İstanbul’s African sex workers İstanbul Escorts
Hürriyet photojournalist Murat Şaka spent a year in the notorious streets of Istanbul’s Aksaray and Kumkapı neighborhoods to document the life of African sex workers. Here he tells their Table of wolvesstories:
This Turkish expression refers to a dog-eat-dog world. In this regard, Aksaray and Kumkapı are the table of wolves in Istanbul. Kumkapı is a neighborhood that is home to many African immigrants who are trying to survive in a foreign country after they fled their homeland.
Neon lights, police sirens
Boasting a constant cacophony from peddlers and police sirens, Aksaray is also home to neon-lit bars that double as venues for prostitution. The neighborhood is within walking distance to Kumkapı, meaning African sex workers are frequently seen in the bars.
A street to nowhere
These are the views that I got used to. Exactly a year ago, I missed my bus in Aksaray. While searching for an alternative way to return home, I found myself on a side street. In the middle of the chaos of Aksaray, the street had an authentic atmosphere. The sexworkers, all of whom were Africans, were waiting for customers on the street, but seemed shy and fearful.
Never trust a white man
They were just 30 meters away from me. But it took me three months to cover that distance to photograph their lives. At first, I was only observing the street, looking for a door that may open to their closed, troubled worlds. Sometimes I just wandered in the street. Because – after everything they experienced here – they had learned something: Never trust a white man.
When I started this project, there were 15 African sex workers on the street. After more than a year, their number increased by four or five times. During all this time, I lived a double life – one as a friend, the other as a photojournalist. In the end, I finally managed to enter their world.
How do they come?
Most African sex workers in Istanbul actually come to the city to work in ordinary jobs, seeking to earn money to send to their families in Africa. Their ultimate goal, though, is to go to Europe or America. They enter Turkey with regular visas, but must stay clear of the police after their visas expire.
Living a lie
As such, they find themselves in a position in which they can barely survive, let alone send money to their families. At some point, some start collecting money to send back home. Many of them find that prostitution is the last resort. They eventually becomesex workers, even while telling their families at home that they work in factories or stores.
Learning the life
Luciba, a 23-year-old Zimbabwean, arrived in Turkey five months ago. She is a sociology graduate who speaks English and French fluently. When I first met her, she was cheerful and full of joy. I saw her fade in time, eventually becoming a sulky, nervous person. When I asked about her change, she said, she "learned about life in recent months.”