A night in the life of a sex worker

05 Aug 2018

On the street sprawling below the brightly lit windows of Gaborone West Town Houses, the tall street lamps cartoon the horde of female night prowlers into stocky dark shadows. Scantily dressed in the freezing winter night, these young women are like scavengers looking for their next prey. When a car stops they all scramble towards it and break into a cacophony of rehearsed sales pitches:  “O batla bokae”, “nka go tsaa all night daddy” while they wait for the customer to make their choice.

For Laone (not her real name), this is just another day at the office. As a drug addict who sells sex for a living, the patch between street lamps along the busy Gaborone West Street used to be a happy hunting ground until competition forced her out to a bar nearby. Like a nocturnal predator, her day starts when the sun goes down and ends at the break of dawn.

20.00pm: At her home in Broadhurst, Laone preps for the night out. Music is blasting through the windows of the two roomed house which is choking under a miasma of stale beer stench, a whiff of marijuana and the odour of last night’s sex. She offers me a seat while she gets ready. Time has not been very kind to her. Here frail body is being hacked by a violent cough that reoccurs every 2 minutes. And not just coughing, but whooping: doubled over, body clenched, sucking violently for air, her face reddening and  eyes watering - perhaps because there has been a bout of flu going around or maybe it could be something more troubling. “Business has been bad these past weekends...” she shouts out from the bedroom door. She says because she has been out of town to attend to family issues she has lost out on a good amount of money.” I have three kids, the fourth one died shortly after she was born; I haven’t been around because I went to see them in my village where they live with my older sister. They look to me to provide for them. The father of my kids is a drug addict. He is always out chasing his next high, barely has time for me or his children. It is winter time I need to make money to ensure that they have warm clothes”.

She finally steps out of the bedroom room. Her makeup is done rather beautifully with a touch of a little lipstick, her hair –the Chinese knock-off of Brazilian hair weave, brushed down to her shoulders. She is dressed in a short black mini skirt, pumps and a pink pullover sweater, nothing over the top but nothing basic either. She’s light skinned – a guaranteed hit with the men. We hop into a cab and head out to her place of work – a local bar in the city.

On the car ride, she brings out a small bag of marijuana and rolls an immaculate blunt. The third blunt she has rolled tonight. I curiously ask if her customers don’t smell the weed in her breath, “I smoke weed to calm the nerves down, usually something harder does the trick. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m a crack addict. Drugs offer me an escape, for the time my high lasts I’m a totally different person with lesser problems. I’m aIl out of my supply so I’ll settle for weed tonight. Normally I don’t get drunk on the job, just one drink is enough while I wait for a customer, besides I take a breath mint so my breath smells fresh just in case I might decide to kiss him, I don’t like kissing though.”

Laone says that most customers don’t even want to kiss, they just want to get down to the job and leave, she says sometimes it makes her feel dirty but quickly lets go of those feelings and gets her head back in the game. She says she treats her job like a one night stand minus the affection (kisses and cuddles) “They come to me for a good time not a long time, I don’t want them texting me after, once we are done we are done.”

20: 30p.m: We arrive at her place of work. It is still early and the bar isn’t quite filled up yet. Laone does her job the unconventional way- she doesn’t stand beside the road or in a dark corner and offer her services. “I started out selling along the road in G-West, and for a short while I used to make money because the people who bought me where regulars at Club Dirty, but then suddenly it was too many of us, Zimbabweans included and for some reason they made more money than us so I had to switch places. I then went on to sell by Gaborone Sun now known as Avani, the money wasn’t so bad but the men who bought would ask for certain girls, some nights I wouldn’t make money at all.” She picks up men at the bar.

She says often times she dresses to be the hottest girl in the bar, in that way when men hover all over her it makes her job easy. She says she hops from one bar to the next but that is on days where she wants to make a lot of money in one night.

21:05 p.m: Just passed nine p.m. the bar is slowly filling as people are trickling in. She assures me with a sly smile and drowsy-loopy look in her eyes probably from the entire weed she has smoked before that she plans to make a decent amount of money because already she has spotted a customer. A quick chat and they head out of the bar and into her clients car parked outside. In just 20minutes she is back on her bar stool, P100.00 better off.

A hint of perfume and cigarette scent precedes the tapping noise her shoes make as she heads into the bar to get a drink and scout out her next customer. Clearly a hit, she has guys turning their heads.

21:30p.m: Exuding an aura of charm, Laone sips on a 440ml can of Castle Lite at the bar counter while surveying the dimly lit room, a woman who knows exactly what she wants; she winks at a guy sitting at the far end of the counter – a come-hither signal. And before long as luck would have it, the guy approaches. A few greeting pleasantries and it is immediately down to business.  From our earlier conversations, Laone pointed out that the chit chats are usually brief. “When a guy comes over, we go straight to the point, some ask if I’m selling which I answer yes, some don’t and just think I just want a night of fun, when they realise I sell sex they walk away in disgust. When a customer agrees to take me home, we then discuss my charge. I charge P100.00 per round, if I decide to negotiate with the customer then I’ll go down to a P70.00 and that is usually on a bad day. Sometimes a guy doesn’t take me home, we do it in the car, that is still P100.00 but if we are going to pull an all-nighter I charge P400.00.”

It seems Laone and her acquaintance have reached an agreement and before long I get a text that reads out “will be back shortly, car sex” from her. They hurriedly make their way to his car. Coincidentally the customer’s car is parked on the premises in a dark place which means there won’t be any need to go anywhere.

22:15p.m: Straight from her second customer for the night, Laone has made P200.00 from two rounds of sex in the car, she pops in the bar and heads straight to the restroom – perhaps to touch up her make-up and a little spritz of perfume in a bid to look and smell good for her next catch. It is almost closing time in the bar and people are jostling to get their last drink orders in before the bar closes.

“Closing time is usually the best time to find someone to take me home with. My best bet is to find one who is drunk out of his mind, in that way after the first round he’s out like a light. I am however forced to sleep over at his place in case he wakes up in the wee hours and wants to go for another round. First thing in the morning before the sun is out I clean up and head out. I always demand payment before we get down to business”

The bar is closed and everyone is still taking the night in by hanging outside, “parking lot pimping”. Laone is having conversations with other ladies who she says are friends in the business – they were also looking to make money. One guy in particular rough handled Laone – perhaps because he knows that she is a sex worker and he wanted to get her for the night or maybe because he wanted to rob her. She says she faces danger every day in this business. The men can get very violent and even rob them. She recalls her first bad experience in the business. “I picked a guy up at the bar, he bought drinks and we checked into a lodge, I was relatively new in the business and learnt the hard way that some of these men who want our services just want to exploit us. We spent the night together, I was woken up by him literally kicking me out of the room, and he beat me black and blue to the point where at the time walking seemed like the hardest thing in life. He swore at me and was really just disgusted. He never paid me. I couldn’t really go and report him to the Police because sex work in Botswana is illegal. I was out of a job for a whole month, it was really bad.”

22:40p.m: The bar is closed; the cars outside the premises are slowly driving out one by one. Business doesn’t seem to be going that well for Laone’s friends who are still hovering around in a bid to atleast make P100.00. Laone on the other hand isn’t doing too bad, leaned against the car and having a conversation with a potential catch she is looking to find a customer to pull and all nighter with. In just 15minutes they leave. I am signalled by a text that reads “found customer, all night, ke sure ka P400.00” in just one night Laone has made P700.00.