This is the second part of the story of a Nigerian sex worker in Amsterdam; if you missed the first part yesterday, I urge you to go back and read it first before continuing. I did as little editing as possible because I wanted to allow Onioja her own authentic voice, and the postscript is absolutely verbatim at her request.
An immigrant’s life is hard in any case, but if you come from a country like mine with a dubious reputation in this part of the world, the problems are almost insurmountable. Even in this relatively tolerant country with many official so-called integration programs and requirements for immigrants, every new arrival is marginalized and stigmatized. You feel it right away at border control; the officer is polite and friendly, but despite your visa, your passport is turned inside out and you must show every piece of legal identification paper you have and explain your plans. If you’ve never experienced them, the problems of migration are hard to grasp. It requires enormous courage to leave family and friends behind, but you do it because of dreams and illusions of opportunity that override rational doubts. Unfortunately, my culture is dominated by irrational beliefs and superstitions such as voodoo and belief in evil spirits that can only harm and hurt people. So though I work hard to keep it under control, I also run on fear and worry about evil that may hurt me. I wish I could get rid of it, but it is in my blood like my faith in God; to counterbalance it I nurture love, kindness, and honesty, and I am hungry for logic.
Only some of my colleagues know that I’m a practicing Christian, and some of those who do ask how I can practice a faith that condemns my work as a mortal sin. I say that I don’t practice a faith, I practice life; they don’t understand because they don’t understand what faith is. Faith is irrational. So I choose to go to church to get together with other faithful people to pray and sing in a service that honors God, but I rarely care for what pastors have to say; instead, I use the service for reflection. Being baptized and raised as a Catholic doesn’t mean I signed an agreement with that church to be docile and obedient; I’m not about to be held hostage. Faith doesn’t keep me from using my brains so that I remain stupid and blind to all possibilities, and my brain sees no conflict between sex work and the Lord’s message to love all other people. In fact, sex work lets me use my God-given talents for other people’s benefit better than any job I’ve had.
It also lets me turn liabilities into advantages. For example, in accordance with the tradition in my country I was fully circumcised at such an early age that I have no memories of it; this may be one reason that I’ve never been much drawn toward having sex for my own pleasure. But I don’t miss what I have never had, so to speak, and being circumcised seems to help my work because I don’t get easily distracted when I service clients. After so many years and different clients, I can count on one hand those who have said or shown in some way that they notice the circumcision. Many eyes have been up close, and many fingers have touched me there, but though I look and feel quite different from a woman with intact genitals I’ve had very few reactions. So I often wonder how much real affinity most men have for their partners’ bodies. It’s telling that those who noticed also asked about my other erogenous zones and how to sensitize them; many men don’t seem to know we have other erogenous zones than genitals and nipples.
Because of my superstitions I don’t advertise on the internet or through social media; it would expose me to evil spirits beyond my control. So I had to invent and develop casual methods to meet the right men in places where they usually hang out for leisure, and become accepted there as a black, single, migrant woman. I decided it was better for my work to be myself, an authentic black woman, rather than an inauthentic white woman with a black skin. So I dress in Nigerian gear, wearing Nigerian accessories, bring my music, dance tribal women’s dances with booty shaking and lap work, and talk my language when we make love. My favorite trick to loosen and warm up clients is bringing homemade food such as fufu, which is made to be eaten from a bowl with your fingers, sitting on the floor and no napkins. Getting messy with their fingers and lips breaks the white pattern of what is civilized, and sets the mood for being more “natural”. In their daily life, my Dutch clients are completely removed from nature, which means that having sex comes to them in a more roundabout way than to men back home; they love it of course, but compared to the average man in my country, sexual embarrassment and Puritanism is in this people’s genes. By my standards they’re a bit uptight and formal even when they are at leisure and buttoned down; wouldn’t it be boring if I would only mimic the habits of their culture and not mix in my own?
Sometimes I think that my work gives me the chance to act as a kind of ambassador for integration; I think that if all migrant sex workers did such things, it would make our work even more valuable. Of course, true integration requires those from both cultures to leave their comfort zones and mingle somewhere half way: while white cultural DNA has acquired a sort of anti-black gene, blacks don’t naturally go for the whites either, so while I’m exposing them to our ways I’m also learning to get a handle on theirs. I listen to what they tell and ask, and how they react to what I say and do. My work has thus opened the door to a real understanding of a society so different from my own. I’m also working on integrating and overcoming prejudice, stigmatization, and marginalization in my life outside of work; for example, my kids are in school and I am acquainted with some other mothers. Now and then my kids play after school with kids from Dutch-born parents, but there are also mothers and even teachers who simply neglect me when I say hello. So it’s a long, slow process, and my work has helped me more to move forward than anything else.
Doing sex work for just over six years has made it possible for me against all odds to accomplish what I wanted. I bridged the abyss between my culture and social class – the lowest of the lowest – and this culture. I am now pretty well integrated. I am on the level where the rule has become the kind of personal contacts that leads to an invitation like this – telling my story. I am appreciated and respected, and so is my work; I often get thank-yous and compliments for my performance. I don’t come cheap but I know that my fee is totally appropriate for the quality of my services and my personality. And here is the best part: by doing sex work – in total freedom, the way I want it – I am slowly achieving what I’ve always wanted. And that is, having children in the best possible situation, as part of a society to which we belong, with real opportunities to achieve our goals. If my kids should fail, it’s not for lack of freedom and opportunities. This is what sex work has brought me; no other way of life could have made it possible. Praise the Lord. Amen.
Postscript: Thank you, Maggie McNeill, for this opportunity. Your invitation first scared me, but saying yes and doing the work has been a breakthrough in getting my superstition dismantled. AND I discovered that I have a long story to tell. This is just the beginning. God bless you. I am not a writer (although I might become one), but this dear client gave me generously all the help I needed for now. I owe you a good one, baby!