Douala — Clean and caressing, that's the reputation Chinese sex workers have among men in Douala.
"Chan means 'beautiful young girl', and it is one of the most common names in China. That is why I use it to hide my true identity," she says in broken English. The 20-something year old has been in Cameroon for just four months
Chan does not like to be called 'prostitute' or 'sex worker'. She prefers, simply, 'worker'. In fact, she frowns every time the word 'sex' mentioned.
"During the day, I work as a saleswoman at a store in Chinatown," she explains. "In the evening, I come to the hotel to relax. Sometimes clients from the snack bar want girls to keep them company, so we go to a quiet place to chat."
There are two brothels in Douala known to offer the services of Chinese sex workers. According to Gautier Mboulinou, who works at the non-profit organization AIDS Acodev Cameroon, there are "probably many more that we do not know of" and their client base is constantly growing.
At Chan's hotel, the words 'sex' and 'money' are not used in the same sentence. To be hired, a sex worker must be recommended by the hotel staff. The women are only seen when entering the room with a client.
"Chinese people are very discreet," says Mboulinou.
"Clean and smell nice"
J.M., a regular client at the hotel for the past seven months, expands on what happens in the "quiet places" Chan refers to.
"The prices vary from 5,000 to 10,000 CFA francs [about 7.60 to 15.20 euros], depending on whether one wants to spend 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes with a woman. An additional 10,000 CFA francs is added for the cost of the room," he explains.
"I first went with a Chinese woman out of curiosity, just to touch her Asian skin and find out if the sex was different. But I kept going back because I was satisfied," he explains.
According to J.M., who has been with both Cameroonian and Chinese prostitutes, there is a clear difference. The latter are seen as more professional.
"The Chinese women are clean and smell nice. They are always fresh, as though they shower between clients. The Cameroonian sex workers, on the other hand, always smell of sweat. I think it comes from the fact that our sisters only wipe themselves with toilet paper after the intercourse, and then return to the street or bars. In fact, there are no showers in the rooms Cameroonian prostitutes use," he remarks.
J.M. also finds a major difference when it comes to the sex itself. "The Chinese girl smiles, she undresses you, caresses you, giving the impression she really wants you. During the act, she seems to enjoy herself. I don't know if the pleasure is genuine or just a simulation," he says while drinking a glass of whiskey. "On the other hand, our Cameroonian sisters just lie down and spread their legs. They don't want any caressing or kissing, almost like the act of sex is a real bore that they want to be over quickly."
Mboulinou, who often approaches the women as part of Acodev's sensitization campaigns, notes that the Chinese prostitutes tend to be aware of good sexual health practices.
"Chinese sex workers always carry their own condoms and categorically refuse to use those brought by their Cameroonian clients. As far as we know, they always use protection," he says.
However, Mboulinou also says some clients report that Chinese sex workers often use their nails or teeth to tear through the condom wrapper, potentially compromising the condom inside.
"They are sometimes ill-informed about the various ways in which the HIV virus is transmitted. We say that because some often ask if the disease has visible signs on the sexual organ or on the face," he notes.
Inasmuch as Chan may be uncomfortable talking about sex for sale, she is outspoken when it comes to protection. "I always use a condom and I have no health problems," she says. "Even if I do get some minor diseases, Chinese medicine is very efficient."