This story and photography is part of the exhibition Ethical Storytelling: Feelings and Memories.
My Hustle - Shivan
Shivanah a.k.a Blackbird, real name Shivan Alunghat is a 28 years Old Female Ugandan Singer and recording artist based in Nairobi Kenya. A queer activist, queer herself, a single mother of one, unapologetic feminist and a survivor of sex trafficking.
She started her music career as a dancer and as an actress performing in Kampala suburbs and concerts alongside several urban variety Entertainment groups such as City Rock, Fantasies etc.
By 2013 Fantasies Galz a brand of Fantasies Entertainment, founded by Shivanah's longtime friend and Music manager Patrick " Oil Dimes Makombo" Asiimwe had metamorphosed into an all-girl recording group and Shivan was part of the group.
She then went solo and teamed up with Kizington to out super Winner. By 2019, Shivanah had released successful singles such as "Ice Bimbo" featuring Khalifah Aganaga, 'Tonkawa Kko" by Doctor Fizol, Kikutte produced by Artin. Currently working her way through as a professional makeup artist in Nairobi.
It was extremely difficult for me to make a living from my passion in Uganda most especially after a very bad break up. A former dancer of mine and friend mentioned opportunities for performing abroad because it's what she was doing in Turkey. She referred me to an agent who recommended Dubai as a starting point. I was thrilled that I was finally getting the opportunity to perform and earn a living for me and my 9-year-old son. Since I had a passport already, all I needed was to pay an input of 800,000ugx as a token for the agent to help me with the connection including acquiring my Visa and all the required documents for my travel.
I met up with the agent and he so much appreciated my appearance. In fact he went ahead to say" that I would make it quick because I already looked like a star" . My energy was boasted by his comments that I immediately started looking for the input money. I sold off a few things and borrowed some from friends then I paid off the 800,000ugx input I was required to pay.
Two weeks later the agent called me and said my supposed to be boss or one of the bosses was in Kampala,and that she wanted to meet with me before I travel. The excitement in me was unexplained because I was seeing things working out, I went and met up with them. The agent introduced me to the lady and she said she just wanted to see me physically, not pictures, and that she had nothing much to tell or ask me because she believed Gary the agent had told me everything. She then asked if I had any questions which I didn't have because apparently Gary told me everything and answered all my questions.
I was told to go back home and wait for them to call me when the visa was out. That same week after like two days Gary called me and said that my visa was out and that I should get ready to travel the next day. Before the pick up time they gave me I was already dressed and ready to move because I was both excited and couldn't wait to run away from my break up pain. I met up with Gary, my supposed boss lady, and another gentleman I hadn't met before.
Off to the airport we went but along our way they kept on warning me to be careful with the migration questions, that visas are hard nowadays so they booked me a visit visa so I shouldn't say that I was going to work. Was given a number of someone that was to pick me at the airport and that he was to act like my husband that I was going to visit, but once I got there to Dubai it would be work of course so this was just a trick to pass through migration. Well since I was ready to travel all that I was told didn't seem like anything hard to do, so I told them not to worry and that I will answer migration just like they had trained me.
I proceeded for my check in once we got to the entebbe airport but I was bounced and asked to leave the airport immediately because I had my fake visa(expired),,,my heart was racing like crazy at this point full of fear because I was told that I could get arrested for that. I rushed out and called Eddie since they were still waiting for me to fly off before they left though they were not waiting at the airport but nearby, they picked me up after a few minutes and in their argument it seemed like the person where they always got visas was the one that made a mistake. I was dropped at a cousin's place and told that they were going to work on it then call me when everything was set again.
That week went by and I was contacted again to get ready to travel because my real visa was out and that even my ticket was booked. This time I wasn't so excited because I didn't know what to expect but I was still ready to travel. Eddie and the other gentleman were the ones who picked me up this time and we drove to the airport with reminders of what to say at migrations check in. This time it worked, my visa wasn't fake and the migrations didn't ask me anything complicated. After my check in I informed Gary that I was in, then he wished me luck and told me in a joking tone not to tell anyone that was traveling because not everyone wishes us the best. I laughed back at him though I still posted on my social media that I was living UG.
When I arrived in Dubai, I was received at the airport by two ladies who escorted me to an apartment. They took copies of my songs and my pictures, claiming to prepare my first shows. They later came to take my passport, all my identities and phone still claiming that it's part of the show organizing because they need to buy me a Dubai line and also use my ids/ passport to get me an identity card so I am able to move around freely. Which sounded like a plan so I gladly handed over everything, only for me to be picked later on in the night with changed faces. I was all dressed up ready to kill the show but this is when I realized I had been trafficked, Instead of driving to the show we end up at a brothel and here it was too late to run, shout, or make any stupid move because these people were very tough and rude. I could hear girls crying in curtains and I couldn't help thinking how my life was over, I tried so much to resist and run away but where in Dubai could I go that I knew? Moreover with no single document or phone. First of all the slaps given to you there are just enough to calm you down no matter how radical you get, not to talk of the blackmails and threats of getting you arrested using their powers or killing you and no one would trace them.
Instead of facilitating my career as a singer, they forced me into sex work, was not given enough food and denied medical care and not allowed to move outside the brothel because to them new arrivals had a tendency of escaping. So it's only after a month or two that you are allowed to hunt for clients by yourself outside of the brothel but that is only when you have shown cooperation and shown your willingness to work.
The physical and psychological threats were horrible. Some days, I wished for death because not only my womanhood was violated, but my sexuality as a lesbian woman, my career, my dreams, my life and my son's future too was destroyed.
After almost two months of being exploited, I managed to reach out to a feminist sister I had worked with before back in Uganda and she connected with another feminist and activist friend of mine from south Africa. They referred my case to HAART Kenya, whom together with their partner organization planned and coordinated my rescue. I was taken to a safe accommodation and taken to hospital for medical check-ups and treatment. HAART Kenya helped me get a new passport and organized my travel back to Uganda, where I found refuge in the shelter of one of HART's partner organizations called Willow.
My joy and relief of returning home was short lived, as I did not feel safe in my own country. The people responsible for trafficking me continued to pursue me and threaten my life. I was forced to flee from my country to Kenya in March 2019. With no source of income, no employment and still very traumatized from what I went through in Dubai, I had no choice but to leave my son behind. When I arrived in Kenya, HAART Kenya offered me shelter, basic needs, psychosocial and medical support and I slowly began to heal.
In January 2020, HAART financially empowered me to start my own business as a mobile make-up artist. My business was picking up well, and I had slowly started to support myself. I started dreaming about bringing my son to Kenya. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely difficult for me to continue operating my mobile make-up services. This covid situation has also affected my healing since I am home 24/7 sometimes with nothing to eat, worrying about my son back home and wondering why life is doing this to me. It has been so hard that at some point I even thought of being an actual sex worker because what's left to protect really? Covid has brought back so much anger, bitterness and I feel like the reopened wounds are turning into self hate because I can't even date, not to talk of considering being an actual sex worker after everything that happened to me.
But deep down I know that I have survived the worst, I know I survived death itself and I know that I am stronger than my trauma, so I will survive till I start living again.