One thing I’ve noticed in this trip (as well as past trips to developing countries) is that where economic asymmetries intersect, certain “trades” seem to flourish… one of them being the world’s oldest profession… better known to you and me as prostitution. I know, theoretically, that prostitution flourishes in the US and Europe, but it doesn’t seem as prevalent, or as out in the open, as it is in the “developing” world. I’m sure there’s a whole host of factors one could go into on why prostitution flourishes… limited economic opportunity (for everybody, but especially women), good money for young women with limited skills, conservative cultures (when young men can’t afford a wife, and most women won’t have sex until marriage, prostitution steps up to fill a need… I saw this in Ethiopia, both with locals as well as Arabs that fly in specifically as sex tourists), etc… whatever the reason though, prostitution definitely exists, and even flourishes, in many parts of the world.
Wait… you might be wondering why on earth I’m talking openly about prostitution here? Well… wait for it, but I’ll start out with some caveating. First, for the record, I do not do any…ahem… “business”. with prostitutes, never have, never will (of course, if I’m 65 and don’t have a wife/girlfriend I reserve the right to change my mind). However, I will definitely interact with them because, in certain places, at certain times, they’re the only women around… and in those situations, they will approach very aggresively (so you really don’t have a choice). Plus, frankly, some of them are damn interesting to talk with… figuring out how the system works in different places (i.e. the economics, the why’s, the different strategies… basically studying how the business functions) is fascinating… and then there’s the crazy stories and differeing philosophical outlooks from each person layered into each conversation. So I’ll reserve any moralizing, or opinions on the subject, from this post other than to, again, state prositution exists, is a reality in many places around the world (i.e. pretending otherwise is just burying your head in the sand) and that one definitely has to deal with it while traveling in many parts of the world. Caveating over.
Although seemingly off topic, I had my first true visitor recently… my friend Shayne came out to meet me in Africa for 2 weeks (I met up with my lovely friend Sasha in Spain in June, but she was also travelling and planning to go to Spain, so not quite the same as someone flying out to specifcally see me wherever I am… Thank you Shayne). I did try and convince him to climb Mt. Kilmanjaro with me (as that was something I was planning to do), but he was having none of it and insisted on something more relaxing (and fun)… and why his visit is relavant to this post is that he ended up getting a ticket to fly into Mombasa (Kenya), with the return flight being out of Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). So given the logisitics and the timeframe, we decided to hit up the beach towns along the coast here (a map here for the non-geographers… zoom in around Zanaibar and you’ll notice that Mombasa is on the ocean in Kenya, just north of the Tanzanian border) as that is what this region is famous for (please refer here for some pictures of Zanzibar… an island just off the coast of Tanzania near Dar Es Salaam). From our internet browsing and asking people who had been to Mombasa, we found out that the preferred palce to go there is Diani Beach, which is about an hour south of Mombasa itself… so we headed there (and in typical style for myself, and Shayne as well, we arrived with only the flimsiest notion of where it was, what was there, how to get there and where we should stay… which of course, worked out just fine).
Diana Beach is, basically, just a beach. There’s a small town named Ukunda a bit inland, but other than that, there’s really just one road that runs parallel to the beach, with resorts / hotels / bars / reaturants lining both sides of the road for about 15 kilometers (a.k.a. end to end). After some fun exploring in a tuk-tuk, Shayne and I found an acceptable (i.e. cheap) place to stay, settled in, took a nap and then headed out for the evening. We had heard that a certain pirate-themed bar (on the beach, and non-coincidentally jsut across the street from the palce we were staying) was the place to be before 1 AM… so we headed out there. That’s where Diani Beach started to get weird… let me try to paint you this picture. Picture a tropical beach… wide white sand, turquoise water, and waves breaking on the reef about a quarter-mile from shore. Now, you get to the bar, located on said tropical beach, by walking down a path off the main street… once you pass through the door, you see a bar with about three levels that gradually step down towards the beach. Right in front of you is the bar area itself… a circular/oval shaped bar with a diameter of about 20 feet at the longest part. To the left of the bar is pool tables and televisions, and to the right of the bar, just beyond a small path/walkway is the cashier. This level steps down (not very far mind you) to another level containing a row of arabic style couches and tables lining pretty much the length of the pool table area and the bar. Then to the right of the couches is a group of about ten tables and chairs, and this level wraps around the cashier booth to a big open dance floor area with another small bar at the back. Beyond this level is the beach, which serves as the third level, as the whole length of the palce is lined with tables and chairs. Sounds nice right? Well, it is…
So Shayne and I arrive and sit down toward the dance floor and order some drinks… and we look around (keep in mind that this is about 10 PM on a Friday night). First of all, the place is playing salsa music, and there actually appears to be some sort of salsa dance lesson going on… definitely not what we expected (at one point the instructors shooed all of the clients off the dance floor and did a little show… I swear I had some Dirty Dancing flashbacks and was prepared for them to try, and maybe fail, at some kind of lift… sadly, no lifts were attempted). Eying the bar’s clientele, we notice that the majority of people are white women in the 35 to 45 year old category… there’s a smattering of locals (both guys and girls… including some “ladies of the night”… you can tell by their clothing) and a couple of other tourists of varying ages. The… ummm… errr…. demographics(?)… were our first inkling that this place is a bit strange. Shayne and I had a couple of drinks, but were tired and decided to head home. However, on our way out the door a woman approached us (one of the 35 to 45 year-olds) and asked if we were leaving, and if we wanted we should come back in and have a drink with her and her friends. In my habit of pretty much saying yes to everything (Shayne is of the same opinion), we headed back in a made some new friends… about 5 ladies, ages in the above category, all from Austria or Germany, all living and working in Diana for at least 5, but, in one case, up to 20, years (i.e. expat locals). Some good conversation was had about living in Diani, why they were here, what they did, what we were doing, etc… turned into a very nice night. We eventually said good night though, and headed home at around 1 AM.
