In Ad­dis’ red-light strip

CityPress - - The Good Guide -

God­fa­ther movies.

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

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