My name is Kimthy1 and I’m living far from home, where my son and mother are. I’m selling sex in Phnom Penh, and it’s a lifestyle I want to keep quiet about. My hometown community already dislikes me, so I’m not going to tell them what I do or that I’m HIV positive.
On a normal day I get up at 6.30 a.m., most of the time feeling exhausted. Looking at myself in the mirror, I’m shocked. I am skinny, anemic and look like an old woman already at the age of 33! I always think of my mom and son eating breakfast at the same time as me, around 7.30 a.m., and sometimes I burst into tears. I reluctantly take my medicine at 8 a.m.; it’s only for my son that I make this kind of investment. The medicine is expensive, so I do all I can to afford it.
Most mornings I wash clothes for [U.S.] fifty cents and wash dishes in exchange for a meal’s worth of rice. From the morning until 4.30 p.m. I get some rest to be ready for the night, when I am busy with clients. Sometimes I go to meet with the SMARTgirl outreach workers who give me reminders about taking my medicine and protecting myself and others from STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV. At 5.30 p.m. I put on my makeup and then head out to the railway to wait for clients. The other night no one came, so at 8 p.m. I went home and took my medicine. After 9 p.m. a man called me for sex; he paid me $3.25. I had another client close to midnight, and he paid me $2.50. I had to hassle him to at least pay for the condom. Eventually, he handed over another fifty cents. I waited for more clients but no one came, so I finished up at 1 a.m.
Clients are hard work. Sometimes they’re drunk and refuse to put on a condom. Sometimes they are abusive. But I insist that they use a condom. If they know I’m HIV positive, they do wear one. And it’s hard for me to get much work – I can get a few clients in a day but I’m not as beautiful as the young girls that men love.
Sure, I’d far prefer to be back home with my son and my mother, even if the neighbors don’t like me. But there’s no way I could support them. I never finished school, so this has been my career for the last ten years. It allows me to send at least $25 home per month, and that’s valuable money to us all. Though I sometimes want to die, this is the life I must live.
1 In this series, real names of program participants are not used.