Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

7 January 2013

Rwanda: Sodoma, a Place True to Its Name

It's a part of the city that comes alive at night. Very quiet during the day, after dusk it looks like a market. Throngs of people everywhere, many of the women scantily dressed. As the night wears on, more and more people get drunk - some bursting into song, others deep asleep at a bar with a small half-empty bottle of strong liquor still in their hand. What goes on behind closed doors here is not for the innocent.

Located in Gikondo, this seedy underbelly of the capital is nicknamed Sodoma, the Kinyarwanda spelling of Sodom, which, together with Gomorrah, was the biblical hotbed of vice and debauchery, resulting in God descending his wrath upon them. The Gikondo neighborhood has not stolen its moniker. "There are so many prostitutes in this place; just go to one of the bars, you'll find scores of them selling sex on the cheap," a female resident of Sodoma tells us, adding quickly that she herself is not one of them.

According to her, you can have a Sodoma prostitute for 2000 francs maximum, and if you negotiate well you can even get as low as Frw 500. She adds that the area is also home to more expensive girls of pleasure, who ply their trade in the city's posh hotels.

Yet the thirty-something woman, who has lived in Sodoma for most of her life, says that Sodoma is improving. "Ten or fifteen years ago it was much worse; people would have sex on their verandas, without caring who could see them," she points out. "Today, due to the local authorities and increased security measures, our sex workers are much more discreet."

Alice, 32 years old but looking much younger, is one of them; she has been a prostitute at Sodoma since the age of 18, and is ready to reveal some secrets of her trade. "I have a whisky bottle in my handbag, which is what I drink to please my clients," she says with a slur while showing us the beverage.

She also confesses that she consults witch-doctors to get items that help her bewitch clients, yet without however whether it works. When it comes to protecting herself against sexually transmitted diseases, though, she resorts to more trusted methods. "I always have condoms; I cannot risk to have unprotected sex."

Breast-fed on Kanyanga

It seems Sodoma has always been like this. Mayoga, a 75-year-old man from a nearby neighborhood recalls that it was already a famous township back in 60s, because it was where truck drivers from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda came to spend the night. "Locals used to throng to Sodoma to sell whatever the drivers needed before they hit the road again to Magerwa."

That of course included women. "Sodoma girls wanted some gifts from them, like Ugandan or Kenyan jewelry which was not a common thing then in Kigali. The drivers asked for sex in return," Mayoga explains. "But with their jewelry, these girls were seen as lucky and 'modern,' and soon other women flocked to the area."

It's not only cheap sex that is rampant in Sodoma; cheap booze - especially illegal one like Kanyanga - is also abundant. "The truck drivers were bringing in some strong alcoholic drinks from their respective countries, and shared them with the local youngsters," Mayoga says.

Yet that, too, is changing. "These days the police are everywhere. They often come here to check if there are no illegal drinks served in the bars," says a 27-year-old resident. He does not like it one bit. "I was born here and I grew up drinking Kanyanga. It is like I was breast-fed on the stuff. Sometimes when I fail to get it, I eventually get sick. Kanyanga is the only cure."

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