Sex, Survival, and the Process of Becoming a Nyenga Dog

Sex, Survival, and the Process of Becoming a Nyenga Dog

Juma’s mother had only one contact in Mwanza: a male cousin with whom she had a relatively close relationship. While he was making preparations to move to Dar es Salaam when Juma, his mother, and his two sisters arrived in town, the cousin managed to secure a small room for them to rent in a neighborhood about one mile from Mwanza’s downtown center. He also paid their rent for the first two months, which gave Juma’s mother some time to find work and settle in. The only work she could find, however, was as a street vendor selling fish in the downtown center. The work demanded most of her time and required that she be gone from early morning until late evening each day. Unfortunately, she did not make enough money to meet the daily costs of living, including rent (which was almost doubled by the landlord after the initial two months), food, and school fees for Juma (his two sisters never attended school after the move to Mwanza). As a result, she pulled Juma out of primary school for half of each week to help his sisters with domestic work and household chores, while she engaged in part-time sex work to generate extra income:

I accepted the offers of several men—but I kept it at a business level and made sure it was a fair exchange. I kept several boyfriends who gave me almost as much money as I made with my small business. But most were like all men and not reliable. Sometimes they were nice to me and sometimes they beat me and gave me nothing. I tried to find three stable boyfriends, but

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this was not easy because most men are not reliable. [Juma’s mother, November 1998]

As apparent in the above quote, Juma’s mother attempted to maintain a stable exchange-based relationship with a minimum number of “boyfriends,” a practice she continually defined in terms of a core set of pragmatic, businesslike ideals. In fact, she often contrasted these relationships with those of “professional prostitutes,” a distinction that was common among many widows on Bugando Hill (see, e.g., Lockhart 2005).

In June 1998, Juma’s mother moved the household to Bugando Hill to be closer to Mwanza’s downtown center and eliminate travel costs. She had befriended a Sukuma woman from Shinyanga District who was also a widow and willing to share the rent on her two-room mud hut where she currently lived with her two children. The move precipitated Juma’s complete withdrawal from primary school, and he began to spend his days running errands for his mother and helping with household chores. Over the next several years, he became familiar with Mwanza’s downtown center and befriended several street boys of his age:

They [two street boys] were the only boys I knew who were my age. I didn’t know other children because I didn’t go to school and I was always working. But I would be [downtown] and see these boys, and we would go swimming or play soccer. Mama didn’t like them and told me to stay away from them, but I didn’t always do this because they were my only friends and they were fun to be with. [Juma, June 2006]

Juma’s relationships with street boys during this time were relatively ephemeral and based in large part on entertainment and recreation.

By the end of 2002, the health of Juma’s mother began to deteriorate noticeably, and she could no longer leave home or work. One of Juma’s sisters had died of malaria the year before, and he was forced to seek work while his remaining sister took care of their mother. Juma turned to his street boy friends to earn money:

Mama was very sick and suffering greatly. She told me that I must find work and try to earn money for us. I began to wash cars with my friends because I knew they earned money in this way. I did other little jobs too. There was nothing else for me to do because there is no work in Mwanza. I also wanted to be with my friends because things were hard at home and [my mother’s housemate] only wanted my money for rent and chased me off if I had nothing. [Juma, June 2003]

Over the next year, Juma spent all of his days and roughly half of his nights living and working on the streets of Mwanza.

As a part-time street boy whose survival was now dependent on living and working on the streets, Juma quickly discovered that his relationships with other street boys were of a much different character from before:

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