Saturday, June 23, 2012

Commercial Sex Work in Malawi: Playing Neighbour to a Commercial Sex Worker

It has been enlightening, playing neighbour to a Commercial Sex Worker (CSW).
The adventurous CSW joined us on the compound (made up of six conjoined houses) six months ago. Before that, tenants could come and, within six months, live the place- ostensibly to look for a 'better' accommodation place in town.
Then, six months ago, came this CSW from Mulanje in Southern Malawi.
Not that she came all the way from the land of Mulanje Mountain and its world-acclaimed cedars; she has relatives in the township that has become my abode.
Sometimes, when the blood-is-thicker-than-water is on them, they pay their 'nocturnal' relative a visit.

The origins of her three children  
The CSW in question has sired three children, two boys and one girl.
"Look, I used to be faithful at some point in time. I had a husband. 
"However, being my cousin as well, we could spend more time quarreling than making peace or attending to family issues.
"In fact, we could part ways and reunite, part ways and reunite. Until I could not take it any more. But all my three children are his. It is true; these children are his own blood. I did not sleep with any other man apart from him," the CSW once told our landlady.
Like the rest of us, the landlady was curious, and wanted to know our CSW's story.

Taking care of three children
The CSW has her own way of raising the kids.
Of course, the two daughters are 'beyond' kids: One is 15-years-old and the other 12-years-old.
But the boy is only four-years-old. Meaning that it has not been a long time of separation between the CSW and her cousin-husband.
In the morning, she often complains to the landlady: "Boy-children are three people in one. I think that is why my son is tougher than the girls ever were. He refuses to wake up when told to do so in the morning. When she does, she goes to the bathroom to wash himself while crying all the way...he also demands K200 daily as his primary school package. He also takes a long time in the bath...
You would think this is a catalog of complaints against a toddler of age-four.
She sees nothing like that; the CSW.
"A boy-child is capital. A boy-child is both a son, father, husband, and everything. That's why he is tough, perhaps," she soon peddles into the green ground of praise for her 'troublesome' son.
That is the beauty of motherhood, so it seems.
But the way she takes care of the boy is different from the way she looks after the girls.
In fact, one of the girls (the youngest) often complains that the mother overloads her with work, and that the older one almost relaxes and she touches very few things by way of house chores.
That raises a question; Are the mother's claims that the three children are products of one father true?
Why treat them differently.

The CSW's daily (is it nightly?) routine
Here is how the day of my CSW friend goes on a typical day.
We will start with night time.
By 6 p.m., she tells one of her daughters to boil some water for her.
Then, after 30 minutes, she heads for the bathroom- to wash the day's sins away.
Then, after some 45 minutes (it is always 45 minutes, and never less), she comes back, carrying her yellow bathing towel over her shoulder. 
It takes her another 45 minutes to get ready for the long night. Forget about lunch; she eats her night portion of Nsima (she loves Nsima and beans) by 5 o'clock daily. And, against doctors' advice, she goes to bathe instead of bathing first, and eating thereafter.
Often, at least during the six months she has been there, she goes to work earlier. Her departure time does not exceed 10:00 a.m.
The, she is gone.
The place that has become her business place is just 200 metres away, a trading centre known for its wide range of women and variety of sizzling drinks.
The most surprising thing is that she does not stay at her business 'place' for more than four hours. She always heads for home before 3 o'clock a.m.
I don't know whether she always gets customers. The clearest thing is that she is a woman of routine.

 Abstinence for a CSW's children
In deed, my interest in the CSW was rekindled by this sub-topic. 
With two sexually active daughters, how does the CSW live an exemplary life, and be the right role model for her kids?
That is the question.
"Eish, do you know what is happening between my elder daughter and your son?" she asked the landlady two months' ago. "It seems like the two are going out. I think we will soon be in-laws. In fact, someone will get pregnant soon."
That is how she tries to make the issue of sex sound to both neighbours and her kids.
But, in fact, she tries to be tough.
"I will beat you if I find you with men. I don't want such behaviour in my house," the CSW told the oldest daughter three weeks ago.
The daughter did not respond. Perhaps she was disappointed that her mum could speak that way.
That could be the reason she (the daughter) still went ahead to get hooked!
Two weeks ago, after her mum had gone to work, the daughter went 'out' as well. She got hooked.

