Bobo-Dioulasso is the second largest city and the cultural capital of Burkina Faso. Its population of one million inhabitants is spread over seven districts. It is a very pleasant city where relationships are easily made: conviviality is strong in Bobo and as it is less hot than in Ouagadougou. One meets everywhere, from morning to evening, but also at night.
However, I must point out that here, more than in other cities in Burkina Faso, hypocrisy and jealousy are very present, which can lead some people to malice.
But this is the place I prefer. I've lived there for more than fifteen years and at night, I go out. I go around the city and I find my inspiration there, especially in the maquis, popular restaurants,and other night spots. Most often, I finish the night at The Black, a very famous and lively place where one needs to know the codes to enter and circulate there.
There, I park my motorbike at the parking and I start talking to people I know: the motorbike parker, the meat seller, the cigarette seller ... We buy drinks and I stay on the street talking with them. We talk for a long time and I see a lot of people passing by.
The few official nurseries in the city are usually places open during the day and recognized by the authorities. At Mrs. Coda's, it's different. All night long, she is available to welcome her clients' children.
That’s where five years ago I met Adam’s, who practices sex work. She is one of The Black's „old mothers”, a title not given to her in relation to her age, but in relation to her seniority.
Adam's in her late thirties. She has been working for a long time at The Black, and she knows everyone from motorbike valets to petty criminals. Me, I look very different from Bobo’s other boys and the men who frequent The Black: I have a braid and I often braid my hair like women.
We gradually became friends with Adam’s and I started to do her favours: she doesn’t have a motorbike and travels on foot or by taxi, so often I take her home. Sometimes I invite her to my house or I take her to friends.
We are now two close friends, we tell each other everything and we laugh a lot. When someone has drunk too much and does something, or when a stranger gets beaten at The Black because he does not know the codes, it gives us a lot of late night discussion material”: everyone tries to remember the details and make the other laugh by emphasizing the comic side of situations.
Sometimes we get angry too – because Adam's loves me too much. When girls come to hit on me, or when I hit on girls, she doesn't like it and gets jealous, even though she is not my girlfriend. But it passes quickly and Adam’s regains her joy of life and her generosity.
She is the one who told me about Mrs. Coda’s nursery, a night nursery for sex workers' children and babies.
The few official nurseries in the city are usually places open during the day and recognized by the authorities. At Mrs. Coda's, it's different. All night long, she is available to welcome her clients' children. She takes few, because fatigue as begun to set in, but she watches over the little ones without weakening. To gain access to her service, you have to know her.
When Adam's told me about Odile and Fatim, two women who work as prostitutes and live with her on a flat-share, I realized that it was important to look at the fate of these women and their young children.
The stories of Adam's, Odile and Fatim
Adam’s was born and grew up in Bobo-Dioulasso. A friend of her father, a great shopkeeper in the city who owned several shops, wanted to get married to Adam's. But she was only 15 years old and he was an old man. This old man regularly came to make donations to Adam's family, who accepted them, and she was made to believe that it was the son of the shopkeeper, who lived in Ivory Coast, who wanted to marry her.
When she realized that it was the old man who wanted her, she refused, an action her father considered disgraceful. He chased his daughter out of the house and locked the door. Adam's then left Bobo to go to her brother's house in Ouagadougou. There, she fell in love with a young student, but her brother had a well-off friend who wanted to marry her. Adam's had to refuse once again this marriage she didn't want, and her brother chased her away. However, she was pregnant. After having a child with the man she loved, he unfortunately didn’t want to take care of her. With a heavy heart, alone and rejected by her family, she decided to prostitute herself to support the child.
Today, her son is 18 years old and she is still a sex worker, even if she wants to stop and find another way to live, or find a man worthy of respect who will accept her and her son. She is also in charge of her elderly parents, who no longer live in Bobo but have returned to Manga, their hometown. She often goes to see them and they are not aware of their daughter’s activity, who tells them that she works in business.
Odile, a 28-year-old Ivorian woman, born in Abidjan and already a three-time mother, has been through several significant trials. When her parents died, she was 12 years old. Then her father’s brothers took her to Gaoua, a small town in southern Burkina Faso.
There her uncles refused to let her continue attending school and instead put her to work; she ended up selling at the Gaoua market, which stands at the station. It was there that she met a young woman from Bobo Dioulasso who was doing business in Gaoua. At the sight of this urban-looking, well-dressed woman, Odile felt nostalgia for the big city; Abidjan, where she grew up, had nothing to do with the poor little town of Gaoua.
The woman offered to take Odile to Bobo-Dioulasso. There, she could free herself from her misery and earn a living. Without warning her uncles or taking any of her belongings, Odile went to Bobo, where her „protector” sheltered and dressed her. After a few days, the woman told the girl to follow her to the city to start earning money. They visited the hairdresser, bought some sexy clothes, and then headed to The Black.
Odile became a sex worker overnight.
Very young, very beautiful, at first she only dealt with white clients and earned a lot of money. At fifteen, she had a child whose father was French. As she was living alone, she asked a woman to look after the child, yet this woman left without giving any notice and Odile has since had no news of her son. After this she had a daughter, but the child died at the age of two. Odile had taken her to The Black and left her at The Maxime, a café-concert, where they expected the child to stay under a table. But, little watched and exposed to mosquito bites, the little girl died of malaria.
