1 February 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Double Life, Double Price for a Goma Prostitute

It is 6 p.m., time for Mira to get ready. Choosing what to wear is sometimes difficult for the 23-year-old prostitute. Each night she works Goma's streets, trying to make enough money to take care of herself and her orphan brothers.

Tonight Mira, which is not her real name, has settled for tight clothes, sure to reveal her curves. She puts down her makeup kit and mirror and slips on a wig, disguising her real identity. Well perfumed and radiant looking, she starts her shift.

"That is my routine every evening," she smiles. Mira begins by going around to nearby nightclubs. Afterwards, she heads to the centre of this city in eastern DR Congo, hoping to seduce more clients.

"I am a student and am [otherwise] unemployed. I am also an orphan and must look after my siblings," she explains. Her night job lets her put food on the table and pay for the education of her two younger brothers.

"She is really our heroine," says one of them, who attends a local high school.

Chele

Prostitution is regarded as a disgraceful profession in African societies. In Goma, a sex worker is also called a 'chele', a derogatory term. It's no wonder prostitutes often work in secrecy here, wanting to preserve a decent image vis-à-vis their family.

But that discreteness often exposes them to the many dangers of nightlife. "Besides the bad clients who refuse to pay, I am also harassed by streets children and, occasionally, soldiers," she says.

Mira feels unable to press charges for such abuses because doing so would reveal her disgraceful night job.

Dangerous marketing

As much as she hates selling herself - and the degradation associated with it - prostitution pays. Mira hopes her work now will take her off the streets one day.

"I am convinced that after completing my university studies, I will have an office and a home, with a good husband," she says.

But until then, Mira keeps working "like a soldier on the battlefront", as she puts it. She does everything to maximize her income. She sees five to six clients during the day. "I make around 750 US dollars a month," she says after a quick calculation.

And when she needs to pay school fees or medical bills, the young woman introduces a very lucrative but also extremely dangerous marketing strategy: "No condom, double price."

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