Voices of 3 Africans in the Time of AIDS

Her son is 8 months old. She is 19. Shakira Nakibuka is a prostitute in a city where experts believe 30% of the sexually active population is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

For Nakibuka, it seems, sex and love and money, Uganda’s old ways and the dangerous ways of today, all collide in the dim lights of an after-hours bar. Her face is drawn, her nails are chipped, but her voice is firm.

“A journalist? May I tell you my story? Please?

“My mother died in 1992 of AIDS. My father is sick. Jimmy sells spare parts and is a motorbike mechanic. He is a very bad man. He is the father to Nicholas. I was 18 when I got in love with him, so I didn’t know he was a bad womanizer. But all men are here. You think you will be special. But he has so many women, young and old. . . .


“When the time came, I told him I was pregnant. He blamed me. In the end, he denied it. Later, I got another boyfriend. He did not know I was pregnant. I found it difficult to be with him and not tell him. So I did. And he looked after me until Nicholas came. . . .

“I had to build my own life. I had no job, and friends helped me find work in a restaurant, where I go now in the days. I am a waitress.

“I have my baby. But time comes, I feel I would like to kill myself. . . . My friend tells me that someday I will be happy. I don’t know. I want you to write that men should stop misusing girls. But you won’t.

“So . . . a friend told me that this hotel was a place, that here were men who would give you money. Of course, they first use you. I said, how can I do that? She said, you will learn. . . .

“My first time was difficult. But the man used a condom. It was sad, but I was looking for something. . . .

“At the restaurant, I am paid $15 a month. This man, he gave me $30. Was it bad? No, it was good. . . .

“This is a picture of me and Nicholas. See? When I come here, he is with my sister. I put aside milk, and when I come home, he takes the breast.

“I know this is risky. Mostly I think--when I die, where will I leave Nicholas?”