KATHMANDU, NEPAL – It’s 4 p.m., and the rain has settled the dust and smoke on the roads of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. But Ring Road, the main road in the city, is abuzz with afternoon traffic.
Not far from Ring Road stands a nameless restaurant, its door covered with dirty green curtains. A Coca-Cola billboard and the menu frame the door.
Inside the restaurant, waitresses have set the tables with napkins and utensils. A small cupboard in the corner offers various brands of domestic Nepali liquor. In another corner, a television replaces the traffic din outside with a Bollywood song. There are three well-dressed waitresses who look as if they are in their late teens.
Among these beautifully made-up faces is a 23-year-old who says that a customer in the restaurant recently impregnated her.
“I had an abortion four days ago,” she says, requesting anonymity. “I cannot afford to rest. Therefore, I am struggling to work.”
The waitress wears tight jeans and a blue blouse, and her hair is dyed brown. Heavy make-up coats her smiling face. But she says that the recent abortion has left her weak and dizzy.
“I look beautiful outside,” she says with a forced smile and sad eyes. “But nobody knows how I feel inside.”
This was her third pregnancy and third abortion during her six-year career at the “cabin restaurant,” a restaurant with private cubicles where waitresses serve food and drinks to customers who kiss and grope them. First, she was pregnant with her employer’s child and then with her colleague’s.
The customer who most recently impregnated her had promised to marry her, she says. But then he fled when he found out she was pregnant.
“He never came back to the restaurant after I told him that I was pregnant with his child,” she says.
Already married when she was 16 to a man she loved, she says she endured violence at the hands of her in-laws. She decided to leave her marriage after her husband began accusing her of having an affair with another man. Her own family had already disowned her after she eloped, so she ran away for the second time with her friends in search of a better future.
But barely literate and with no special skills, she says the cabin restaurant was her only option of survival in Kathmandu. The friends who helped her escape told her the work wouldn’t be difficult and that she would receive one free meal a day.
“The work I had to do was not as easy as my friends had told,” she says, “and nowhere near what I had thought of.”
Her first employer agreed to pay her 1,775 rupees ($20) per month as well as give her one meal a day. She began to work as a waitress with a few additional duties, such as sitting with the customers and encouraging them to spend more money in the restaurant. It was her job to make the customer happy at any cost.