We get up the following morning and decide to (what else?) head to the beach. And we start to notice a trend… there are lots of the 35 and older (mostly older, and mostly speaking German) white women tourists here…? And then we start to notice something else… most of these women are hanging out with younger (sometimes much younger) Kenyan males… and by hanging out, I mean sitting together having drinks (in the date position… i.e. adjacent corners of the table, not directly across), or holding hands while taking walks on the beach, or feeding each other, or, etc. Note, we see some, but much less, of the opposite happening, and by opposite I mean older white man with a younger Kenyan lady. We both experience an even stronger feeling that something strange is going on here. Later that night, we got out again and notice a similar trend… young, local males, dancing, drinking and cavorting with older women… and then the next day at the beach, more of the same. We, not so quickly, deduce that it appears Diani Beach is the place to be for Deutsch Stella’s getting their groove back. We track down and ask our new Austrian friends about what we’re seeing, and confirm our new thesis (as if it wasn’t obvious at this point) that Mombasa is indeed a hotbed of sex tourism… but instead of older men seeking out the young Kenyan ladies… it’s the reverse, older women seeking out the young Kenyan men (known here as “beach boys”). My mind was officially blown… I mean, I figured this happened, or at least could imagine the possibility of such a thing happening, but seeing it with my own eyes on such a scale was actually quite shocking and strange.
Now, I think we all recognize that there is a vast (and normal) difference in the way men and women think and act… and being male, I know how men work, and how prostitution from the male perspective works (i.e. need for sex, sees beautiful woman, pays for sexual release by, and companionship of, said beautiful woman… note that in many developing countries, Kenya being no exception, the working girls can actually be quite stunning in the looks department). As an aside, Shayne and I had an interesting conversation with one of the Austrians, who had an extensive conversation with a Kenyan female prostitutes that she knew… who relayed her opinion to the Austrian on the varying nationalities in terms of playing the game, which means that this a woman has the goal of “winning” by getting married to, or at least supported by, one (or several) foreigner(s)… note that this is actually the goal of most of these women. So here goes… Americans were the wealthiest, would spend the most money, but were very transaction oriented (i.e. they wouldn’t stick around long enough to be “turned”, or fall in love) and they’d never bring a girl back to America with them. Englishmen took years of work, but when the turned, they fell hard, and would often whisk away the woman to a “better life” in Europe, so they were often the most sought after men. Germans and Italians took less work then the English to turn, but would always keep the woman (and often children) supported in Kenya (i.e. without a European marriage certificate). Indian men were often seen as worthy targets as well because they had money (but not as much as the Europeans), turned easily and didn’t last long in bed (I’m just relaying what I was told here people). Fascinating stuff right? Aside over. Anyhow, not being a female, I was very curios to know how the transaction worked the other way.
We (verbally) probed our new Austrian friends about “reverse” sex tourism via a barrage of questions… how do they meet, where do they meet, what are these women called, what do they do together, what’s the goal of the guys, etc. Apparently, it’s much the same as “standard” sex tourism (i.e. male as paying customer to the female… and yes, all these folks fall under the category of “sex tourists”). Most of the “meetings” occur at the nightclub (the one night club in Diani Beach is named Shak Attack… which, given the paiting on the sign, I think is a slight bastardization of the term “Shark Attack”) in the same way males would meet females… the goal of the Kenyan males being much the same as the Kenyan females… to be supported financially, or to find away to get residency in another country (generally Europe). I think the only real difference was that the focus of the transaction might be less on sex, and more on the “boyfriend”/companionship aspect, than the standard male customer female prostitute pairing (but not sure on that point… it’s just an educated guess on my part)… hence the long walks on the beach while holding hands type of thing. Of course, not many of the relationships last (as reported by the Austrian)… and the women (i.e. the older women), if they actually get into a relationship, often have to make sure the guy doesn’t have any local wives (coastal Kenya and Tanzania are the home of the Swahili culture/tribe/people, who are predominantly muslim, which allows for the taking of up to four wives provided the guy can support them financially). For the older women, another reason the relationships fade, is that there’s no real of chance of “entrapment” via having children together (I don’t need to state the obvious here right? Good.).
So there’s some information you likely didn’t know before right? I was actually blown away to the extent of the “reverse” sex tourisim here. And that’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty of “standard” sex tourism here, but I actually think that the women looking for men far outnumbered the men looking for women… but hey, maybe it was my imagaination becasue I’m used to seeing “standard” prositution everywhere now. But again, I couldn’t help feel it was all very strange and weird… And now, whenever I hear people who say they want to go to Mombasa (and I’ve heard this quite a few times now) for a bit of rest and relaxation, I wonder what they really have in mind?