Don’t Miss It – Lights and shadows in Kabalagala: lives behind the curtain
Uganda – Everyone who has been in Kampala knows about Kabalagala, the street of pleasure and twinkling lights, full of clubs, pubs, shops and, above all, with the highest number of prostitutes in the capital.
Through the stories and images of twelve women and their lives between prostitution and parenting, we tried to figure out what really happens behind the glittering curtain that is Kabalagala, what is really hidden in one of the worst and difficult slum of the capital.
For the “white” people (mzungu in Swahili language) living in Uganda, Kabalagala is synonymous of prostitution, the most miserable and cheapest one. After three years based in Kampala and after being familiar with the areas and with enough survey, I have come to the conclusion that there are four levels of prostitution.
The first one is the “high class” prostitution: the escort that can only be afforded by the few that are willing to spend several hundred dollars. The second one is the middle class that includes both the Ugandans and the “whites” of the various NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), associations, relief agencies, tourists, etc … You can find it in the different trendy hangout places of the capital, located on the opposite side of the city than Kabalagala, with charges ranging between 50-100 US dollars at most. The third level is the one of Kabalagala, where the prostitutes charge between 10-20 US dollars (25,000-50,000 shillings) and the clientele is represented by the whites who have less money and the Ugandans who do not want to spend too much. However, between the second and the third level, there is no big difference because the 50% of the prostitutes who during the week are in Kabalagala asking for just $ 10-20, are the same who on the weekend are on the opposite side of the city, in the most trendy pubs, asking for 50-100 dollars to those whites who think they are smart and clever because they do not go to Kabalagala which they think is too dirty and comes with a bad reputation, believing they are classy. Finally there is the last level, the one of this photo-reportage.
This is the most miserable and unknown level to the public. When I talked to some friends (Ugandans and not) about the reportage I was doing, they found it hard to believe there was this kind of prostitution. The slum just behind Kabalagala is in a very dire situation where all the poverty is concentrated, that point of no return for the poorest of the poor. This has forced many women to sell their bodies ranging between 3,000 shillings (1.2 dollars) and 10,000 Ugandan shillings (4 dollars). The competition is so high that it is the customer who decides the rules, the supply exceeds the demand and prices are therefore very low. In this slum there are around 300 prostitutes.
Thanks to Mark, a forty years old Ugandan and founder of the NCO (Needy Children Organization), a local organization that cares for about 300 children in the slum, 90% of whom are children of prostitutes themselves, I was able to meet 12 of those women.
You may be asking: why these women do not go to Kabalagala or elsewhere, in trendy clubs, so that they can earn more? Well, it’s simply: because they started being prostitutes when they were already old (in Uganda a twenty-six years woman is considered old) after being abandoned by their husbands or partners, or because they have already spent those years as prostitutes in the trendy pubs. During those years they have not been able to find that customer who fell in love with them so removing them from that kind of life style. Night after night, beer after beer, client after client, the best years for them have passed and now they have to make way for the young girls aged between 18 (so they say) to 23 years old, dressed in fashionable manner. Usually these young girls have some money to buy one or two beers, a few rounds of pool, while waiting for the client; the same girls can sometimes afford to go home without a client. I really hope these young girls can find someone who can take care of them so they don’t have to waste all their years in prostitution. Otherwise, after few years, it will be the same story: from the pubs and bars in Kabalagala to the squalid wooden rooms in the slums, where they end up selling their bodies for 3,000 shillings.
The story is often the same: most of them, at the age of 15-16, when they were still living at home and going to school, they were impregnated and their families pushed them away. Not knowing what to do, they had to look for a cheap accommodation in the slum, beginning prostitution to survive and raise their children. “I arrived in Kampala at age of sixteen, from Hoima (western Uganda), because I was banished from the family when they found out I was pregnant. Now I’m twenty-five and I have another child from one customer, even if I do not know who he is, because I have an average of nine customers in a day. I charge 3,000 shillings with protection and 6,000 shillings without protection”, as told by S.B, a great supporter of Inter A.C. Milan, as evidenced by the shirt she was wearing.
Finding a job is difficult in Kampala, the unemployment rate is very high and even those who find a job, like waitressing, at the end of the month can bring home only 200,000 shillings ($ 80) which is similar to nothing since only the rent of a room costs 130,000-150,000 shillings a month (52-60 dollars), meaning they are not able to save enough money. These women were not even able to find a similar job, and so they were obliged to engage in prostitution.
“I had the first two children from a white man, when I had just begun prostitution. After he abandoned me and I found myself suddenly without any financial aid. Now I am 33 years old and with 8 children. Do not ask me who are the fathers,” as told by C.N while feeding the newborn.
Inside the slum they have their own room where they live with their children and they also rent a small room (4,000-5,000 shillings a day) in which they receive the customers. So, a month, including the rent of the house and the rent of the room, they spend 300,000 shillings ($ 120), plus the money to buy the food and take care of their children as best as possible. The figure is doubled to 600,000 shillings ($ 240). This explains why every day they should have at least five or six clients, with figures from 3,000 shillings to 10,000 shillings; this explains why for 6,000 shillings they can sell their bodies without using a condom.
For instance “I started to prostitute two years ago, when my husband abandoned me and I had to somehow take care of my two children aged seven and ten years. I get an average of four or five customers a day, figures ranging from 3,000 shillings to 10,000 shillings, ” says C.Z, twenty-nine years old, who does not want to show her face as she has just discovered that she is HIV-positive.
Unfortunately, among the twelve women I met, five are living with HIV. “I started to prostitute three years ago at the birth of the first child and after being abandoned by the partner. I have an average of five clients a day with prices from 5,000 to 10,000 shillings. I am HIV positive and I always say this to my clients. However, some insist on having intercourse without a condom, because they claim that they are HIV positive or because they are psyched that they can not be infected because they are circumcised, “whispers I.N twenty-eight years old, wrapped in a blanket.
“I have been in Kampala, as a prostitute, for two years and I have a baby of 10 months from the companion who had abandoned me and I found out I was also infected with HIV by him. The child, however, is fine. I get three or four customers a day to figures from 7,000 shillings to 10,000 shillings. Despite being HIV positive and always saying it to clients, some of them do not care at all and want to do it without a condom“, S.H, from Arua (northern Uganda), eighteen years old, the youngest of the group.
The only hope, the only light for these women, and especially for their children is represented by Mark and his organization, founded in 1993. Currently, the NCO (supported by the Italian NGO “Insieme si può…” of Belluno, represented here in Uganda by Davide Franzi) provides informal education for over 300 children and pays school fees for over 120 enrolled in formal school. As for the free time, they have created two football clubs (the Kabalagala Rangers FC and FC Kabalagala Belluno) participating in two different local leagues and they have created a dance and music academy, SOSOLYA UNDUGU DANCE ACADEMY, which is involved in several music festivals in East Africa and next year it will be engaged in a tour around Germany and Austria.
To succeed in this mission, NCO needs our constant support. Together we can make a difference.
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