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Po' Pimpin White Style in Kenya (Jungle Fever 2)
« on: October 03, 2002, 01:00:39 PM »
White Poverty Pimps In Kenya

By Philip Ngunjiri
PEREZ/SUN SENTINEL/CORBIS SYGMA

 

"I can't walk freely downtown at night, let alone enjoy my beer in a pub undisturbed," says one Italian man. "They irritate me. I am not a sex tourist!"

Nairobi — Interracial dating is never uncomplicated, but here in Kenya the topic has lately become even more controversial.

Recently, a Swedish national put an ad in the local paper with the sole intention of finding a Kikuyu bride. Apparently the man's former wife, now dead, was a Kenyan of the Kikuyu ethnic group. The ad announced that the suitor would conduct interviews at a local hotel. The turnout was incredible — it took about two weeks for all the women, some of whom were married, to be heard. Fights broke out in the long queue, especially when husbands tried to keep their wives from meeting with the rich white man.

The white male tourist has become a highly prized commodity among young Kenyan women keen on running away from poverty at home. But the hunt for white love is proving not only an agonizing affair for Kenyan men but also bruising to a number of women. Locked in a mad chase to marry any white man, especially tourists from Europe, the women go to ridiculous ends to meet their objective. At the end of their chase, many find themselves still husbandless, but now pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

Still, the women hang on to their elusive goal. Many say that friends who have married white men have done so well that any actions are justified in seeking the outcome. Look at Mary Ann Njoki, they say, formerly a Nairobi-based commercial sex worker. Now Njoki is married and living abroad; when she returns home she rides in a hired car. She built her parents a magnificent bungalow too, no mean achievement for a primary school dropout who just three years ago lived in a one-room hovel on the outskirts of Nairobi. Who wouldn't want to join that bandwagon?

Motivated more by economic factors than by passion, the hunt is intensified around popular nightspots and tour resort clubs — wherever the white tourist gathers. The prey is coaxed, charmed and even hassled into an affair. Many of the men say they don't mind.

"The girls are receptive and quite good company, although at times they are a bother," observes Alfred Mueller, a German tourist from Hamburg.

But an Italian man who would not state his name expressed his disgust. "I can't walk freely downtown at night, let alone enjoy my beer in a pub undisturbed. They irritate me. I am not a sex tourist!"

With poverty like this, however, it's not surprising the local women will go to extremes to escape. Reeling from one of the worst economic disasters in living memory, this East African nation sees as many as two million people go without a single meal daily. And nearly 60 percent of the Kenyan population survives on just one US dollar a day. The quest for a better life accordingly continues, and a relationship with a "mzungu" — Swahili for "white man" — remains one of the few options local women can see, even if the chances of permanent happiness are nearly as slim as winning the lottery.

Joan, who has been hunting for the last four years, says she is not about to give up on finding a white husband. In the process she acquired two babies, one of whom is biracial.

The British father of one of Betty's children sends money monthly. "This is what keeps me going," she brags, adding that a number of women receive money from overseas.

To win their prized white men, the generally healthy-looking women here diet and exercise, mentioning that it is the lean ones who conquer mzungu's heart. But the search for white sugar daddies may bring them disease rather than good health.

In the coastal city of Mombassa, where the country's largest number of commercial sex workers work, the business in overseas tourists is brisk. Sex workers here claim they make a fortune from visiting clients, as compared to their local counterparts. They reportedly pocket as much as $100 in a single night, while even the most generous Kenyan will only pay one quarter that amount.

But though sex workers may feel that every john is a potential ticket out of poverty, he also may be a vector for disease. Already 1.5 million people in this country of 30 million have died of AIDS. Commercial sex workers are at the highest risk.

The Society for Women and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK), a local non-governmental organization, is however trying to get women off the streets by offering them alternative means of livelihood.

"We are helping them to change their attitude, especially the undying interest to head to a 'promised land' somewhere in Europe," explains Ludfine Opundo, SWAK's coordinator. The NGO has registered significant progress, as some women have taken to hairdressing and are earning a decent living on their own.

But the hunt continues nonetheless. Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Affairs officials concede they are in a dilemma of deciding between the tourists' social interests and the local's quest for economic advancement. After all, the world's oldest profession didn't spring up overnight, and there are always going to be both buyers and sellers in the commodities of both sex and dreams.





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