Whether on foot, camel, dhow, containership, tanker, or truck—traders have likely criss-crossed Djibouti and its waters for as long as there has been trade. Today, the Port of Djibouti, one of Africa’s busiest, lies at the nexus of major shipping routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
From Djibouti, most goods travel inland by trailer-truck: some 800 Ethiopian truckers arrive every day. After offloading coffee, cotton, beans and other commodities from Ethiopia, truckers wait 4 to 6 days to reload with imported electronics, spare parts, construction materials, food aid and much else.
This range of activity makes a small community, virtually unknown outside Djibouti, both important and vulnerable. It’s called PK-12 for “Point Kilometre 12″ in French, the official language. Meaning that it’s 12 km from Djibouti town, the capital and site of the port. PK-12 looks like the mother of all truckstops. Colorful vehicles lie like flattened dominoes as far as the eye can see — thousands of them.
Understandably, drivers with several days on their hands also ferry back and forth another invisible item. About 25 percent are thought to be HIV-positive. The number of HIV-positive young women and men from the community is not known, and the stigma is too strong for even the boldest to disclose their status.