Prostitution is the world oldest profession legal or not and is practised in all communities the world over. Even in the era of HIV and AIDS the demand for paid sexual satisfaction remains strong despite the risk of contracting and spreading HIV.

The Border community of Chirundu, 383km to the West of Harare is no exception to paid sexual activity. Chirundu is a small border community in Mashonaland West Province on the border with Zambia.This is a wildlife area and elephants and hippos often wander into the small area inhabited by locals. There have been cases of people being trampled to death by elephants. It has a small population which is permanently resident but most of its population consists of a constant mobile community of truck drivers, cross border traders and commercial sex workers. Chirundu is serviced by a local Clinic and a Roadside Wellness Centre.
There is always a hive of activity as many haulage trucks use the border en-route to Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, The Democratic republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Africa. Truck drivers spend an average of 3-4 days in Chirundu whilst awaiting clearance of their trucks.
With high temperature throughout the year, highly mobile community and the area being primarily a wildlife area, there is little entertainment except for the bar and night club in the area. Chirundu is therefore a natural hotspot for paid sexual activities.
Away from their wives and family for long periods makes long distant drivers a prime target for sex workers who market their services aggressively at the local bar, night club and in the long distant trucks parked awaiting clearance. They offer their services in the privacy of the driver’s own trucks or in the make shift pole and dagga rooms that have mushroomed in Chirundu known as Baghdad.

Chirundu sex workers come from all over Zimbabwe. Jane Zola’s (38) story is similar to most sex workers. Just by looking at her one cannot tell if Chipo is a sex worker. Dressed in African attire with a doek to complete the look, she looks like any other middle aged rural Zimbabwean housewife albeit a sick looking one. She was born in Karoi 40 year ago and at the age of 22 she got married and moved to Kariba were her husband was working at a local hotel. The marriage broke down in 2000 after three years. With no job or steady income Jane started the cross border trade – buying clothing material from Zambia for resale in Kariba whose proceeds helped to look after herself, child and three siblings. 

However with the economic hardships the country faced the pressure to look after the family became harder and harder. “I realised that I was working harder and harder for less and less. My fellow women friends who were in sex work at the border were making more money without much work. This is how I was drawn into sex work in the year 2000 and have not looked back since”.  
Her daughter and relatives believe that she is doing “piece jobs” in Zambia and she never wishes for them to find out the truth. The family has no reason to doubt her as she sends them money regularly and is able to pay her daughter’s school fees. “It is my secret, my family can never know”. 
With no regular boyfriend or client Jane practises what she terms ‘hit and run’. She charges $5 for short time and anything between $10 or $20 for the whole night depending on the client. The majority of her clients are long distant truck drivers as well as few of the local men. On a good day she can entertain 5 to 6 clients.
Client demand all sorts of sexual pleasure from her but she is adamant that she only has penetrative vaginal sex only. “Anyone who demands oral sex I simply tell them that I will do it the day my private part is able munch potato chips. They can keep their money! ”.
 Jane believes that she a better hypocrite than some married women with family who are also sex workers and pretend to their husbands that they are cross border traders.
She is a regular attendant of NECTOI Site Agent’s peer education sessions. It is as result of these that she finally decided to undergo voluntary counselling and testing for HIV in 2012. She tested positive to HIV and with a CD4 count of 564 she was put on cotrimoxazole prophylaxis as she was not yet eligible for ART. She is awaiting results of a second CD4 test with samples having been collected a week ago.
She claims to have stopped having unprotected sex ever since she tested positive, not because she is really concerned about infecting her clients but mainly to protect herself from re-infection! She is not really keen about stopping the business completely although she says she may stop if she gets funding for a business project. On further probing she still admits that she may still take in a few clients even with a project if she needs more income.
“I also have an open secret. I am HIV positive. I tell all my clients that I am HIV positive but some refuse believe m. Some even say they want to have a child with me. Telling them of my status does help in that they will reluctantly agree to use condoms”. Most of her younger clients (aged between 20 and 30) do not know how to use condoms properly and she has to teach them.
“Sometimes the clients are so drunk it’s difficult to get them to use a male condom and so I use a female condom. Most don’t even notice the difference and believe that they had ‘live’ sex with me”.
Generally Jane has noticed a big change in behaviour  among her main cliental group (truck drivers) over the years. “Most of them use condoms without negations. Most clients are willing to experiment with female condoms especially after they have had discussions and demonstrations with Sisi Shami (NECTOI Site Agent).    
Initially she did not really believe there was HIV and AIDS or at the very least she was never to get infected. “During those day days you would be forced to have unprotected sex by circumstances even if you did not want to. If you got on a truck you would do whatever the driver wanted because there were plenty of lions and elephants roaming outside. Refusal would result in being thrown off the truck. That risk has gone as we have regular police patrol and less animals within the vicinity”.
 However, after testing positive to HIV she was given serious counselling at the local Opportunistic Infection (OI) Clinic and made aware of the risk of re-infection if she does not practice safer sex. The Road Side Wellness Clinic provides a safe and non judgemental place for Jane to get supplies of condoms and information on sexual health.
“Sisi Shamie (NECTOI Site Agent) is heaven sent. We stay in the same area and readily provides us with information on sexual health matters and condom 24/7. With her to constantly support us we will continue to provide our services safely.”
 Rudia’s story is relatively similar to Jane’s story. Rudia is a 27 year old mother of one. She stays with her 7 year old daughter in ‘Baghdad’. She came from Kariba last year 2012 and is an HIV negative sex worker. Originally from Magunje her family moved to Kariba when she was still a child. She was made pregnant by a bus driver plying the Harare –Kariba route and he disappeared when she was 7 months pregnant. She has not heard from him since, she only knows that he was from Mutare but has no further information about his family or where he is in Mutare.
“It was only after I attended one of sister Shamis HIV and AIDS awareness sessions that I fully appreciated how much at risk I was. With her in support I got tested and was found to be negative. I was lucky and I am making sure that I stay negative by always using protection each time I have sex”.
Rudia is so motivated that she sometimes accompany NECTOI Site Agent when she holds HIV and AIDS discussions with drivers as well as distribute IEC materials and condoms.

 

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