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Exchange Is Not Robbery

More Stories of an African Bar Girl

While living in West Africa in the 1970s, John Chernoff recorded the stories of "Hawa," a spirited and brilliant but uneducated woman whose insistence on being respected and treated fairly propelled her, ironically, into a life of marginality and luck as an "ashawo," or bar girl. Rejecting traditional marriage options and cut off from family support, she is like many women in Africa who come to depend on the help they receive from one another, from boyfriends, and from the men they meet in bars and nightclubs. Refusing to see herself as a victim, Hawa embraces the freedom her lifestyle permits and seeks the broadest experience available to her.

In Exchange Is Not Robbery and its predecessor, Hustling Is Not Stealing, a chronicle of exploitation is transformed by verbal art into an ebullient comedy.  In Hustling Is Not Stealing, Hawa is a playful warrior struggling against circumstances in Ghana and Togo. In Exchange Is Not Robbery, Hawa returns to her native Burkina Faso, where she achieves greater control over her life but faces new difficulties. As a woman making sacrifices to live independently, Hawa sees her own situation become more complex as she confronts an atmosphere in Burkina Faso that is in some ways more challenging than the one she left behind, and the moral ambiguities of her life begin to intensify.

Combining elements of folklore and memoir, Hawa’s stories portray the diverse social landscape of West Africa. Individually the anecdotes can be funny, shocking, or poignant; assembled together they offer a sweeping critical and satirical vision.

424 pages | 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2004

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology


Fans of Hustling is Not Stealing will be eager for these further adventures of Hawa, the West African bar girl who told her stories to musicologist Chernoff in 1977 and 1979. . . . Hawa has migrated back to her father’s country, Burkina Faso, where she’s working in the nightclubs of Ouagadougou, while periodically visiting her ailing father’s village. She details the complex economic arrangements of bar life--the commission system for hustling drinks, the various rates for sex with bar clients and the informal banking system for safeguarding a girl’s daily take. Indeed, Hawa focuses almost exclusively on bottom-line financials--how to get money out of different sorts of men, the relative benefits of living as a mistress, wife or girlfriend, and the competition from cheap prostitutes. She even discusses the downside of her hustling life: with no husband, she’s devalued in village life and has no income security. Still Hawa prefers this to what she sees as the false security of marriage.

Publishers Weekly

"Exchange Is Not Robbery is the sequel to Hustling Is Not Stealing, an oral history about an illiterate young west African woman called ’Hawa’. John M. Chernoff, a musicologist, began taping Hawa’s rich, exuberant stories in 1977. He first met her in Accra, Ghana in 1971, where she made a precarious living as an ashawo woman--a bar girl or hustler working at the fringes of prostitution--having run away from an abusive marriage that she was sold into at the age of 16. The first book related her experiences hustling in Accra and her migration to Togo and then Burkina Faso. Exchange Is Not Robbery catches up with her in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, not far from the village where her father is from. No longer young, she realises her ashawo lifestyle can’t go on forever. Her tone is darker and less playful than before, though flashes of her old self remain. ’So, you know, our people, they used to say that I’m naughty!’ she tells Chernoff in English, one of the 10 languages she speaks. ’They don’t know what kind of a person I am. Ha!’"

Financial Times

"John Chernoff’s books are important and passionate social documents that show how Hawa and many of her fellow citizens are capable, socially advanced and wry survivors; the challenge left to readers is to ask why these qualities in adversity are so necessary, and how things should be changed to enable ordinary Africans to enjoy the freedom they deserve."

Michael Peel | Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

Procedures to Protect Identities
A Note on the Text
Part 1: The Life in Ouaga
1. A Stranger at Home
Love That Makes One Sick
The Story of Woman
Getting an Identity Card
Virginity as a Fatal Disease
2. Working Girls
Working at La Tringle
Mama Gets a Boyfriend
The Village Nightclub
Mama Amma and Her Two Boyfriends
Limata and Her Old Man
The Short Big Man Who Liked to Dance
Part 2: The Human Face of Neocolonialism
3. Fucking French People
The French Nightclub
The French Ashawos
The Godfather
Not Crazy, Just Stupid
4. Konkonsa Research
Mr. Heh-heh-heh
The Belgian Prisoner
Shetu and Philippe
The Trouble with Frogs
Part 3: Hawa Contextualizes Her Life
5. Papa’s Sickness
Transition: Money Matters
Country Roads at Night
The First Useless Child
6. The Big Fight in the Family
The Two Wives
The Big Fight
Interlude: Big Brother
The Big Fight (Conclusion)
7. Life with Father
Issahaku and the Fulani Thieves
Papa’s Mouth
Children Who Steal
Tales of Groove
How Papa Managed
8. Village Comedies
The Sense of Villagers
Introduction to Western Civilization
A Strange Case at the Chief’s Court
How Children Get Sense
Good and Bad Strangers
Special Tea
Pro-pro Ghana Babies
Papa and the Tigernut Lady
Special Agent
9. Young Love in the Village
The Sister Who Refused Marriage
Marrying Sisters
Escape to Bobo
Further Varieties of Village Seduction
A Village Courtship
Catching Chickens
The Sweetness of Villages
Part 4: African Independence
10. Problems of Multiculturalism
Stuck in the Village
Ten and a Half Languages
Undercover Research
I Could Sell Her in Accra
11. Babes in the Woods
The Smell of a Place
Passage by Contract
Ghana Girls in Ouaga
Togo Girls in Ouaga
A Greenhorn
12. The Ashawo Alternative
Women for Themselves
The Patience of a Mossi Mistress
Who Wants to Live in an Institution?
The Issue of an Issue
Serial Monogamy
Private Ashawo
13. Sex Stories from The Life
Not a Captain of Sexing
The Dilemma of Big Pricks
Limata’s Boyfriend
Ginger for Sex Workers
The Italian Man with a Prick Problem
14. The Game
Something like a Thief
The Poor Man Who Tore Limata’s Dress
Customer Relations
Popularity Party
Revenge of the Men
The Price of Champagne

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