Dust hangs in the air on a sultry afternoon in Nairobi’s Majengo slum as residents going about their normal chores mingle along narrow pathways. A keen observer can notice many women, most of them youthful, dressed skimpily and perched in provocative poise on stools outside open doorways.
They are the commercial sex workers of Majengo who, for ages, have given a dubious distinction to the oldest informal settlement in Kenya, as the hotbed of prostitution. Their male clients hardly ever conceal their intention as they walk in through the open doors, to be followed in by the girls who lock up for a short session of illicit activity, for which the average fee is Sh100, depending on the time of the month.
Today is International Condoms Day, organised ahead of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, to raise awareness on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV, but for one of the longest serving commercial sex workers of Majengo, the day brings a close to a chapter in her life that she regrets ever having engaged in.
Sarah Mbaka Mutero, aged 49, has a weather-beaten face and her eyes are glazed with tears as she opens up about her 22 years living as a commercial sex worker in Majengo, and her decision now to quit. The cacophony of slum life and the indignity of being one among many girls who peddle their bodies indiscreetly, seem to cloud her memory as she narrates the graphic details of working the vile profession.
She gives two painful reasons why she is retiring from what she once thought would be a lucrative trade as a young girl of 17, when she started the trade after a man ditched her when she became pregnant. The mother of two boys regrets that she saved nothing from all the years “I endured the flesh business”. She also has been shunned by friends and family, apart from those with her in the trade.
Sarah, however, will not retreat into retirement in the mud-walled hovels in which she worked. She has become a beneficiary of Liverpool Voluntary Counselling and Testing (LVCT), a programme on prevention of control of STIs and HIV, that also helps commercial sex workers to retire and make a living by other means.
Recently, she was approached by LVCT community worker Stanley Muriuki, well known as King of Condoms for distributing the contraceptives. He offered her a quarter acre piece of land in Makuyu, Murang’a county, on which to put up a house.
She will also be assisted with funds to start a small business of her choice. Smiling amid tears after she was handed the documents for her land as well as a belt of condoms to distribute to her former colleagues by LVCT, Sarah says commercial sex work demeans the women who engage in it.
“We do not enjoy it, I hated myself every time a man left the room after finishing his business with me. I cried many nights but it was hard to get out,” she says. Working in a slum being the lowest end of the profession, she was paid Sh100 for each session and sometimes even Sh50.
“You sleep with old men, dirty mkokoteni riders, young men, men with disability,” she says. With Valentine’s Day coming tomorrow, Sarah tells married women to avoid frustrating their men at home. “Majority of men who come to us are married.
Some are rich and they tell you their wives don’t respect them and deny them conjugal rights. We handle them very well because they pay well. Some even used to ask me to marry them but I knew I could not become a wife,” she says.
Muriuki, the condom man, says: “We rewarded her with a plot in order to encourage others to quit. Land is better than a wheel barrow and other farm implements retirees receive as a send-off package. For the first time she will have her own home far from where she did a business she hated.”