Rhodes Park’s Omelo Mumba Road hosts what is claimed to be the world’s oldest profession- prostitution. It is, by Zambian standards, for the American and Dutchman, the equivalent of the red light districts of Las Vegas and Amsterdam respectively. The road is Lusaka’s version of the prostitute-lined streets of any city. I paid it a surprise visit and for me, as it would be for any other curious person, the oddity of what I found was more than I could keep to myself.
The time is 1 a.m. on a Friday. A file of scantily-dressed women builds up from where I am standing. Aside from parked cars, I can see a cemetery on one side of the road and a gym on the other. Contrary to a well-known phrase, silence here is not golden: my ears can smell sounds of ecstasy sneaking out of the cemetery.
It is now six minutes into the hour of 1. Suddenly, with headlights on full beam, a Toyota Hilux enters the street. Now I see for myself, it is as if a veil has just been taken off my face; how the women of the night rush towards me bears resemblance to the way still water behaves when it finds an outlet. I am the outlet, they are the waters.
And as if they knew I was coming, they made sure they dressed to make heaven jealous. The tightness of the dresses accentuates the trunks. It seems there is also nothing to hide about the cleavage. Oh, my! The dressing is uncensored! I have just realized that the skirts are as mini as minis can be.
Where am I? The fact that it is happening in reality around me is hardly believable. I guess I will have to do a lot of believing here. They are asking me if I would like to pay for a knee-trembler. This, no mistake about it, cannot be anything else other than a cesspool of sensual pleasure. I am disturbed, and this they know. Will they even stop touching me? I have to leave for the other side of the road.
Should I make my professional identity known as well as the fact that I am here for academic purposes unknown unto them? If I do so, won’t I, in a few moments, be lending my ears to unsavoury words? The possibility of this cannot be ruled out. It cannot, certainly. They are, after all, on business!
Now look at that. A set of two gentlemen has just came through. Both of them are of an athletic build. Having made their careful selection, there they go, for a sex spree with one escort.
The cars on either side of the road are shaking as if they are hosting fights between angry bulls. My observations tells me that this is an on-going thing. The site seems like a loading and offloading bay of tobacco. The number of escorts keeps depleting and somehow keeps being updated.
It is either a red light district or it makes genuine pretense at being one. For one thing, unlike Netherlands’ Amsterdam, the road is not red-lit, and for another, prostitution here is not legal.
“If you pay it will show,” a voice comes from behind. This one is ‘naughty’. Her bearing, as calculated as it seems though, is inviting. Admittedly, I have been in all sorts of places in my mind since I came here. Hitherto, this has never happened to me. But look, I am here for something else. She is resentful of the sober fact that I am a journalist. Without the slightest realization, we find ourselves having strayed a good distance from the service, the escort service that is.
Her story provides me with tremendous insight into existence of such a vice in this street. Orphanhood, lack of an education and the need to maintain her feminine looks have forced her to exchange her body for sex. She has, out of her own volition, opened up. The explanation may sound like platitudes but it helps one see why a 24-year-old lady could be caught up in such a trade.
In general, the practice of prostitution, or the first recorded instances of women selling themselves for sex, seems not to be in brothels but in temples. In Sumaria, Babylonia and among the Phoenicians, prostitutes were those who had sex, not for gain, but as a religious ritual. Sex in the temple was supposed to confer special blessings on men and women alike. But that was different to just doing it for money.
Though exalted as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution is believed by some to fall into second place after midwifery.
In Zambia, prostitutes used to be known as “Rosemary ba kapenta milomo”. This was because of the lipstick of a notorious prostitute who went by the name of Rosemary. Speculatively, Rosemary was in “demand” around her town, consequently she became a symbol of the profession.
Prostitution in Zambia remains an illegal practice by law. However, as one who finds a chain of women soliciting for sex in a road, I can vouch for the fact that government’s stance on this issue is ignored. Could it be that complete elimination of the trade is the most unlikeliest of things? How about the infamous spirits which were known as “tujilijili”? Is prostitution any different from them? I do not think so. Engagement in prostitution is as much a vice as was engagement in the selling and drinking of the youth-abused spirits. If they could be stamped out, prostitution too can. It is just a matter of policy implementation on the part of government. There is nothing wrong with expression of abhorrence against an illegality through law enactment. But abhorrence remains nominal if not put in practical terms.
While there may be other reasons, as those expressed by my interviewee, for the practice of prostitution, the elements that fuel its vitality are breakdown of cohesion in the Zambian family, lack of sexual integrity on the part of spouses in marriage, child neglect and child mistreatment.
A Muvi Television reality show Ready for Marriage had made as an attempt to make a lasting difference in the lives of women of the streets. But the show and its host Master Chimbala has disappeared from television screens.
Tasintha is one of those NGOs in Zambia that prowl around the country for prostitutes. It seeks to round up prostitutes and rehabilitate them. The organisation empowers them with various skills and thus affords them an opportunity to lead a decent and worthwhile life.
Unfortunately, most, if not all of Omelo Mumba prostitutes do not know about Tasintha. They shun from it and pretend as if there is no alternative to their chosen life. This is strange. It makes one really wonder what these women want.
Could it be that they want the heavy presence of government in eradication of their plight? It can’t be so. Non-governmental organisations like Tasintha complement government efforts in meeting and responding to social needs and social challenges respectively.
Prostitution does not have a justification because there is just something wrong about it intrinsically.
President Edgar Lungu’s administration must clampdown on prostitution with as much ruthlessness as it deserves. Zambia is a “Christian nation” and we would thus, at all costs, avoid what is termed in philosophy as fallacy of composition. What would, say, a German national who makes contact with Omelo Mumba Road think of the rest of Zambia? As thoroughly perverse! This would be a false view.
Furthermore, prostitution is a blight on the landscape of anti-HIV campaigns. In consideration of its nature, it spurs HIV infections to unchecked multiplication. In this manner, it stifles the pitch of genuine efforts to cut down on the rate of new infections.
My visit to Omelo Mumba Road may have been thrilling but it made the humanity of one who uses journalism for a good cause to raise awareness. If I have condemned the vice it is because I love this country and not tramping on individual liberty. It is up to the powers that be to take the cue and execute corrective action.
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