise on numerous occassions, but the greedy fool won’t let up, despite Anyango’s torrent family circumstances. So, she decides to turn again to the streets that once welcomed her to Nairobi, as a means of taking care of her family.
Life is not a game. There are many Anyangos out there. Before you judge, and de-face them, listen to their story. Their voice too needs to be heard-non-judgmentally!
5 comments On Anyango
Thanks for sharing Afrikan Mami. The issue of sex worker rights is an important one. Also the way we are so easy to judge the sometimes hard choices people have had to make…
The way the word prostitute, or ashawo in Yoruba, is thrown around as in insult in Nigeria has been on my mind for some weeks now. It really started after a taxi driver in Abuja called me ashawo after a confrontation in which I refused to let him overcharge me. He chose ashawo in an attempt to disgrace me with his words but it did not work and I was not offended even though it has been on my mind. Why should ashawo be an insult?
In some ways I have managed to largely escape being judgemental towards prostitutes. I am close with an aunt who works in an organisation that attempts to provide skills to trafficked women and prostitutes, I’ve learnt a lot from her. Also a very fascinating friend of mine, Alhaji who believes that Nigerian prostitutes are smarter when it comes to sex than other Nigerian women. For example, while ashawo may be regarded as carrying STDs, Alhaji argues that they mostly do not and are more strict in practising safe sex than the average Nigerian woman. He says ashawo know how to “take care of themselves”.
This also stood out to me “…and in Africa, one without honor or accolades, only archaic patriarchal bs” because I recently wrote a post on sex work in pre-colonial Igboland and sex workers were pretty much respected in that region of Africa. If only it was still the same elsewhere/now.
It will take a very consious effort…
It’s funny how as humans(i generalise), judging others comes really easy, but we get so hurt when we are judged. There’s always more than meets the eye aye?..
@Cosmic Yoruba – I didn’t know ‘ashawo’ is a Yoruba word? Its used in Ghana too and the meaning is the same with all its derogatory implications.
I’m very excited about the post you wrote on sex work in pre-colonial Igboland. Could you share with us, or write a piece for Adventures on the subject? Thank you
Me too! I am an avid student of the subject at the moment and every little helps!