At 64, you’d expect Rosemary Johns to be mentoring her grandchildren and counting her blessings as she moves towards the sunset of her life. But this mother of five counts the number of men she has slept with as a professional prostitute. At 5,000 men in last 30 years, it’s a record of sorts but she has very little of show for it.
Her story has been highlighted by the Nairobian newspaper, which tracks her trade and exposes a culture that many jobless and desperate Kenyan women have adopted. Born and partly raised in Tanzania, Rosemary came to Nairobi where the hard life forced her into commercial sex, starting off at ‘Hooker Avenue’ in Gikomba area.
That was in 1984 when a friend told her how well-paying flesh peddling was. She has never looked back, the Nairobian reports. “This house is not complete at the moment. Recently, a freak fire razed down some houses here, including all my items,” says Rosemary, speaking in Swahili with the signature Tanzanian accent.
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“I got married at 16, but after some time in marriage, my husband started neglecting us after I gave birth to five children,” recalls the now mother of eight (two have since died and the rest are adults in Tanzania).
She would have had 10 children were it not for two miscarriages. Rosemary abandomed her marriage to become a barmaid in Musoma, Tanzania, before relocating to Nairobi where she joined other women along Digo Road where they offered for Ksh5, then valuable currency that would afford a day’s meal.
She says the price for bodily pleasure only rose five years to Ksh50 and finally over Ksh100 in early 2000s, depending on the location. Rosemary figures that she could serve up to 40 men on a good day and between five and 10 men on a bad day.
Rosemary says she operated for a year on the top floor of a building along Nairobi’s Luthuli Avenue “waiting for clients,” while at Gikomba, most women owned cubicles where clients were restricted to less than 20 minutes a session.
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“Until 2000s, no one paid any attention to us whenever we reported assault cases. Even the police would arrest us at the city centre without any reason,” says Rosemary.
Many things have changed in the last 30 years.
She says: “Nowadays I see young girls joining us here and within days, they will be driving their own vehicles or running businesses. Unfortunately, some of them steal from customers. They make quick money and invest well, but compared to years back, they are now too extreme even in their dressing. We used to dress nicely without exposing our breasts or butts to attract men.”
Rosemary, a staunch baptised Christian who never misses church on Sunday, is considering to retire. She says she had started small leso business after getting Ksh70,000 loan from a local bank, but fire razed down her house and shop in March this year, forcing her back to prostitution. “Even my baptismal card and other documents were burnt,” she said.
The arrival of condoms was a nightmare to her and her colleagues in the business because forcing a man to use it would send him away. “That saw a rise in sexually transmitted diseases. But we had Casino Dispensary on Rive Road, where such cases were treated,” she says.
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She reveals that sleeping with more than 10 men for Ksh50 each was a windfall because making Ksh500 in a day was equivalent to Ksh5,000 today.
“It has been a long journey and I’ve slept with more than 5,000 men in more than 20 years. Even my children know it, and used to visit but when they grew up and started their families, they stopped.”
Rosemary lives with two grandchildren, but she has another house ‘somewhere’ to keep the business going. “It’s the fire tragedy and raising these children that forced me to go back to it. Before the fire, I was buying kangas from Mombasa and selling them in Nairobi. I hope things will change one day and God will intervene along the way,” she said.