The Kenyan Prostitutes Asked: What Do You Think of Our Situation?

Ted Conover wrote a book called “The Routes of Man,” in which he traveled around the world and wrote about the impact of roads on civilizations.  While I enjoyed the white knuckle account of life driving in Bolivia’s mountains, I am more enjoying the account from when the author joined a trucker who traveled a regular route between Mombasa, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda.

The purpose of his trip was to document the way AIDS is traveling throughout the continent from the trucker’s frequent visits to prostitutes along the journey.  He joins a man he met decades ago named Obidiah when the Kenyan was a ‘turnboy’ which is the name given to the assistants who guard the truck’s contents and ride along with the driver.  Obidiah has now become a full-fledged driver, and now the company has cast off the turnboys and are making the drivers fend off thieves on their own.

Conover finds a startling statistic when he inquires about the truckers and turnboys he knew twenty years ago…six of the twelve men he knew have died. But rarely does anybody talk about the real causes of death, instead they refer to TB and diabetes or other general terms. Even the vice president of Kenya had apparently died of AIDS, it was obvious with the prevalence of casket makers around Mombasa that in Kenya, dying was a booming business.

Conover meets with eight prostitutes in Nairobi, asking them about their work and about AIDS. After their discussion, he gets up, ready to leave, when Constance demands another answer. “What do you think of our situation?” she asked.   You mean, he asked “you are still hooking?”  They all answered yes, and few customers were willing to use condoms.  Conover repeats the terrible truth…that they can’t tell the men, or they would have no work, and Constance replied that hotel  jobs demand AIDS tests so there wasn’t anything else they could do.