She carefully cuddles the little one, reminds her that she loves her - the perfect mother and daughter bonding – and then sends her to the shop to buy salt.
The first time you meet Lydia Nankya (not real name), she comes off as the perfect lady; the way she will walk up to you – a stranger – and still kneel to greet you, her charm and the way she associates with her neighbours are all immaculate.
In fact the only undoing is that Nankya runs a bar; you would wonder how a woman of her persona handles people that behave and utter such obscenities when they are charged up.
However, much as Nankya may have been born into a Christian family with such noble values, she has not always been this way; the mother of five is actually a complete shadow of her former self.
“After my parents died, we were left with an aunt who was unemployed too. We had to survive,” Nankya says.
In 1995 at only 16, the noble and full-of-character girl resorted to prostitution.
“It all started with my peers. I didn’t know they were already in the act, I was told we would just detooth the guys and that was all,” says Nankya, adding that when the detoothing did not work out, she was advised by her ‘mentors’ to offer more.
Within three months of practice, Nankya had become a pro, improved her livelihood and also enrolled her other sister into the trade. However, even when she was working on her back, the traits of goodness did not rub off.
While on the job, she fell in love with her customer and went as far as becoming his wife.
As you could imagine, those who knew Nankya were often surprised as to what the husband saw in her.
In many world settings, prostitution is illegal. Nevertheless, it is common – the oldest trade – driven by widespread poverty. It is the kind of business that moralists and pretenders loathe during day but flock to at night.
Many times when society identifies a prostitute, they will isolate, detest and the extreme ones like Nankya’s first neighbours in Nansana, will go as far as expelling one from the community.
In such a situation, one would pity any man she would be seriously involved with; seeing your wife’s little respect shredded in a more disrespectful manner is not easy for a man.
Yet one would wonder which kind of man would rightly court or later wed a prostitute, even when she wears a ‘reformed’ tag.
In a report by Steven Sawyer, Michael E. Metz, Jeffrey D. Hinds and Robert A. Brucker; Attitudes towards prostitution among males: A consumers’ report, it is noted that much as prostitution partly thrives among younger men, very few want to be associated with the act or the prostitutes themselves.
Nankya can confirm this. When she met the father of her oldest child, he was head over heels in love with her but did not tell his family of the wife’s job even when he was aware of it.
Other men like Peter Musoke, 30, a boda boda rider in Kasubi, also attest to this. He says that much as prostitutes are human, it is not easy moving out with a person known to have done that as a job even when it is in their past.
“We grew up in a society where sex was sacred and a secret. Women feel awkward when they are pregnant because they feel that people are guessing and thinking of how it all happened; so, if you are courting a former prostitute, it is only you who sees her as reformed. The entire society still looks at her in her former skin,” says Musoke. “There will be questions of how you met; if you were a customer…”
Musoke has, indeed, dated a university student and an active prostitute in Katanga, even though he is aware of the backlash that comes with associating with such ladies; he says he went for one because he imagined the sex would be great.
“I imagined getting free sex from such a girl more educated than me as a privilege,” he says.
The resident of Namungoona says that his relationship with the night girl simply started as a customer-client one. She had him on speed dial whenever she needed a boda boda service to and after her work in the night; he at times took her to the university for her daytime lectures.
“It all started when she failed to pay my fee once; she just paid in kind. That was the beginning of more payments of that nature and then I asked her to move in with me,” says Musoke.
Contrary to Nankya’s version, Musoke says his campus girlfriend did not vend sex for money, since after they started living together; he noticed she was spending more than what prostitution could afford her.
“She took over my electricity, food and water bills. She could even buy me clothes. The money she made off her night job was way too little for her expenditure and that’s when I knew something wasn’t right,” says Musoke.
According to Andrew Yong Sakayo, the director, Collaborative Development Kawempe (CODEK), an organization dealing with active and reformed prostitutes, the act literally becomes part of many involved that even with the necessary facilitation, they cannot easily abandon the trade.
