Prostitutes in anxious wait for clients along an urban street.
She rarely has the time to chat with fellow tenants, claiming she has nothing to discuss with them, given that most of them are married women. And on the days when she doesn’t work, she keeps herself busy, cleaning up and almost keeps to herself. She tells those who dare ask her that she works in a hotel.
Neither does anyone in her family know the real job that Mariamu does in the city. They all know she works in a hotel. This is the job she came to look for when she left the village for the city in 2003.
Although she has never disclosed to her fellow tenants the kind of job she does, Mariamu thinks they suspect what she does. This is because she rarely spends the night at home, although she doesn’t work seven days a week.
She usually leaves home at four in the evening lest people suspect what she does. She wants them to think she works at a bar, night club or a big hotel.
But the truth is that the 28-year-old single mother of one is a prostitute. She plies the flesh trade in bars at Sinza to support herself, her son and her family back home in Arusha. She is her family’s sole breadwinner.
The fourth born in a family of seven, Mariamu dropped out of school in 1997, just a year before she completed primary education.
She went to live with her sister in Arusha town where she met the father of her ten-year-old son.
Their relationship did not last long as Mariamu decided to call it quits as she could not tolerate her husband’s torture.
“My husband used to beat me a lot. He used to leave us without food, sometimes for months. I endured a lot in the relationship and when I could not take it anymore, I decided to go back home,” says Mariamu.
She had stayed in the village in Ngarenaro for one year when a friend who used to live in Dar es Salaam advised her to go look for a job in the city. Mariamu was easily persuaded having seen how good her friend used to look every time she came to the village. Money did not seem a problem to her at all.
“She seemed to be living a good life in the city. I used to admire the way she used to dress and the way she used to look generally. Moreover, I wanted to go see the city,” says Mariamu.
Her city friend told Mariamu she worked in a hotel and would help her get a job in the same hotel.
When they arrived in Dar es Salaam in June 2003, Mariamu’s friend took her to corner bar in Sinza the following evening.
“We left her room in Magomeni at around nine that night. She dressed sexily and gave me similar clothes to wear. Although I was initially hesitant, I just obliged,” recalls Mariamu laughing at how naïve she had been.
When they arrived at corner bar, Mariamu’s friend told her point blank what the job was all about. Selling their bodies!
“She taught me how to approach customers and how to talk to them. I was very shy and afraid in the beginning. I just could not talk to customers. Today I am more qualified than my friend,” said Mariamu laughing as she shyly hid her face.
Mariamu charges between 10,000/- and 20,000/- for a quickie, and between 30,000/- and 40,000/- a whole night.
Like any other job, prostitution has its challenges. Mariamu says some clients don’t pay after service. So when bargaining with a client, “we are always very careful. We do a quick scan at a client and can easily tell who is a cheat,” says Mariamu.
In most cases, Mariamu asks to be paid first before she offers service. She then keeps her money with a watchman at a nearby shop where she ensures it is safe. “Some men would pay you and steal the money from you,” she says. And to keep good relations with the watchmen, Mariamu says they sometimes offer the watchmen service at a discount. It is these watchmen who help them when they encounter stubborn clients. And when the business is not good, it is the same watchmen who help them with fare back home. The same watchmen give them space at the places they guard when they get clients. The client pays 1,000/- to the watchmen for the place for a quickie.
Apart from hooligans who either don’t pay or steal from them, Mariamu and colleagues are also usually careful with whoever they do business with. Some clients can never be trusted at all.
When Mariamu gets a client with a car, she completely avoids getting on the car. Neither does she accept an offer to go to the client’s house. “You can never trust men. Some may be after getting a human sacrifice. Lustful girls fall in the trap so easily when given good money but they end up dying,” says Mariamu. She has heard stories of girls who died in the past from older girls in the business.
In the past, Mariamu says they would serve clients in their (clients) vehicles. They stopped because “these days men are cruel. The alarm bell rings once someone insists that you enter their car.”
Dirty men are another challenge. Mariamu says they just accept them because of money. But they know how to deal with such men. They handle them in a way that ensures they are not made dirty. Mariamu says one needs to be clean in this business for if not, men tend to tell each other about you.
When asked whether a man’s looks matters in the business, Mariamu says she is never after a man’s looks. She says a man could be clean and handsome but be penniless and to call girls, it is money that matters. That’s why they serve even dirty men, even if it would require doing so while holding your nose.
Men they don’t accept at any cost include drug abusers and bhang smokers. Reason? They could be harmful. “We accept men who are civilised even if they are dirty. Some are as old as our parents, but we have no choice,” she says.
If a dirty man pays for a guest house room, he is asked to take a shower first. But because sometimes a shower isn’t enough, that’s when the dirty client is lied to, that Mariamu has to leave early because she has a small baby and has no house help. The trick works very well and Mariamu continues looking for more clients.
If such a client pays for a whole night, he is lied to that “you have a nursery school child that you need to take to school in the morning.”
The good thing at least is that men today, according to Mariamu, have a low libido unlike it used to be the case in the past. “Today they get tired just after the second round. Young men who have reached puberty are better off.” Mariamu thinks older men have problems because they eat broilers. She likes this because apart from serving the client for a shorter period than bargained for, it enables her to go get more clients.
Things have changed a lot today. The economic crunch has hit the prostitution sector as well. While Mariamu used to serve ten clients a night in the past, the more she can get today is between four and five a night. During those old good days, it would reach a point where she would hide from men.
Today when business is good, Mariamu earns only 40,000/- a night and nothing at all when things are bad. That’s when she offers herself to someone for only 2,000/- so she may get fare back home. When no one is willing to take the offer, Mariamu asks one of the watchmen in the neighbourhood to bail her out.
All the hooligans and watchmen in the neighbourhood are her acquaintances. She has built a close relationship with them because they normally become helpful in times of trouble, like when she gets a stubborn client.
Mariamu works from Thursday to Saturday and rests during the remaining days. “I take days off to give my body a rest. Sometimes I work only twice a week depending on availability of clients. Business is normally bad from Sunday to Wednesday,” Mariamu says.
She prefers Sinza Makaburini area to Corner Bar where you find all sorts of prostitutes because it's calmer at Makaburini than at Corner Bar. She says there is a lot of hooliganisms there, and sites a recent theft of a car at the place by hooligans.
Unlike other prostitutes who line themselves up by the roadside, Mariamu sits at a bar where she hooks her clients. She avoids the road for fear of hooligans who once stole her money and the police that harass them. When caught by the police, the girls normally give them money to be set free.
Despite having been in the business for nine years, Mariamu has nothing to show today. However, her dream is to one day build her own house and retire before her son grows and finds out the kind of job his mother does.