KENYA: Gigolos and tourists take chances at the Coast

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Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
“I get what I want and she gets what she wants”

MOMBASA, 24 September 2008 (PlusNews) – A couple strolling hand-in-hand along a sandy beach in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa could have jumped straight off the pages of a cheesy romance novel, except for one major difference: the man is local and in his early twenties, while the woman, a tourist, is middle-aged.

The young men who trawl Kenya’s seaside resorts for wealthy white tourists looking for more than just sun, sea and sand are known locally as “beach boys”. Typically in their early to mid-twenties, many sport dreadlocks and skin-tight T-shirts that showcase their bulging biceps.

“I usually walk up to a mzungu mama [white woman] and ask what she’s looking for; if she wants a guide, I can guide her, if she wants to jet ski or go on a boat ride, I can accompany her,” Solomon*, a beach boy on Mombasa’s north coast, told IRIN/PlusNews. “If she’s looking for something more, I can also give it to her.”

There are no official figures on the numbers of female sex tourists arriving in Kenya each year, but locals say the number seems to increase annually. In 2007, two million tourists visited Kenya; the largest numbers were from the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.

Many beach boys, in addition to speaking English and Swahili, the local language, speak fluent German and Italian, learned from years of dealing with tourists. A European language, Solomon says, gives you an advantage over the competition.

Most of his income comes from spending time with visiting tourists, who treat him to expensive meals, excursions and leave him with cash at the end of their stay.

“If I get a good one, I usually stay with her in her hotel and when she goes she can leave about 70,000 shillings [US $1,030], but sometimes less,” he said. “We both have a good time – I get what I want and she gets what she wants.”

''If I get a good one, I usually stay with her in her hotel and when she goes she can leave about 70,000 shillings[US$1,030] but sometimes less''

During peak tourist seasons, such as the summer, Solomon may have as many as five or six different sexual partners. He admits that many of the women he sleeps with are well over 60.

When it comes to the sexual relationship, it seems the use of condoms is the woman’s call. “If she wants me to wear one, I do, but if not then I just do it without one,” Solomon said. “In the beginning I usually use one, but then after a few days we stop.”

Solomon has never been for an HIV test, and says he prefers to trust that the person he has sex with is HIV negative. “Most of the whites don’t have HIV, it’s very rare in their countries,” he said.

According to Elizabeth Akinyi, chief executive officer of Solidarity with Women in Distress (SOLWODI), an NGO that works with sex workers in Mombasa, beach boys are not generally considered as sex workers, and therefore miss out on HIV prevention messages.

SOLWODI deals with female sex workers, and while Akinyi would be keen to include beach boys in the organisation’s programmes, she says they lack resources.

Associations of people involved in tourism related activities, such as those selling crafts, offering water sports or camel rides, are sometimes organized enough to hold HIV training sessions, but people like Solomon, operating on their own, do not benefit from these messages.

“The community does not perceive beach boys in the same way as female sex workers, and nor do NGOs,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “But they should be considered for education, especially because of the HIV risks.”

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