25-five-year-old Purity Wanjiru, a reformed commercial sex worker in Nairobi, Kenya recounts her time in the streets.
She says at one time, she was married and her then-husband, whom she describes as “irresponsible and uncaring” knew about her prostitution but did not discourage her from engaging in the frowned-upon activity.
Shockingly, she was — at the time — pregnant and still selling her body in the streets. Her husband was okay with it, she says.
Wanjiru, who was born and raised in Uthiru, Kiambu County, recounts plunging to the streets after she ran away from home due to her differences with her parents and elder siblings.
She describes her childhood as one filled with rebellion from her end, which made interaction with her parents and elder siblings difficult, and, at the same time, her education trouble-ridden.
She recounts being unable to stay in school for a whole day, saying she just felt a strong urge to go wander on the streets. While in primary school, she would leave lessons mid-way to go perambulate in the neighbourhood.
While in Class Five, her teachers suspended her from school, with clear instructions to her parents that Wanjiru would only be readmitted if she changed her carefree attitude for good.
“I come from a family of 12 siblings; I am the lastborn. I remember there was a day my elder siblings and mother ganged up to teach me a lesson. They beat me up thoroughly because I had shown disinterest in education,” Wanjiru told BBC Swahili on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
“That beating made me bottle up a lot of anger against my siblings and mother. I was 13 years old at the time. Being a rebellious person, I decided to run away from home,” she told BBC Swahili TV host Anne Ngugi.
That move marked the beginning of her life in the streets. She recounts being arrested for wandering aimlessly and allegedly engaging in prostitution. Wanjiru was, consequently, locked up in a juvenile cell for two months, she said.
After being released from lawful custody, Wanjiru vowed never to return to her parents’ home in Uthiru.
She says a middle-aged woman, whom she met on the streets, offered to take her in on condition that she helps her with house chores. Wanjiru accepted.
However, after staying with the woman for a couple of months, she decided to go back to the streets because her accommodator was “pushing all the donkey work to me.”
While in the streets — and in her late teens — she met a youthful man, who was “interested in making me his wife”. Wanjiru moved in with him.
She said she conceived not long after starting her relationship with the man she met on the streets. Few months into the union, she says, her husband began battering her at the slightest provocation.
“He was an alcohol and miraa addict. Most times, his money would be depleted at the beer and miraa chewing dens. So, he wasn’t leaving any finances at home,” said Wanjiru.
“He would verbally abuse me, saying from the word go, he was not interested in making me his wife, but just wanted to use me for sexual pleasure.”
Wanjiru says at the time, she was six months pregnant, and that “his words really hurt me emotionally and psychologically.”
She says her female neighbours and friends, who knew her predicaments, introduced her to prostitution as a way of raising money to feed herself and prepare for the birth of her child.
She stated that she was ready to sell her body to any man who wanted to have sex with a pregnant woman.
For the remaining three months of her pregnancy, she engaged in prostitution. After her pregnancy matured to term, she gave birth to a baby girl.
Wanjiru said a few months after giving birth, she had to return to the streets because “my husband never cared about my welfare and that of the child, at all.”
“He said he would only provide food when necessary, but my needs and those of the child, would be my sole responsibility,” she said.
“What was shocking, was that when I went to the streets at night, my husband would remain behind with my daughter looking after her,” she said, adding: “When I got home in the wee hours of the morning, he would ask me how work was, and how much money I had made.”
The vicenarian says despite the fact that she was making money, she was ashamed of the type of work that she was doing because she “felt dirty and worthless, given my value was measured on how much sex I could give.”
She said her turning point came one day when a client hired her for the night, and while they were driving to the client’s home in his car, he noticed a baby bump on Wanjiru’s abdomen. She was pregnant with her second child at the time.
“After caressing my abdomen, he asked if I was pregnant, and I told him ‘yes’. He, thereafter, asked me why I was prostituting yet I had a baby in the womb. Even before I could respond, he said: ‘You know I have stopped having sex with my wife because she is expectant, and every other time I ask to get intimate with her, she tells me that she is physically tired. That leaves me wondering, don’t you get tired having sex with men in this state?’”
She responded by telling him that she couldn’t afford to complain of exhaustion because monies gotten from selling her body were what she used to look after herself and her firstborn child.
Wanjiru recounts the man refusing to have sex with her, instead of giving her Ksh10, 000 and dropping her home.
“The man’s action made me think deeply about my life,” she said.
It was then that she decided to stop engaging in sex work. Not long thereafter, she ended her relationship with her partner, and decided to move out of his house.
However, as she tried to settle in, she went back to prostitution.
The mother-of-two says security challenges due to the nature of her work, made her contemplate ditching the trade for good.
“I also feared that one day, my daughters would get to know what I was doing for a living. I did not want to be that mother, whose children know that their parent is a prostitute. Again, prostitution breaks many people’s families. I did not want to be responsible for many broken homes. I had to quit the trade,” she said.
However, for Wanjiru, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was in August 2016, when she, alongside her colleagues, were arrested, and the following morning, when she was leaving the police cells, she got really ashamed of how skimpily she was dressed.
“Even walking on the streets during the day with the type of clothes I was in, was really embarrassing,” she said.
Wanjiru recounts going straight to a church, where she sought God’s forgiveness and vowed not to return to prostitution.
She said women at the church offered to help her financially and with basic items as she strived to withdraw fully from her former practice.
After a while, Wanjiru got a job with the County Government of Nairobi as a garbage collector.
“In a day, I make between Ksh300 and Ksh400, which is just enough for me and my children. I would rather eat a low-budget meal bought with that money than enjoy expensive foods acquired through proceeds of prostitution,” she said.