The streets are full of people early in the morning. Days start early in Rwanda and this one is no exception. People carrying everything you can imagine on old bicycles, on their heads, if it’s fresh fire wood or sacks of food for the next weeks or a local shop. Hidden beside all this daily life in a calm backstreet, between two clay houses is the narrow entrance to the small hut of Ancille Mukabisangwa, She is living here in Tumba with her daugther in a hut, smaller than the bathroom of most people in Europe. Two beds, some cloth hanging on the wall, a chair, canisters and some pictures, that is about all she posseses. A curtain is deviding the hut in two rooms to give it a bit more privacy. Ancille is sitting on the ground. Her life has been a tough job so far. She grew up in Gikongoro, but had to flee with her husband during the genocide. In one of the refugee camps she gave birth to her daugther and lost her husband at the same time. When she came back to Gikongoro she could not find her family, scattered all over the country in different refugee camps. And she was pushed away by the people there. She was fighting hunger and could barely feed her child. Moving away and doing a new start somewhere else seemed to be the only alternative, so she went to Tumba. In the same year she started prostitution.
The sun is coming through the door, enlightening Ancilles face while she is talking to us. She is seldom looking into your eyes when she is talking, but her voice is strong and even when she is talking about sad things, she never lowers her voice. Her eyes are sad and are showing all the pain she passed through in her life. Sometimes it seems like as if she is not fighting for herself, more for her daughter, to give her a chance for life, a life outside this small narrow space, a life where she can get education or at least a nice place to stay. Valentine is 13 years old now and she is also HIV positive as her mother. In 2005 Ancille got tested for the first time and they found out about her HIV infection. She does not know where she got infected, but she believes that it was during her time in prostitution. Now she is getting treatment as well as Valentine. The treatment is for free in Rwanda for anyone under an income of 100.000 RFr (180$). Ancille has around 12$ per month. 7$ are for the rent of the hut. She calculates, 30 liters of water cost 30 RFr, the rest of the money is for food.
Ancille’s life changed two years ago. One day two students came and told her about a new program to reduce prostitution in the area. She did not believed them. Students are a big part of her clients, beside the soldiers from the nearby barracks. But they came back and convinced her to join SPAC. Nowadays she has her income from weaving baskets and getting fruits and vegetables from a field where the 60 ex-prostitutes cultivate now. It did not improve her living conditions till now, but it gave her the chance to stop with prostitution. And deep in her heart she hopes to come back to Gikongoro one day, buy a house and give her daughter the chance to live a life different from hers.
‘The private life of Ancille Mukabisangwa’ is one part of a series of four multimedia pieces about prostitution in Rwanda and the project SPAC. More will be up in the next weeks…