I have a neighbour called Vee. She spends the whole day sleeping and resting. But, as the sun is swallowed by mother earth marking the end of the day, her day begins. Her day is theatre, full of drama, I later learnt.During the day she is a mature woman aged 36. But as night falls, she is an 18-year-old skimpily dressed girl, only sold out by her wrinkled face, when she gets where there is enough light. But her trick works, she patronises dark spots around the Truckers Inn and bars dotted all over Hwange, where she preys on truck drivers and guzzlers. The drivers spend weeks on end in queues to load coal in Hwange and often use the horses of their trucks as bedrooms.
With foundation and skin lightener, Vee normally exhibits heavy brick red face powder, when she leaves home.
Her favourite dressing is a short skinny skirt, a half top which reveals her belly button, decorated by a belly ring. Only stretch marks show that her womb once carried a child.
As if that is not enough Vee struggles to walk in her four-inch high heels, tucking in her stretch-marked belly and pumping the chest out to reveal her big African cleavage. In the dark, indeed she looks very attractive from afar, yet very far from being an angel, when you get close to her.
At times she cheats and wears school uniform, disguising herself as a stranded school girl.
After befriending her for some time, she opened up on her life and, hey, it is a roller-coaster, something you wish life would never force you to do. Below is her verbatim account.
“I can only tell you my story if you guarantee that you will not use my picture. If my picture is seen, that is the end of me. Ndinofambira kupi kumusha?
“They call me Sis Vee of the vibration dance. I can vibrate and dance the whole night as long as I am taking beers. My clients know, I am at their service anytime as long as they pay.
“I don’t like prostitution but I do it to feed my children. I am just like any other person who wakes up in the morning and goes to work. The only difference is that I don’t have an office where I do the proper transactions and the things I sell are not manufactured,” she defensively argued and giggled.
Sisi Vee, who claims to have been brought up in a God-fearing family, narrates how she became a sex worker in Hwange.
“I never thought that I would be a prostitute. It is very hard, tough and dangerous. It is shameful. I was born and brought up in a Christian family but here I am today, a prostitute. I am now an expert in selling my body. Most people know me and know what I do for a living. Even the young boys treat me like a young girl. For me, the saddest part is most mothers see me as a misfit in the society and some think I have bad influence on their daughters. It was a very hard decision to go this way.
“Before I turned to this profession I was married and lived at Kamativi Mine. When my husband passed on I remarried because I was young and did not know how to take care of the four little girls I had been left with.
“My second husband was abusive to both my children and me. My family became the talk of Kamativi as if I was the first widow to remarry. My second husband beat me up and had many extramarital affairs and eventually he abandoned me for another mistress.
“I then decided to move to Hwange after I was promised a job but it never materialised. I found myself homeless and facing starvation with the children. That forced me into prostitution.
“I started by doing some piece jobs like washing clothes and cleaning houses in the mining town but the money was a pittance. I had left my girls in Kamativi and they needed school fees, food and clothes. So I had to make a plan.
“I joined my friend who is now late. She initiated me and from then, life went on.
“I kept my children away and I still keep them away. I don’t want my girls to know this or even have an idea that it can happen. They must not know where their food and fees come from.
“This business is not easy, that’s why sometimes I prefer taking beer to get the courage and boost my confidence. I can be unfortunate that after doing the business, a client can refuse to pay me and threaten to take me to the police. In that case I would have lost the battle. So I make the client pay first.
“But they are other scenarios were business can be so high that I can attend to about 10 clients per night. That will be a busy night and take home around US$50. At times you take home nothing.
“Whenever I have many clients I take contraceptive pills, because at time condoms burst, so it is safe to use both.
“I know they are sexually transmitted disease and HIV/Aids but if a client comes without protection I charge him higher because he will be putting me at risk. There are times where I wear the female protection but it inconveniences my business because its takes time to wear it and it is not very comfortable.
“I have never gone for an HIV test and I will not go any time soon: knowing my status scares me.
“A disadvantage comes when you patronise the same place, you become familiar and clients want new people. At times I relocate to the highway or to Dete, Nkayi, Lupane and Victoria Falls and when they have forgotten about me, I come back. Meanwhile, I will have become too familiar in those places. It is marketing.
“If you wear school uniform and stand by the roadside at night, men stop without you even waving them down. The only problem is they might want to take advantage and not pay you, or they pay little. You have to work out your payment.
“When things are hard, you stand by the road and you get from one haulage truck into another. You don’t even know where you will end up by sunrise. So you eventually get home tired and you sleep the whole day. It’s a tough job. You meet different types of men: good ones, bad ones, rough ones and extremely cruel ones. It is all for survival.”
Many women in Zimbabwe have turned to sex work or prostitution so as to supplement their income to take care of their families, and many women in such professions believes the have a role to play in the society although the society see them as social oddball.
According to the National Behavior Change Sex Work Programme, sex work involves having lots of sex with different partners.
Sex work can also be categorised in different stages which involves having an uncommitted “decent” sexual relationship with someone who just gives money as a form of payment. Secondly, one can hunt for sexual clients in bars or even streets.
Sex workers face lots of stigma and discrimination which can make it difficult to access health services, HIV prevention and treatment. The society sees the sex workers as a social misfit.
The Zimbabwe National Aids Strategic Plan considers sex workers and mobile populations as vulnerable groups and encourages the development of innovative strategies for these groups at risk, focusing on their empowerment and inclusion in decision-making. But on how to end this oldest profession of prostitution only time will tell.
Rutendo Mapfumo is a journalist based in Hwange. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org