The narrative of a sex worker’s cycle can be told through the eyes of *Nomalanga (38), although age and disease have caught up, it’s still game on for her.
She can’t compete with those at their prime mostly between the age groups 17-30 but still has clientele.
The routine is patronising a comfortable corner at a hotel pub, target market is business executives, politicians and businessmen — basically those that can part with good money for an “old woman’s charm”.
“Young girls don’t know how to make a man feel special. They make it obvious they want his money. I become the ‘wife away from home’ and that means trust and a regular client is guaranteed,” she said with a grin of institutional knowledge.
According to information from the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe (NAC), 69 percent of prostitutes in Nomalanga’s age group 30-39 are HIV positive — closely followed by the 25-29 age group with a 55 percent prevalence.
The young ones, the most active that is, ages 18-24 have a 36 percent prevalence.
Nomalanga admits she is lucky to be alive. Having gone through the junior ranks to where she is, if she had to be a prostitute all over again, there are things she would do differently.
“The problem is that when young you think you’re in it for fast money. You might make a lot of money this week and be without a cent next week and that week you won’t make anything close to the previous week,” she said.
The money myth will force a prostitute to sleep with more people in a short space of time and that translates to more exposure to disease and other vices.
A research by NAC reveals most sex workers become drug and alcohol abusers to ease pressure that comes with the oldest profession.
“In this kind of work, beer helps us not to feel shy; you will not be embarrassed anymore. Even if you want to dance or do anything, you will be bold enough to do even those things which you may not be able to do when you are not drunk,” said one prostitute.
It took a rude awakening for Nomalanga to bounce back from her death bed in 2010. She tested positive in 2007.
“I lost all hope to live because I was a dead person walking. At first I took my medicines but along the way I started defaulting because I was not keeping track of time and I wasn’t organised. There are times when I would sleep at a client’s place and the tablets would be at home,” she said.
Dr Cleophas Chimbetete from Zimbabwe Aids Care Foundation said when a patient relapses, like Nomalanga did, the HIV strand in her blood becomes drug resistant.
Therefore, the resistant variant HIV grows and comes to predominate while the variant that is being dealt with by the drug remains minimal and diluted and that leads to a patient’s deterioration because the drug resistant virus multiplies.
In such a case a new combination of drugs is administered to the patient provided it’s not too late.
“I was saved and since then I take my medicines religiously without compromise and safe sex is key. I have to at least see off my daughter to university,” she added.
Sex work is illegal in Zimbabwe but because it’s thriving as a tax free venture —it’s popular and so, sex workers are a high risk population.
*Nomalanga is her first name