Unfortunate daughter
However, the daughter was unlucky.
Three boy-cousins of hers (from the CSW's relatives in the township) saw her. They went straight towards her,  grabbed her, and took her home. Our compound, that is.
They, then, raised the volume of their Panasonic radio.
This (raising of volume) surprised our landlady. It was 07:20 p.m. and someone was raising the volume of a radio.
This doesn't happen at our compound. It is a place of relative peace.
Meanwhile, the boy-cousins started beating the girl up, and the girl was just groaning in pain. The volume was up, and very few could notice what was going on.
The landlady mobilised her drunkard son, headed for the 'troubled' home, and just opened the door without any notice or excuse, or courtesy.
That is typical of Malawi. The neighbour's problem is your own. Privacy does not exist.
When they banged the door open, and found the three boys clobbering the CSW's daughter, the landlady's drunkard-son pounded on one of the boys. The others joined the 'victim' boy, and started beating the landlady's drunkard-boy.
The fight spilled to the outside and, soon, people gathered.
What was surprising is that the girl who was being beaten joined the cousins who were beating her. She, in fact, spoke inspeakables to the landlady and her son, asking them why they 'trespassed' into a private affair.
It was such a great fight.
I was in the house, sleeping, when all this was happening. But my younger brother managed to go out, and attempted to separate the warring factions.
The landlady, engrossed in the fight, did not notice him being there, and trying to make peace.
After 20 minutes, the landlady's youngest son joined the battle, and chocked his elder brother.
This is because the elder brother, angry that the three cousins to the girl had beaten him up, was demanding: "This is my mother's compound. You should move out. I have money; I will pay back your rental fees. I will break into your house and throw all your property out!"
People tried to calm him down but he could not listen.
That is when his own younger brother choked him, and he fell unconscious. That is how the fight ended.

Eviction order 
Nine minutes after the fight, the landlady knocked at our door. When it was opened, she came in and said: "You people are dangerous. Why didn't you come out when the fight was hot ? I will write you eviction notices. You should move out. You are not helpful."
My brother tried to inform him that he was there, and helped calm the situation.
The landlady went out. After 20 minutes, she came back.
We thought she was there to give us the eviction notice.
"I have come to apologise. I am very sorry. I have been told that you helped out," she said.
Well, I told her that, I for one, could not be in the business of running into the flame of battles whenever her son and herself started trouble. I told her that, if they wanted me to be their 'fire-extinguisher, then, I saw no problems moving out.
That's how a fight between a CSW's daughter and a landlady's son nearly got me evicted from my home.

Noise in the morning
However, the most boring thing about the CSW is that she wakes up around 5 a.m. daily, switches the radio or DVD player on, and plays the music full-blast.
Full-blast in the early morning. Just like that.
This infuriates me.
Today, there was a black-out around 06:30 a.m.. As her music played loud for the heavens to hear, the blackout came.
She mobilised other tenants, came to my door and knocked, and asked me to join her and go to the landlady to register our complaint against the blackout.
I refused.
"In fact, I am happy that there is a blackout. You make so much noise as if you are the only one who stays here," I said.
She did not respond. She just looked at me.
I am happy that I used the blackout to 'wash' her out! I think the message has been heard.

Surprise, surprise
The most surprising aspect about the CSW is that she makes sure that her family has everything it needs. When she has no money, she hopes that she will still find customers at night, and get money.
She, therefore, gets money on loan.
Yesterday she said, telling the landlady: "I want someone to give me K6,000. I will pay back in two days' time. Even President Joyce Banda and other African Presidents get loans."
I don't know where she got that, or who told her that.
But she believes it.
The other surprising thing about her is that she loves Gospel music. In fact, she makes noise playing Gospel music. She plays the music full-blast.
The last surprising thing is that, apart from me staying on the left side of her house, her right-side neighbour is a police officer. That is, a female police officer.
Unwittingly, the CSW is buying her freedom out of the dreaded police cells.
It is as if, everyday, she washes the dirty work of the night with Gospel music.
It is enlightening. Playing neighbour to a Commercial Sex Worker!

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