Out of despair. Most young girls choose to sell their bodies as the only way to eke out a living. It is a deplorable fact that this goes on in Rwanda and many other countries around the world. 19-year-old Jackie Uwimana (not real name) tells Gilbert Mwijuke how desperation forced her into the horrible world of prostitution at a tender age.
I was born to subsistence farmers in Kibungo District 19 years ago. I dropped out of school before completing primary level due to financial constraints. I subsequently left my parents’ home because they could no longer afford to fend for me and my siblings”, she narrated.
Coming to Kigali
“In 2010, a friend of mine brought me to Kigali with promises of getting me a job as a house girl. She got me the job in Kacyiru, where I was promised a monthly salary of Rwf12,000.
Unfortunately, I went for six months without pay. Still, I kept the job because of one reason: I had nowhere to go. The mere thought of going back to the grim world I had left in my village gave me goose bumps. Life had battered me from there.
Things moved from bad to worse when I became pregnant and my bosses gave me the boot. And to rub salt into the wound, the man who was responsible for my pregnancy denied it. In fact, he denies it to date. So, left with no choice, I had to return to my village in Kibungo.
I later gave birth to a beautiful baby girl whom I named Teta. But Teta was not such a little bundle of joy; her arrival made life even harder for me.
When Teta was about to make two years, I decided to leave her in my mother’s care and return to Kigali to look for another job. I was determined to get a job that would help me fend for my child. Luckily for me, I got one at a restaurant in Remera, as a waitress. But this one, too, was the same story as the first one: I went for the first three months without pay. I was only paid after I reported my case to the Umudugudu (local council) authorities.
But this meant that I had to look for another job – and somewhere else to stay.
Induction into prostitution
My induction into sex work came when a friend of mine who lived in Kabagali (in Kacyiru, a Kigali city suburb) took me in. She was older than me and at first I didn’t know that she was a sex worker. Unlike me, my prostitute friend never worried about rent, food, nice clothes … she almost always had money for nice things. I cannot say that she was rich – most sex workers earn just enough to afford them the basics – but she was financially secure. She also looked cool – at least in my eyes.
Every evening she patronised a trendy hangout near Alpha Palace in Remera where she met her clients. To a village girl like me, her life seemed sort of glamorous. Better still, she earned an average of Rwf15,000 per day, which made the idea of prostitution even more attractive to me. Rwf15,000 was even more than what I was supposed to be earning as monthly salary when I was still working as a house girl!
One day my friend told me that I should also start ‘working’ because I was becoming a burden to her.
But despite my financial dilemma and admiration for my friend, I never ideated myself selling my little body to earn a living. But my child’s welfare prodded me into this disgraceful profession. My mum would call me regularly to tell me how Teta had fallen sick or how she needed this or that. At this point, one thing was for sure: I needed a source of income badly.
In the days leading up to my first sex job, I was appallingly queasy. I kept going over all the things that could go wrong. You see, I never really knew what prostitution was all about. The idea of having sex with a stranger and getting paid at the end of it all was very fresh to me.
When my friend got me my first client, my legs were shaking as we entered his house. I was not sure what to expect. Half the time I was glamorising my new profession and imagining all the money I would be making; the other half I was panicking over the countless things that could go wrong. Thank God nothing awful happened that night.
My first client paid me Rwf7,000, and this marked the beginning of a long-lasting career in prostitution. Today, I am no longer concerned about sex. I have sex with strangers so regularly that it has become just a way of earning a living. Unlike other human beings, I no longer derive any pleasure from sex.
On a good day I sleep with between 8-10 men and earn about Rwf15,000. Men pay depending on where they find you. If he finds you in Kabagali (a slum in Kacyiru), he’ll even give you as little as Rwf1,000; if he finds you in a swanky nightclub, he won’t mind paying you as much as Rwf15,000.
But even though I am now able to regularly send my mum some money for my child’s upkeep, I live in regret because I know I am treading a path to self-destruction. And what hurts me most is that my mum thinks I still work at the restaurant. I wonder what she would do if she got to know of my source of income. I wish I could find something else to do”.