Maungu is a ghost town, a town of seemingly abandoned bars, restaurants and hotels- a town of old men and unchaperoned children – a town of clouds of dust storms as cars whiz through it along the highway from Nairobi to Mombasa – a town I would have no idea existed if I were not visiting our sexworker peer educators. At night, this place is cracking! The dirt strips that border the highway turn into a tent city of hundreds of trucks. The bars are lit up and bumping loud bonga music and thousands of men and young women engage in business transactions. During the night, Maungu is a town of men and women congregating in the noisy bars and hotels. Come morning, the truckers leave town, sometimes taking a woman along for company, and the women sleep. Come morning, the kids wake up and play or wander about, many without meals, waiting for mom to come back awake.
Maungu is a town built around the transient nature of the two most at risk groups in Kenya. It thrives, it truly does. In Maungu, a quick time(a single orgasm) goes for about 50 Kenyan Shillings (less than a US dollar), if without a condom, a woman can be offered upwards of KSH 2,000. That’s forty clients-more than can be made in one nights work. In Maungu, condoms are present, available and free, but the knowledge of benefits and appropriate use is not. This surprised me to be honest. In talking with people all over Kenya, it seemed like most had this knowledge - most knew the benefits of condoms and most even knew the proper steps of use. Kenya is inundated with aid agencies, many working around issues of HIV/AIDS, but it seems that maybe this population has been ignored. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I do find it interesting how we come in(we being aid workers), preaching to people to abandon all of their stigmas about sex and disease, and we ourselves cant get over our stigmas around sex workers. It makes me a bit sick inside. These women are incredible, really they are. In Maungu, we are seeing the HIV infection rate climb. We are having a difficult time recruiting people to work as educators to their peers, and an even harder time, maintaining them, as they leave town rather frequently. How to you achieve behavior change when you cant meet with a person more than once or twice? This really cannot be ignored as these men go home to wives and families and these women have futures.