Some of the men in my neighbourhood are jealous because I own my house

Some of the men in my neighbourhood are jealous because I own my house

My parents started fighting when he met another woman. I was about 13 years old. My father would beat my mother but end up beating all of us because we would try to defend her. We could see this wasn’t a good relationship. The one day, I remember, my older sister, who was sick with Malaria at the time, had a fight with our stepsister. When my father heard about the fight he started beating my sister, even though she was so sick. I still think about that to this day, that he could beat a sick girl. My mother eventually got us together the one day and secretly planned with us to leave my father. We packed up everything the one morning when he was at work and left on a bus for Maputo. We lived in a tiny house all 7 of us. It was very hard. My mother sold vegetables to make money for us but it wasn’t enough.

My friends have been affected by HIV
My sister had this very good friend and the two of them would go out at night and when they came home, they would come home with money! I asked them where they got it from but they would never tell me. They were selling sex but I only found out what was actually going on from another mutual friend – the same friend who took me to the same place they were doing this when I was 20 years old. When my sister found out that I had also started selling sex she was so mad! This friend gave me all the instructions for how to be a sex worker: ‘When a man approaches you, this is what you say, this is when you speak about money’, that kind of thing. There were no condoms then so the sex was all unprotected. I’m so lucky I’m still HIV negative and I don’t know how I didn’t get pregnant… A lot of my friends have been affected by HIV. Some are very sick. Some are dead, like that very good friend of my sister’s.


We used the money to look after our siblings
The money was good and we used it to look after our siblings, help our mom and try build a better house. I still remember my first client. He took me to his house, we had sex, and then I went back to 
the street. I thought this was fine. My second client paid me after the sex, took back the money and beat me. I was scared but I didn’t give up – I figured ‘not everyone is the same’.


I have this one client who puts a cloth down on his car seat before I get in so I don’t ‘mess’ on his seat. He sleeps with me but is worried about me messing up his seat?


Just for walking I have been arrested
At the beginning, people would wait for the time in the evening that they knew we would leave for town to go work. They threw stones at us, sang songs at us. I was so scared, I couldn’t even go to the market. I was scared of how people would look at me. We started smoking weed to try make it easier. Even before we worked, we smoked it to make the work easier. We built our own a kind of mental ‘zone’. There’s been a lot of discrimination: I have this one client who puts a cloth down on his car seat before I get in so I don’t ‘mess’ on his seat. He sleeps with me but is worried about me messing up his seat?!  e’ve suffered a lot at the hands of the police, too. Just for walking, I have been arrested and beaten unconscious. Another time, I was put in jail for a week. My friend was put in jail for a month!


Comfortable with who I am
The Hands Off programme allowed us to share these kinds of experiences out in the open, and it felt good to be with all the women, together. They made us aware of things, but mostly just comfortable with who we are. Everyone likes sex and I’m no exception. I prefer sex with one person, but if sex work comes my way then I will take it. Honestly, I don’t like the sex but the income is good. Compared to other people I know, I am more comfortable. Some of the men in my neighbourhood are even jealous of me because I own my house and they are still renting!


Sex work is a normal job
Sex work started a long time ago and people must remember that. It’s a normal job just like any other job, done by normal human beings who have rights. It’s not possible in our country but if I could, I would make a safe space for sex workers to work in. A place where it was not criminalised. A kind of club where members would have access cards, even. I would make it so comfortable for all of us. This is my wish.
 

Atalia, Maputo

Atailia

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