Call them prostitutes or sex workers, it all boils down to a group of men (yes men) and women who are pushed by their circumstances to barter their bodies for money or whatever the immediate need may be. Prostitution has been condemned over the years with words of disgust, laziness and all evils, but only those in the heels and ‘Ndeitunga’ skirts standing next to traffic lights (or now pay visits to hotel rooms) can tell the real story.
On a chilly Tuesday morning, The Lounge caught up with ex sex worker *Nadine Meyer, a retired sex worker who narrates her story after after seeking rehabilitation for a better life.
Born and bred in Windhoek, Nadine was introduced to the trade at the age of 15, at a time when she was still in school, grade 9 to be exact. She grew up in the care of her grandmother along with her other two siblings. She says it all started when her grandmother died in 1999.
“I had a baby then and there was nobody to support myself and the baby. A friend of mine introduced me to sex work, it helped me to feed my child,” said Nadine while telling this reporter how she dropped the classroom for the streets.
Talking us through her days on the streets, Nadine says; “We used to go to the Nampower Bridge, in town and clubs. Clubs then allowed us to enter but it was also difficult because the City Police would arrest and beat us. But we did not stop. Sometimes they would arrest us and also go sleep with us. The clients would do the same. It was not easy because at times clients would sleep with you and not pay you a thing. They would drop you off butt naked on the streets.”
“I used to leave my baby in the care of my siblings at night and I would come back the following morning or at night. Of course they did not know where I was going,” she remembers vividly.
Asked where many of these women get the courage to sell their bodies and sleep with different clients, Nadine said it does not come with an easy conscience. “Being on the streets is not something fun. That is why many sex workers do the job under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You cannot be sober.”
Forget about the success of HIV campaigns within the sex worker society because the need for the money has no boundaries. “You will get a client and you maybe negotiate for N$400 and he says he will give you N$600 without a condom. Chances are you will opt for more money and that is how many of the sex workers get infected.” At this stage 80% of sex workers are infected with HIV.
During the high peak season (from 15th to end of the month), Nadine says she would score 4 to 5 clients and 7 to 8 at the end of the month. The number of clients however does not determine more money as some clients ditch the agreement.
Nadine dismisses the general perception that prostitutes are lazy people saying these are hardworking people who have talents too and just want the means to live.
“Sex workers are not lazy. We come from different families. I did not grow up with my parents. My sex work thing was not because I was introduced to sex work, but because I wanted to put bread on the table for my baby. There are those who do it for drugs and just fun, but there are those who do it to really help their families.”
Indeed, no hard times are permanent. With the will to change, Nadine and a few ladies approached the Council of Churches in Namibia for help. They were then linked to the faith-based organization King’s Daughters where they went through rehabilitation which made it easier for them to drop the street life.
The organization provides rehabilitation services to former sex workers and has shaped Nadine and other sex workers into responsible women. Under the stewardship of Founder Esme Kisting, Nadine and other colleagues now go back to the streets to speak to the sex workers hoping for a transformation. According to Kisting, Windhoek alone has about 4000 to 5000 sex workers, men included . This year alone, King’s Daughters has lost four women to Aids.
The King’s Daughters has conventional pillars to help sex workers to leave the streets and Nadine is a living testimony. Today she works for the organization and her aim is only to convince those still plying the oldest trade to follow in her footsteps.
Nadine’s first born is in Grade 10 and “he promised to finish school on my behalf”, says Nadine. She earns a salary through her work at King’s Daughters and can afford to support her family. “He has grown to be confident despite my past because he knows I was doing it for him,” she says.
“The adjustment was difficult in the beginning but I coped. There are times when people ask me if I was a sex worker. Some do not even believe. But I wanted to change and I don’t mind educating those on the streets to follow. It’s not easy on the streets. You have people selling their bodies for half a loaf of bread, a can of fish or cigarette. So we really need to educate the ladies before it’s too late.”
Now motivated by her son, Nadine is hopeful that there is a bright future awaiting her and she remains confident that she can convince more sex workers to seek help.