They spend their evenings perched on bar stools, draped in skin-tight clothes that leave little to the imagination, almost always wearing raven wigs to hide their frizzy hair, typical of African women. They are young, beautiful, have a breathtaking physique, wear high heels and lashings of perfectly applied make up. You can only find them at the clubs in the middle class areas of the Ugandan capital Kampala, those bars frequented by rich Africans and above all by the many white people work- ing for the various humanitarian organizations operating in the country, people looking for distraction in a bar made-to-measure just for them, with imported liquor and expensive beer. If you come from outside the city, these girls seem to hail from another planet, a world light years away from the slums where most Ugandans live, and far from the villages where the role of women remains unchanged since pre-colonial times. These girls have nothing in common with the women you see on the streets every day, weighed down with children, carrying heavy water-filled containers on their heads, wear- ing the compliant expression of someone who asks for nothing more from life, someone who accepts their fate without batting an eyelid. It would not be right to de ne them as prostitutes per se, because this could confuse them with the working girls of Kabalagala, the road packed with “low cost” bars frequented main- ly by blacks from the poorer areas. These particular girls do not give themselves to anyone, they are not bodies for sale. They are more women for rent, agreeable companionship for the “expatriates” who choose them – whether for a night or for a year – as their partner or sometimes even as their wives. For these girls, prostitution is a meal ticket to a different life, a way to access the world they have watched, entranced, on television, a world of luxury, comfort, where the plate is always full and the bed always comfortable. The alternative is a life of hardship, of rigid traditions that view women as the passive receptacles of men’s moods. They left the villages for Kampala, to find a path to take them far from the world they knew as girls, a path to countries they view as the promised land: Britain, Germany, the America of films. In the meantime, they go to the bars punctually every evening, dreaming of a white man. In a country where more than 35% of the population lives below the poverty line, where most people live in small secluded villages without water or electricity with an economy based mainly around subsistence farming, the twinkling lights of the capital prove too great an attraction, dangling a temptation worth any sacrifice. So many girls leave the villages to seek their fortune in the city, above all Kampala, a peaceful capital – unlike the others on the continent – not really exposed to the risks of crime. They find a place to stay in the suburban hovels and they launch themselves into the search for prince charming, the white man they have often seen driving through their villages in a large car, a man who has everything that represents wellbeing in the eyes of these girls: a mobile phone, money and designer clothes. Marian, Christine, Sharon, Carol and Juliet have lived di cult lives, lives of wars, hunger and pain. They have seen the worst of this continent and they have made their choice. They have chosen to play their aces: the winning cards of youth, beauty and audacity. They chase a dream that often disintegrates in front of an airport check-in, when their boy- friends return home, leaving them with many promises and often a child to raise.
by Gino Bianchi