In Addis’ red-light strip
There is a jostle of sex workers blocking my way and I’m too shy to approach him anyway.
Locals say sex work is a big shame in the family, but women are often driven to it by economic desperation.
About a week later, a Saturday night, Dangote takes me to the streets to learn, Mad Mike in tow.
Mike is a burly, scarred gang broker who fled from justice in his home town and started hustling in the bustling downmarket Merkato area for his daily injera. So frequently did he mess up the gangsters who got in his way that they recruited him as their main man.
Gangs in Addis, some of them arranged according to tribal lines, are mainly about survival – as is sex work.
Jerusalem is 30 and has been walking Chechnya’s streets for three years. She has two young children.
She greets me with a kiss on the cheek, her soft, slightly plump body and breasts pressing against me.
“I am an orphan,” she says when we chat. She’s jumpy. “I smoked coke,” she says, then backtracks: “Long time ago, not any more.”
Mannishly, she flicks the end of the Nyala cigarette into the street. “Do you like my hair? Sexy like Rihanna’s,” she smiles.
Before I can ask if she’s happy, Jerusalem has vanished.
It’s already 4am when we get to The Dome Nightclub, an upper-class venue where a mixture of money, booze, fun music and the beautiful women for sale titillate me.
Two not entirely unpleasant guys approach me, but I cling to Dangote.
“You know, here they charge 5 000 birr [R3 700]. You’d have made more than that,” he says, “because you’re white.” I wasn’t even dressed up. The night spits us out in Bakal, just off the Piazza area, a bar with beds to rent by the hour, where freelance sex workers ply their trade. It is closing, and as I came out of the smelly, stained toilet, a girl wearing only a blouse and a towel around her waist comes in to wash her face. She looks tired.
A HARD LIFE
Chechnya, Addis’ red-light strip, is full of gangs, sex workers and orphans