Gimbiya Street in Abuja is well known for the prostitutes who hustle there every night. Here we explored the scene through the eyes of one of the girls. She had to go far away from home to do what she is doing. Nobody in her hometown in the southwest of Nigeria is supposed to know what she does, but her extended stays in Abuja, and the Rose flower tattooed on her left arm speak a rather unambiguous language.
Since the end of last year she hustles at Gimbiya Street, a well known, illegal street-workers patch in Abuja. In the capital, hundred of kilometers far from home, no friend or member of the family observes her, or even worse, appears as a potential customer. Tonight she is wearing a red gown, unlike most of the other girls, long trousers that hide her dainty body. She hardly looks like a prostitute, rather like a student on her way to class.
As she stands beside the street hundreds of cars pass in walking speed over night. One crazy man has equipped his car with chains of light. It looks like a spaceship and catches the attention of all the girls. The men search for the girl that fits best to their taste. She whistles to attract their attention and bends down trying to look into their eyes.
Men stop their cars, lower the window and scrutinize a hand full of girls that are gathering to compete for the customer. But she also has a glance at her potential customer. She doesn’t like old, fat or smelling men. If they are too disgusting, she refuses to go with them. If she decides to offer a sexual service to him, she will enter his car to head toward his house or a hotel. Afterwards the man will sometimes want her to remain beside him while he falls asleep. Under the veil of darkness she will leave him early in the morning.
It will be as though she has never been there. He hangs around at Gimbiya Street every night. Four years ago the thin man in his thirties has arrived in Abuja in the darkness of the eve of 26th of May 2008. He will never in his life forget this date. He leans at a fence beside the entrance of the Grand Mirage Hotel. A band inside the hotel plays Bob Marley. He, the chain-smoker, is their brother. If his sisters are in trouble, harassed by drunken customers he always comes to their aid. That is his lifestyle. Doing the right thing, no matter what it costs. He doesn’t know the girl’s names. It doesn’t matter to him, because they usually protect themselves with fake names.
Nowadays it is one of the major destinations of Nigerian sex-workers. Though it is a country where prostitution is strictly forbidden, the working conditions are apparently better and the payment is higher. She is still a student in a Polytechnic in her hometown. Soon she will return to write exams. She will have to learn well to compensate all the lecturers for the lectures she has missed. On a daily basis she has witnessed how ambitious plans for the future are shattered due to a lack of money. Her mother has died when she was thirteen years old. Her father struggles to sustain the living for her stepsiblings. Last year she has made up her mind to hustle and called her friends who were already working at Gimbiya Street.
Once she has saved a certain amount of money she wants to open a shop in her hometown. She already has a clear picture of the financial plan and how it would look like. With her forefinger she points at where the wine, the cosmetics, the food and the cash desk would be. She hustles in the night but she has never called herself a prostitute. What she does is not who she is. She considers herself on the path to a better future. Tomorrow has not yet disappeared in the dead end of Gimbiya Street.