Salgaa, the truck drivers' paradise where ‘night nurses’ run the economy

  • Every long distance truck driver knows where Salgaa is
  • It offers strategic stopover for trucks but as darkness engulfs it, sex trade blooms
  • Salgaa is a restin place for those on the long journey from Mombasa westwards

Every long distance truck driver knows where Salgaa is. It is a favourite stop-over on the long journey from Mombasa westwards to Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As darkness engulfs this trading centre west of Nakuru, the trucks pull in, turning the roadside into a long solid wall of parked vehicles.

Almost immediately, bars spring to life and the air is filled with the smell of beer, frying meat and soap. Here prostitution is rampant.

Bars and lodgings are the most lucrative businesses here.

Commercial sex workers throng the bars as early as they can, buy themselves soda and flirt with truck drivers hoping to be bought a beer.

“One must be careful not to get drunk, otherwise they will not remember to insist that the client uses a condom,” says Sarah, 21.

“Most of the time I insist on practicing safe sex, but not always,” says a shy but beautiful Chemutai, 18.

Sarah and Chemutai say they were pushed into commercial sex work by poverty.  “No one wants to do this. It is wrong. If we had a choice, we would quit this risky work,” says Sarah.

The youngest daughter of her father’s second wife, Sarah says life was always going to be hard for her.

Her father died when she was in secondary school, followed soon thereafter by her mother. Due to lack of school fees, she dropped out of school and became pregnant. Salgaa beckoned. 

Rita’s story is no different. At 17, she was expelled from school. She left her home soon after, and became a commercial sex worker in Salgaa at 19.

 Home for Rita and her four-year-old son is a small wooden shack whose walls are covered with old newspapers to block the light.

A curtain down the middle divides the tiny space into a bedroom and a living area that can just about seat three people. Piled in the corner of the immaculately clean dwelling was Rita’s kitchen

— a bundle of pots and pans for cooking outside over a wood fire.

Patrick Ouko, the programme coordinator of a non-governmental organisation that assists people living with HIV/Aids, says commercial sex workers from Nakuru, Molo, Elburgon, Rongai and other parts of the country love the shopping centre.

His organisation provides condoms to the sex workers.

“Sex trade runs Salgaa’s economy,” says Miriam Kimeu, a mother of two who sells vegetables at the market.

 “One has to be extremely cautious bringing up a daughter in this area as there have been a few incidences of young girls being lured to sex trade.”

Salgaa is an unpredictable place. Everyone here lives on borrowed time. No one knows what or who the highway will bring to town. Not even tonight.