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Name, shame shadowy peddlers of misery
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Administration Police from the Rapid Deployment Unit sail out of Lamu jetty on Monday. They are keeping vigil around mos
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Tourists board the La Marina Restaurant dhow at Mtwapa in Kilifi County for a sundowner cruise along the Mtwapa Creek. T
By John Oywa
Lights flickered from a nearby club and music boomed as we strode across the street. It was 10pm, but Lamu Street, as localâ€™s call it, had just woken up.
Skimpily dressed young girls, some barely 13, swaggered ahead of us, their hands wrapped across elderly white men as they headed into the many night clubs doting the street.
Welcome to Malindiâ€™s red light district, where young girls auction their bodies for a living. It is here where young women negotiate their ways to wealth or to misery and even death.
It is an equivalent of Nairobiâ€™s Koinange Street where the lowly and the mighty creep into the night to quench their sexual desires.
The only difference is that while the Koinange â€˜tradersâ€™ play hide and seek with law enforcers, here, itâ€™s an official business where indecency is thrown out of the window.
We take strategic positions outside a popular bar, hoping to attract one of the young girls but none of them show interest, leave alone returning our greetings.
It was not until we spoke to a watch man that we discovered the reason for the girlsâ€™ apathy. “Poleni sana. Tume anza high season na wasichana wanatafuta watalii (Sorry folks, we have started high season and women are looking for tourists),” said the amused watchman.
The guard told us we could have been hot cake had we visited the town during the low seasons when commercial sex workers turn to locals for survival.
But it later turned out to be a night to be hold as we sampled Malindiâ€™s night life and interviewed the young women who drive the townâ€™s robust sex trade.
In all the night clubs visited the story was the same. A galaxy of young, restless girls dressed in sharp, provocative attires, all jostling for tourists.
At one of the clubs, members of the Hot Sexy Cats, stripped to their panties, were driving the patrons crazy.
It was here where we met Nancy, (not her real name), a retired commercial sex worker who is now a peer educator on HIV and Aids campaign agent.
She asked not to be named because her dirty past as a child prostitute would traumatise her two children.
Nancy, now in her early thirties, plunged into prostitution at 18, after a cousin lured her to Mombasa and later to Malindi where she introduced her to a German businessman.
She had dropped out of school in Form Three when her cousin promised to get her a job in Mombasa.
“At first, I was very traumatised and scared because he was older than me but I accepted him after he gave me Sh50,000 and pledged many other things,” said Nancy. Their love blossomed with the German visiting Malindi three times a year.
“I became an international prostitute. I rented and furnished my house. There was no looking back,” she explained.
He added: “We later broke up with the German and I quickly found a 78-year-old man from Holland who was more loving and caring. He even agreed to pay fees for my son whom I conceived while in school.”
With money squeezed from the two tourists and several others that came in between, Nancy bought land in Mbale, Uganda, where her mother comes from and built rental houses. She also has dairy cows.
Nancyâ€™s father who has since died hailed from Kisii while the mother was a Ugandan. She later stopped seeing the elderly tourist and married a man from Kakamega County.
They divorced last year. Her elder child is living his mother and the younger is with the father.
“I have gone through hell as a prostitute and I have now become an ambassador to tell women to quit this trade. As a peer educator, I also visit clubs to urge them to visit HIV and Aids voluntary testing centres to know their status and to avoid use of drugs,” she said.
Nancy, who is on anti-retroviral medication, drugs that inhibit the HIV, works with various organizations as a peer educator.
“I visit night clubs every day to speak to the young women about their future. Some love it but others accuse me of interfering with their work. Yesterday, I spoke to 15 of them,” she said.
There are estimated 500 commercial sex workers in Malindi alone and the number keep rising, according to Ms Elizabeth Nafula, of the Solidarity with Women in Distress (Solwodi).
“Most of these sex workers are young girls trafficked from up-country and are employed in brothels. They get very little from the trade,” said Nafula.
Although a few of these women have made huge amounts of money from the trade, majority still live in poverty because they are often short changed by the tourists, pimps and brothel owners.
Many have also contracted HIV and Aids or have been shunned by their families.
One girlâ€™s case stands out. She is only 15 and has slept with countless partners including elderly tourists during her two-year stint in the trade.
“I am young but I inflate my age. Sometimes I say I am 20 and men believe me. Most of them give me peanuts. Some even beat me when I demand payment.”
But in Malindi, the beat goes on and the flame of love is not about to dim as plane loads of tourists continue to arrive.