“It is like a demon that takes over the body that even with a million dollars in your house, you will go out and vend sex,” Sakayo says.
Nankya and Musoke concur with Sakayo’s sentiments. When Nankya gave birth to her first born child, her husband thought that since she was a mother now, prostitution had become her past. He was dead wrong.
“He provided for me and the baby but I would still go back to the streets. He became angry that I wasn’t reforming and dumped me and took our son with him,” she says.
Since then, Nankya has been married twice before finally settling with her third husband, whom she has also left because of suspected infidelity on his side. Musoke’s situation was not so different.
He realized his campus girlfriend was in the trade out of interest and not for money and he called it quits. He also dispels a common myth that prostitutes provide better sex. He remembers that the first time he slept with the campus girl for his payment, he did not enjoy the sex.
“The sex was only good when I started developing feelings,” he says.
Unlike Musoke, there are those people that would not take chances with a prostitute – retired or not. Simon Mukisa, an IT specialist, 27, believes that once a prostitute, always one.
“This is a girl who has been on the streets, made many work partners and friends, what if they convince her back midway our marriage? What if one of my friends was once her client?” Mukisa asks.
He also notes that he would probably be imagining her with other men, which is disgusting. Other men care about their children’s welfare.
“So how do you tell your kids that their mum was once a prostitute or what if one of the daughters turns out like her mother?” asks one man.
This comment truly resonates with Nankya. Much as she sees her now 16-year-old son, she has never told him of her former trade and swears never to. Mukisa says he would only let a known prostitute into his house if he already had children with her by the time of knowing.
“For the kids, I would consider staying with her, if she has been a good mother. I wouldn’t start doubting her because of her past,” Mukisa says.
“But still, I would lose a bit of my trust for her, I would start wondering what she was up to if she stayed out late.”
Michael Kiryowa, a preacher in Namungoona, believes that if he started a relationship with a noble beautiful girl and later learnt she was once a hooker, he would become blind to the past and continue with the relationship.
“We all have that past we are not proud of. I don’t see why I have to pick on hers; we have all made mistakes,” he says.
Despite the negative talk prostitutes may generate, some people don’t see why it would be a big deal if someone wanted to date them – even straight off the streets.
“They are human beings who have sex for a living. In my view they are better than those who steal and kill for the same purpose,” says Geraldine Nakuya, an accountant with the Mulago-based Infectious Diseases Institute.
She also believes that girls that sleep with bosses for jobs, promotion or money are disguised prostitutes. Nankya and Sakayo share the thought.
“The moment you start sleeping with more than one man, you are a prostitute. That’s how we all started and before we knew we were sleeping with ten of them,” Nankya says.
Nakuya is, however, irked by the fact that prostitution is always limited to women.
“I don’t understand why a man can sleep with all the bimbos in town, brag about it and it is fine and, a prostitute sleeps with the same number of men and we all feel like she is the most disgusting person; it’s not fair,” says Nakuya.
Nakuya believes that with a will, a prostitute can, indeed, change to make even a better wife and mother.
Many former prostitutes, according to Sakayo, have gone on to start families, but to detach from their former evils and image, they have had to change locations to where no one knows them though Nankya is one of the few to have resettled in the place where she formerly plied her trade.
Word on the streets
Sophia Ngira: Yes I would,
If he/she was doing it for the money. If, however, they were doing it because they enjoyed it, well, that is another issue. Change is the only recognized constant and yet it is weird how human beings don’t change.
Carol Lwandago: God knows there are people out there who do worse things. We all deserve second chances; so, why not?
Bernard Alirwa: By the way those reformed girls make better and settled wives, surprisingly! They have ventured and now they openly say, “I must do the right thing...” I say YES, because we at times even don’t know what the so-called “good ones” do behind our backs.
Fatimah Twaha: Anyone can change for the best....people turn from witch-doctors to religious leaders. And besides, it is better you marry a retired prostitute ready to reform than marrying the one you call a saint but can even sleep with her in-laws.