The fierce encounter between the duo-supremos of the English premiership, Chelsea FC and Manchester United had just ended . A close friend, Joel, had a surprise for me. We were going to a place called Apaapa, one of the major slums in the centre of Labone, Accra. This would be my first trip to this ghetto. Like most slums, it was hidden from the sight of most inhabitants of the city. As we negotiated the Tetteh- Quarshie- interchange along the express way to 37 Military Hospital, Joel informed me we were visiting a prostitute! It was too late for me to turn back despite my reservations…
My friend was upbeat about the visit, it was not his first encounter. I was concerned about the safety of embarking on such a journey knowing how uncouth ladies of loose virtue can be. What if my friends or family see me at a brothel? How could I defend my presence?
I psyched myself up and decided not to think about the worst that could happen. After all, Accra is filled with seemingly innocent streets that house prostitutes. I remembered an experience at Kwame Nkrumah Circle. We had closed from a a ‘Night of Bliss ‘ a half- night crusade organised at the Christ Embassy Main church building. At midnight, on the way back to my hostel, I stepped out of the Church building and walked along the street. I encountered ladies who could turn a saintly man into a heathen overnight. I tried not to look sideways, but their cat calls flooded my ears.
“Sssssss!!!, membra y3nkc short ?” (Lets go and have sex) she nudged. I ignored her, but she won’t let go.
Then her colleague in a hushed tone nudged to her in akan, “Wonhu s3 Okura Bible?”( “Can’t you see he’s holding a bible?”). How did she notice my bible? I was amused and responded back with another question, “menkura bible oooooh?” (“I’m not holding a bible”) .
“3s3 wara ooooh!” (Whatever”), she responded with a resounding laugher and I couldn’t help but chuckle without feeling a sense of moral superiority over these ladies of the night. “Bra, wokc a bc mpae3 ma y3n oooo!”(“Please pray for us”), she requested as I left the scene and picked a transport to my hostel.
I then realized that prostitutes like all men have a sense of fear for God, but what I can’t still tell are the real reasons behind their decision to stand by street alleys and corners at night displaying their natural wares(bodies) that stoke the flames of men’s desires. They have passed the stage of feeling embarrassed for to find them guilty is to condemn men that patronize them, and I bet a macrocosm of men may be found guilty in some sense. So when one points a finger at them at night, three other fingers may rise up in their defense. So these girls adopt a nocturnal lifestyle that suits the dark tendencies in men, and brazenly stand boldly without veiling or shrouding their faces!
This encounter with prostitutes emboldened me as Joel and I stepped out of the car and meandered through Apaapa streets. Having lived in Accra for the past 17years, I never knew that amidst the grandiose streets and well-trimmed neighbourhoods of Accra, people still lived in abject squalor and deprivation in Apaapa. The smell from the decay of refuse that lined the streets that we negotiated on our way to Abigail’s (not her real name). We obviously looked like outsiders in this dingy neighbourhood and everyone we passed seemed to know where we were headed; the brothels!
Abigail was not in her room when we arrived. Her neighbour after much pressure agreed to inform her that her ‘customers’ had arrived. Abigail soon arrived, spotting a tight-fitting gown. Her face seemed to have suffered sun-burn ostensibly from repeated bleaching, and her skin looked wrinkled and cracked. She looked stale and there was no joy or sense of fulfillment on her face. She was excited to have us visit her, and her peers seemed to envy her such that one of them made attempts to lure us from Abigail.
In her words in vernacular which i have translated into English for the sake of those who do not understand, “How only you go carry two customers like that? Please release one to me.’ Is that how to do business’ she nudged.
Abigail countered,” Nobi dat kain business dem come for ooo!” We continued our chat with her.
Her response really touched me. We spent sometime talking with her and she opened up about her family in Bantama,Kumasi. She already had two children from a man who was supposed to have married her but ran off and left her in emotional shreds. In a bid to fend for her kids, she decided to come to Accra, only to end up in prostitution. She had left her kids with her dad in Bantama. Her family still didn’t know what kind of work she was doing in Accra. To them, she was surviving like any loving mother would for the welfare of her children.
Whilst we talked with her, men hung around the shacks of her ‘co-workers'; some of whom had children that lived in the same shacks with their mothers. I wondered what the futures of these kids who watch different men go into to sleep with their mothers would be.
For Abigail, life has been hard and its obvious prostitution had not elevated her economic status, nor rescued her from the whirlpool of poverty she’s stuck in. She hoped for change…
We were wary of inviting her to church on campus considering her experience of rejection resulting in a battered ego and low self esteem. Did we have the support system and institutional framework that will guarantee a holistic rehabilitation for Abigail?
Questions raced through my mind as Joel and I stood up from the bench she had offered to us. And before we could pray with her, she excused herself to grab a ragged piece of cloth to cover her head feeling it was disrespectful to God for a lady to leave her head uncovered during prayer.
She said amen, and thanked us profusely, requesting us to call her regularly to keep a tabs on her. As we walked back to the car, I remembered the encounters Jesus Christ had with prostitutes. He didn’t care what the mainstream opinion was and he sometimes rose in defense of whores and harlots as society have labeled them. He even alluded that many prostitutes would make it to paradise at the expense of some religious zealots and hypocrites. And when some Jews gathered to stone a prostitute to death, he dared anyone who was sinless to cast the first stone. Their grips weakened and the stones dropped willingly to the ground. All the men were guilty and it’s possible some of her accusers might have been clients who turned their back on her when the chips were down. No mention was made of the man with whom she was ‘caught in the very act’. Her acquittal by Jesus was one that shocked her to the marrow. Instead of condemnation from the Messiah, she heard the greatest affirmation and charge that transformed her life: “Neither do I condemn you. Now go back home and sin no more!”
In silence, Joel and I drove back to our Hostel. The streets still looked innocent and oblivious. For many of the Abigail’s in Accra still walk the city streets. Perhaps they are waiting for someone that will speak a word of comfort and affirmation which will help them truly go back home so they can sin no more!