Odile was extremely shocked by this tragedy, but life took its revenge on death as she very quickly became pregnant again. Her little boy, Moctar, celebrated his first birthday a few months ago. Mrs. Coda looks after him at night. It was Adam's who introduced Odile to this refuge, this night nursery that finally reassures her.
Today, Odile has been through so many trials that she calls herself „war-wounded". She no longer puts on makeup, is no longer so young and no longer has whites among her clientele. But she saves money to escape the „misery". She doesn't want to get married, she instead wants to start a business and quit sex work, in order to support herself and her son.
Fatim still often thinks about her father and mother; she resents them for having divorced and she especially resents her mother for having abandoned her. But she doesn’t give up on the idea of making a family of her own.
Fatim is a very young woman, just 18, from Gourcy, a city in northern Burkina Faso. When she was very young her parents divorced and her father went to Ivory Coast, leaving the child to the mother. Very soon, the mother remarried, but Fatim's stepfather did not accept her presence and her mother decided to abandon her.
So she went to live with her paternal grandfather, who paid for her studies until the fifth grade. Then he died. The old man adored his granddaughter and protected her from everything: one could not insult her, hit her, or send her to the market. But after the death of the old man, the family began to change their attitude towards the girl and decided to no longer pay for her studies. One of her aunts then came to pick her up to use her as a maid and send her to take care of a traveling canteen at Gourcy station. It is only thanks to the rice she prepared for the travellers that she could eat too, because her aunt did not take care of her.
Little by little, she became friends with a woman who travelled a lot and each time came back from the train with beautiful clothes, new hairstyles and money. Fatim was about 14 years old when the woman suggested she follow her on a trip and earn some money with her.
Together, they stayed in several provincial cities and Fatim worked first as a waitress in bars, then as a dancer and finally as a sex worker. She found herself in Banfora, where she met a young man, became pregnant, and was welcomed by his family. But she soon felt that she was no longer welcome, and after giving birth the child’s father completely turned away from her.
Taking her daughter Djénéba with her, she went back into sex work by temporarily settling in several cities before arriving in Bobo Dioulasso. She found in Adam's and Odile two kindly older sisters. They helped each other, and rented a house together.
Fatim's goal is to leave the „profession" as soon as possible: she is young and wants to get married. She still often thinks about her father and mother; she resents them for having divorced and she especially resents her mother for having abandoned her. But she doesn’t give up on the idea of making a family of her own, and she is waiting to find a husband who will love her and her daughter.
Marriage or celibacy?
It's difficult to be a single woman in Burkina Faso. In the countryside it's impossible. In villages, a woman must necessarily be married, regardless of the husband and whether there is love or not. As soon as a girl is 14 or 15 years old, there is a man who chases her, whether young or old, and marriage never takes long. Then, the wife's life takes place at home, limited to the cooking of meals, the education of the children and the household.
In the city, today, and especially in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, things have changed a little: it is possible for a woman to live alone, as long as she works and takes care of her children, who traditionally remain in the care of women, and also of her parents.
Women are therefore more free to marry or not, but they do not escape the criticism of their neighbours and even their friends: if you live alone, they say that you go from man to man even if you are not a prostitute. Finally, you are not respected – you are judged, you are frowned upon. This is particularly true in poor communities, but women who have the means for their autonomy thanks to their diplomas still do not escape these traditional pressures.
This poses difficulties in everyday life, especially when renting a house, because the owner is afraid that the tenant will turn the place into a brothel. What would the neighbours say then? Thus, even in the city, many women do not marry for happiness or love, but to evade criticism from the community. This situation causes many cases of adultery.
I must say that for men, it is not the same. You can be 30, 40, or even 70 years old, and it's not a problem if you're not married. For my part, I am lucky to have been born a man and I have been able to choose not to take care of a family yet.
I will show the courage that these fighting women show day after day, despite the fact that they are on the margins of their families and society.
However, I would like women to have the same opportunities as me, I do not recognize myself in the social pressures they receive as soon as they are in their twenties. What I observe in the relationship between Adam's, Odile and Fatim is a solidarity that is necessary between single women. And other women such as Mrs. Coda, who are also aware that it is impossible to fight alone, offer their services in a spirit of mutual aid, sometimes despite the reproving look they too receive from their family or neighbours. In Mrs. Coda's case, her family is not a problem, but neighbours regularly complain.
So, by accompanying Odile and Fatim in this night nursery, then following them to The Black and in their daily life with Adam's, I will take a step beyond prejudices.
I will show the courage that these fighting women show day after day, despite the fact that they are on the margins of their families and society. They will tell me how they support each other to believe in the future.
Of course, I am saddened to see my friends having to prostitute themselves to survive. But I don't want viewers to dwell on this sentiment; if Adam's, Fatim and Odile have agreed to reveal themselves in a film, it's to say that they haven't found a better way to escape a forced marriage, it's to show that they haven't abandoned their dignity and that they are fighting to regain it.
In my country, as in many others, to hurt someone, you insult their mother. I would like to force a reconsideration on the part of my viewers, seeing these young mothers taking the best care of their children and seeing the old mother, Mrs. Coda, offering refuge to these lives that have been abandoned by men.