By REBECCA KUKU
I was walking into a shop to buy my son’s school stationeries when I bumped into a woman I had met a couple of years back when I was writing about prostitution in the city for the local newspaper I was working for.
We greeted each other and she said that she was trying to get stationeries for her siblings too.
We met again as we both were leaving the shop and I couldn’t help but notice how people were whispering and laughing as she walked past, some snickering while others made nasty comments.
She was a prostitute, everyone in her community knew, but despite the rude remarks and the whispers she walked with her head held high. Her little brother flanked her, ready to do battle, but she said let it go, they’ll never understand why I do what I do.
Upon hearing that I was curious. I know curiosity killed the cat but I asked her anyway why she chose prostitution as a career. The worse that could have happened was she’d tell me to mind my own business or scream at me to bugger off but she smiled and commented on how reporters were so full of curiosity.
She invited me to have lunch with her so she could tell me why she became a prostitute. I knew it was sort of a challenge, to see if I would take the offer or drop it out of shame to be seen with her.
But I did take up the offer, and I cried through the whole lunch date I had with her.
This is her story, the prostitute’s story but we’ll change her name as she does not want to hurt her siblings. Will call her Elaina.
She was young, beautiful, had manners and was kind and generous. In fact if you met her for the first time you wouldn’t even know she sold her body for money.
She was only 15 when her parents were in a car accident. Her father died and her mother survived but both her legs were paralysed, her younger brother is studying law at university and her little sister is doing Grade 11 at a secondary school in Port Moresby.
“When my father died I was doing Grade 8. I was accepted into a secondary school but we couldn’t afford the K600 project fee that was charged, so I stayed home and helped Mama sell food on the road sides so that we could provide for my younger siblings,” Eleaina said.
“My little brother was doing Grade 7 then and my little sister was doing Grade 4, the primary school didn’t charge any project fees for my sister but my brother was charged K150.
“My mother would cook food and I would sell the food on the roadsides and together we raised money and paid my little brother’s project fee, bought their uniforms and other things they needed,” she said.
“Things were going very well for us, however, towards the end of 2013 mother started feeling sick. We were living with my father’s sister at that time, though they never gave us food or anything. We slept under their roof.
“My aunt started fearing that my mother’s sickness could be contagious and told us to leave her house.
“We had nowhere to go; my mother’s siblings were long dead and the only brother she had was lost in Lae, Morobe. We had no way of contacting him.
“So we built a shelter made up of cardboards and a canvas bag in my aunt’s back yard. I continued cooking and selling food on the side of the road, to make ends meet.
“My little brother was the dux of the Grade 7 classes that year and my little sister came second in her class. My mother insisted that she wanted to see her kids get their prizes, so we went to their school to witness them getting awarded.
“Walking back home that afternoon after the speech day, mama just passed out, there is a pastor living in our neighborhood, who was kind to us.”
So we ran to him and he helped us take mum to the Port Moresby General Hospital emergency department.
“Luckily the holidays had begun, so I took care of mum at the hospital while my younger siblings took over selling food on the road sides.
“It was after two months, in February, when they finally discharged us from the hospital.
“We continued cooking and selling food as my younger siblings returned to school.
That year, her little brother received the Grade 8 dux award but by then their mother’s health was rapidly deteriorating. Things started going from bad to worse.
The aunt told them to leave her yard because their makeshift home was becoming an eyesore to her neighbours.
“We had nowhere to go, mum was really sick, but she (aunt) brought in the police and we had no choice but to leave.
“My little brother and I took turns to carry our mother on our backs as we just walked from one place to another not knowing where we were going. We finally ended up at a settlement and asked for a place to rent, the only one that was affordable was a tiny room that cost K50 per fortnight.
“The room was so tiny, you couldn’t stand up in it, but it was okay as long as our mother could sleep in it, we would make do with it.
“The four of us could not fit into the room, so my little brother and I slept outside.
“I started cooking and my little brother and sister would go out and sell the food on the roadsides.
“School holidays soon ended and my brother was accepted to do Grade nine, however, the project fee was K800.
“He said he would leave school but I couldn’t let him, he was so bright. I sent my sister back to school with her old uniforms and spoke with my brother’s school principal to give us a little time to look for the money.
“He allowed my little brother to register and attend classes and I started working hard to get the K800 that my brother needed to continue his education.
“I cooked food in the morning and sold them all afternoon, I cooked food in the evening and sold them all night, I took in laundry from other people and washed clothes in the late nights for a fee of K20.
“And every time I made profit, I would buy our food and give the rest to my little brother to hide away for his project fees.
“By then my mother was so sick but she begged us, and argued with us and told us not to take her to the hospital because we needed the money to pay for the project fees. So we kept her at home.
“After about two months, we finally reached the K800, but that night mum’s condition was worse. We knew we had to take her to the hospital or she would die in that small box we had made home.
“So we took her to the hospital. She was admitted, she had maggots in both her legs and needed to be in a clean place.
“That night, I broke down and cried. The next morning, I told my little sister to not go to school but stay with mum at home.
“I went looking for a job, a job that could pay enough money I needed to keep my mother alive.
“I went to Chinese shops, Indian shops, service station and cafes but the salary I knew would not be enough.”
“My mother would need someone to care for her constantly, to have her beddings changed hourly, and to live in a clean house or the maggots would devour her.”
That Friday night, we all went to the hospital and mum said it was okay, we must let her die, we must accept it because we didn’t have the money to help her get better.
“But how do you let someone you love just die like that? How do you just let the maggots infest her whole body? She was in pain, that night while she slept I walked out of the hospital and sold my virginity on the street to the highest bidder.
“The next morning, we moved into a two bedroom self-contained house in the suburbs.
“It was 2014, I was only 17 years old. I needed the money to keep my only parent alive, I needed the money to keep my siblings in school, to provide a roof for my family and put food on the table.
“I had no family, no clansman, no tribesman to get help from. No, I am not ashamed of what I do, because to me, it is just a job, something I do to ensure that my family is well.
“My clients are all expatriates, I get STD tests done every two months. It is one of the requirements of providing service for these expatriates but the money is good.
“My little brother knows, he just pretends to act like he doesn’t know, but my little sister thinks I’m an executive at a company or something,” she laughs.
“And my mum, she blames herself. But love is a complicated thing, people do all sorts of crazy things for love. I just sold myself to keep the love of my life, the woman who gave life to me alive.
“And that same love for my siblings gives me the strength to carry on.”
By REBECCA KUKU