Zimbabwe produces some of the world`s finest strain of Virginia tobacco crop. Its annual tobacco selling auctions in the capital Harare is a noted global event. Yearly it draws up to 100 000 mainly rural small-scale farmers; cigar traders from afar as China, Brussels, Dubai – and willy commercial sex workers keen to cash on the sidelines.
Just like every March and April, Harare´s tobacco auction floors have opened – and impoverished rural farmers are attempting to scale up their fortunes. So are dozens of commercial sex workers who patronize the streets of Harare, the country´s capital. They rent rooms, some just for the annual tobacco selling jamboree.
“Tobacco farmers means the most lucrative time to triple my earnings,” says Chido*, 35, who is motivated on hearing tobacco sales have been wrecking $US10 Million weekly. She says she is a commercial sex worker who for four years has owned a room and worked in the famous “Avenues”, is which Harare´s star red light district.
“My normal service fee is $US5 per client but when tobacco farmers are in town, the price rises to $US30 for a night of bliss,” says the mother of two from Chiredzi, a town in southeast Zimbabwe. She says she abandoned her late parents’ home and relocated to the capital in 2013 when drought wiped the entire wheat crop and four cattle.
“Tobacco farmers pay better tips than Harare´s pastors and civil servants,” she says.
Indeed, at this time, Harare streets are merry with a bevy of rural tobacco farmers who hang atop lorries full of bags of yellowing tobacco crop. They roll triumphantly into the city, sweat oozing from brutalizing months of planting, cultivation and harvesting. The farmers are usually poor rural dwellers, and number of growers has shot up to 98 000 this year, according to Isheunesu Moyo, the spokesperson for state agency, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Marketing Board.
tobacco farmers are money spinners,
“These rural farmers are the money spinners,” says Chido the sex worker. “We don’t just please them, but offer them safety.” Chido says she and six of her fellow sex workers offer their services into “brazen daylight.”
“We visit the auction floors, befriend farmers whom we know, and help unload their trucks loaded with tobacco leaves. We unroll the leaves to dry in showrooms – and take them home for pleasure nightly, after work of course. They trust us.”
“Some of these sex workers give us a home away from home during the tobacco auction period,” says *Gadzi Hwande, a married tobacco farmer from Hwedza district, 159 kilometers away. Hwedza has one of Zimbabwe´s richest tobacco planting soils.
“The tobacco auction period can last two months, and we are usually homeless in the city. Sex workers cook us a meal, wash our clothes and provide safety for our money. It sounds dodgy but we trust them.”
Trust is a precious virtue in the city of Harare at this time. Tabloid stories and pictures go round yearly of rural tobacco farmers earning up to $US20 000 on the auctions, gobbling their money in city bars, whizzing up and down with brand new Toyota Land Rovers – and falling pray to Harare´s robbers and nasty conmen.
Tobacco farmers with their rural naivety, are objects of envy among Harare’s city dwellers where decaying public services and years of economic turmoil have left thousands of jobless factory workers selling fruits and tomatoes on streets to make ends meet.
Now, while tens of thousands of the city inhabitants queue everyday to withdraw the mandated $US100 per day from bank accounts, tobacco farmers are treated nicely.
“All banks must allow tobacco farmers to withdraw $US1100 per day from their accounts and expedite farmers past queues,” the head of Zimbabwe´s central bank, Mr. John Mangudya ordered when the selling season kicked in on 22 March.
sex workers are chefs,
Chido the sex worker welcomes more money at this time of the year. “For a few trusted farmers we keep their money safely away from prying thieves. We even turn into part time chefs, sourcing goat meat and raw vegetables to prepare their favorite meals for the two weeks they stay in our homes.”
Mildred Gore, an independent sociologist in Harare says, “In reality this is a marriage of convenience where economic distress, brutal lives for these vulnerable women makes them see tobacco farmers as magnets for cash. Zimbabwe´s bad economy is creating queer, new social scenes.”
But Chido the sex worker smiles and cleanse the mud-strewn gumboots of an absent tobacco farmer who is out at the auction floors all day until he returns to Chido to cool off the evening.
“Tobacco farmers are generous. They tip up to $40 per night. One even pays primary school fees form two children up to May. In 2016 I invested the tips to buy a cow and replenish our rural home.”
Editor note: all names marked with asterisk* have been changed to guard the identity of persons.
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