Once-vengeful commercial sex worker now counsels others
In her heyday, Jane Watiri was one of Nairobi’s popular commercial sex workers. She earned close to Sh20,000 a night. In her own words, she was a “destroyer,” driven by vengeance against men.
She was not on Koinange Street – the city’s red-light-district — just for the money, but also for revenge. She says she turned the heartbreak she suffered when she was betrayed by a man into a personal vendetta against all men.
Now standing tall, slim and stylish, wearing a pricey weave, her self-assured husky voice belies the naive girl who first arrived on Koinange Street in 1997 at the age of 17.
“I was not the average prostitute,” she says, adding, “I was quite dangerous. I used to steal from my clients. I would carry everything; clothes, shoes, phones, keys and even wedding rings which I sold for Sh3,000 in Eastleigh. I used to really mess up those men,” she says.
Born 38 years ago in the capital city’s Huruma Estate, Ms Watiri was the third born in a family of six children. Her parents provided everything she required. Towards the end of her education at Naivasha Primary School, her life took a wrong turn. She got into bad company and refused to join secondary school.
“I had some friends who would take me out to clubs and reggae nights when I was 14,” she recalls.
The teenager then sunk into a life of clubbing and alcoholism as her mother watched helplessly. When she was 16, Ms Watiri was arrested, charged with loitering and jailed at Lang’ata Women’s Prison for a month. When she got out, she met a young man, fell in love, got pregnant and got married.
“One day, he left me for an older woman and there I was, 17 years old, with a baby boy, no education and no job. I was very angry,” she says.
She was in Koinange street seven years: “I wanted to hurt men the way the father of my child did to me. Bitterness and unforgiveness can really destroy your life.”
She says she would change her look weekly so as not to be recognised by clients she had stolen from.
The life of a sex worker, according to Ms Watiri, is punctuated by dangerous clients, drug and alcohol abuse, arrests, disease and death.
While majority of clients would pay for sex, others just wanted to be in the company of a woman and have someone to pour out their hearts to. Others demanded unusual activities and would threaten with guns and other weapons if the sex-workers did not comply. Many of her colleagues died on the job. Some would be killed in hotel rooms and others would get into clients’ vehicles and vanish or be found dead in a ditch.
“I read many eulogies of my friends and attended so burials,” she says.
Getting arrested by police and city council askaris was normal. She appeared before a particular magistrate so many times that one day, he pulled her aside and counselled her but Ms Watiri was not one to listen.
Her turning point was in 2004 when a man told her of God’s love, but she was too drunk to understand.
“In my whole life, I never experienced love and care. The idea of love was very strange. He bought me many bottles of beer and left. Afterwards, I started thinking of changing,” she says.
Not long afterwards, she decided to leave the streets and walked into a church one day and asked the pastor to pray for her.
She then met her second husband, George Mwangi, with whom she had a daughter. She was married to Mwangi, a gangster for five years, until he was killed by police. She says she settled with the gangster because he loved and accepted her as she was, and she hoped that she would change him.
After Mwangi’s death, Watiri opened a second-hand clothes business, but also decided to use her experiences to encourage and motivate other women who are in the same situation she was.
Today, the reformed sex worker is a preacher attached to Streams of Living Water Grace Centre Church in Pipeline Estate. Together with her pastor, Ms Edith Wangui, she offers counselling to sex workers, encouraging them to change.
Many times, you will find her in the company of prostitutes in their homes and on the streets preaching to them.
Her very public life seems to have rubbed her family the wrong way, with many questioning why she is not ashamed of speaking of her dark past.
“My family has an issue with me speaking to the media because it causes them embarrassment. But I tell my story because I know there are people out there who need to hear my story and know that it is possible to change.”
It is not easy dealing with sex workers, she says, because many of whom have lost hope. In spite of her sordid past, Watiri remains optimistic that her dream of getting married to a good man will come to pass. For now, she walks from door to door, saving souls. One sex worker at a time.
On her first night, she recalls, she stood all night on the street, watching and learning how to negotiate with clients. She was taught how to dress, where to alight from the matatu and the route to take from the Khoja Mosque stage to Koinange Street. Wanjugu also introduced her to security guards who would show her a room to change from her usual clothes into her “work gear”.. On her third night, Watiri got her first client and there began her seven-year stint as a prostitute. She soon fell out with Wanjugu, who died a few years ago, but by this time, her career had already taken off – perhaps beyond Wanjugu’s expectations.
Her seven years on the street, she says, were painful, dark and dangerous. She had a strong hatred for men, and led an utterly bitter and frustrated life, taking out her bitterness on her unsuspecting clients, many of whom she drugged and stole from. Many times she would also drug her baby to make him sleep throughout the night or just leave him to cry himself to sleep.
She would carry two rolls of marijuana, one soaked in petroleum which would knock out the client, and the other one for her, to put her in the mood for work.
“In our days we did not have what people today call mchele. That was the surest way of drugging your client,” she says.