15 November 2012

Kenya: You Cannot Eat Love...part Two

When you've spent a lifetime working towards success and fortune, you might be in search of the perfect status symbol to show you've made it. Thrill seekers and opportunists alike can have it all in the symbiotic relationship that is the winter/summer romance. If it isn't love at first sight (of bank statements), we don't know what is.

"Young, sweet and quiet girl with a wild side."

Inviting and lightly veiled description?


Sizeable yet reasonable monthly allowance requirement?

Paired with a seductive pout and semi-shear ensemble and what we have here is a very successful profile on www.seekingarrangement.com.

And what we also have is a national epidemic, a feverish problem of the much older man, much younger woman variety, and where it stops, nobody knows

Scary Stats:

A number of the women who take on these relationships are college girls struggling to pay the bills. Of the 800,000+ global profiles on www.seekingarrangments.com, about 35 percent of them are school girls. It is presumed that Kenyan statistics follow about the same proportion.

In 2001, Nancy Luke, a professor of sociology and population studies at Brown University, conducted a study titled "Risky Sex in Urban Kenya: The Bitter Side of 'Sugar Daddy' Affairs" on the prevalence and effects of sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships in Kenya. The analysis was done in Kisumu, where 1,052 men aged 21 to 45 where surveyed and data was collected on them, and 1,614 recent non- martial partnerships.

What Luke found in her study was that although sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships weren't as widespread as previously thought, the sugar daddy partnerships whose partners were more than 10 years older were more likely to never use a condom, compared to those whose partners are at most five years older.

The study also showed that young women aged 15 to 24 years have higher HIV infection rates than men their age, which was blamed on sex with older men.

Modern Technology:

She insists I use her real name. "My name is Lilian and I speak the truth," she announces calmly but somehow on a mission.

I stumbled upon Lilian at a bar late one Saturday night and she promised she would do an interview. A couple days later she was still eager to tell her story.

Lilian showed up for our lunch date clothed in vibrant coral and adorned in traditional African jewellery. She is late and endearingly apologetic and she's gorgeous. She is the slightest little thing, almost doll- like in appearance, and one would guess that she is barely 18 instead of 29. She is instantly disarming and the most open person I have ever met.

Lilian and her fiancé Samuel*, 42, met on AfroIntroductions.com. She wrote to him first and they spoke for two months before he finally arrived in Kenya. He still has the picture from her profile on his phone. They have been together for two years and have been engaged since September 2011.

Samuel lives in a hotel while Lilian lives in a house her family already owns. While Samuel doesn't pay rent, he pays for all the bills and food for Lilian, her two brothers, son and nanny. He also pays Lilian's son's school fees. Lilian used to be a casino dealer and had her own clothing import business, but nowadays she doesn't need to work.

On a typical day, Lilian wakes up to get her son ready for school. And then goes back to sleep until around 11am. She usually watches movies for most of the day, horror films being her favourite. Samuel gives her a weekly allowance for things like new clothing or hair appointments, but if she wants more, she just asks for it, because she believes she genuinely deserves it.

"I swear for me it's like I'm doing you a favour. You need to appreciate it and show me every day."

Fantasy World?

Lilian's story, like many others, is what Mable Odima, a sociologist at Daystar University, says, is a generational challenge of living in a fantasy.

It's something she believes is a result of lack of parental guidance or what Karuri terms as, "Parents going on leave." And a relentless pressure to become successful quickly through shortcuts.

Odima believes that some of the sugar babies are in denial. "They seem to be comfortable and for them to realise that they are in a problem is a process."

Lilian's relationship seems like the perfect match, a dream come true. But with a twinkle in her eye and lowered tone, Lilian throws another bombshell.

"You know, Samuel and I met and I loved his eyes, he loved how I smelled, and it was like, 'baby.' But shit happens."

Lilian tells of her latest conquests. She essentially lives two separate lives expertly, working by a set of guidelines and rules on how to manipulate instead of be manipulated.

"I'm never safe; I have to look for the next best thing. Men lie to me, so I lie to them. He can always find someone prettier or younger than me, so I have to have a Plan B."

Dan, on the other hand, has a plan A and B, but no C. "I've never had a wandering eye. There is no other woman apart from my wife and mistress."

Lilian tells of all the different men she's met online and the large sums of money they have given her. She dated one 65-year-old man living in Lavington when she was 25, who was a good cook and very generous.

"Oh my goodness, you should see my Western Union. I could have bought a house by now. At least I'm not a prostitute on the streets. Thank God for the Internet," she says as she shows deposit slip after deposit slip. On one of the paychecks from a wealthy Hungarian man, she took her brother on a well-deserved vacation to Tanzania. Currently talking to a high-ranking man for Nokia in the Middle East, Lilian says she can't complain about her financial situations.

Money, it seems, plays the largest part of the relationship, and it's a state of affairs that Dan has resigned himself to as well.

"I've told her [his mistress] to always be straight with me and let me know if she meets someone who can give her more," he shares.

Karuri is quick to observe that money will only satisfy to a certain level. "By the time she is done with this relationship, she will have a lot of money, but the void will even be bigger than when she met this man."

Lilian hasn't always been so cynical about love. When she was 16 she fell in love with a Kenyan her own age.

"I was so in love with him. I was all about him," she reminisces.

They waited to have sex until she was 18 years old and she became pregnant at the age of 19. She said everything went downhill after her son was born. The son's father told her he was going to move to Mombasa to find work and send for them, but Lilian never saw his face again and had to endure her mother's daily, "I told you so."

"I was very angry for a long time."

The whole situation hit Lilian hard and she never dated another black man or anyone her age again. She says now that she is not attracted to black men and likes older men because they have their priorities and desires in order.

A Crocodile:

Odima believes that first time intimate relationships tend to have a lot of unmet expectations that result in rejection and an overall lack of trust.

"If there is no intervention in the case of a relationship that turns sour in teenage years, then it is true, the stage is set either for revenge, mistreating oneself or reacting in a negative sense to others," Odima concludes.

And this, Odima says, is seen in dysfunctional relationships.

Karuri adds, "If you heal the broken heart immediately then there is no void. And she will not look to fill the void elsewhere."

But love, Lilian says, is just in one of the many movies she likes to watch.

She's incredibly conscious and calculated in her every move and likens the world to a body of water, ever changing, unpredictable and ruthless at times. She depicts herself as queen of this world, one who refuses to be swallowed whole but has instead evolved to triumph over it.

Her actions might not be proper or conventional, but she does what she must to provide the kind of life for her son and family that she could not get otherwise.

Karuri believes actions such as Lilian's are a cause for concern, "If we are not careful, we will lose a whole generation to sexual liberation." Or have we already? Both Dan and Lilian represent a major trend, and both appear to be perfectly happy, one feeling satisfied that he's fitting in with the crowd, the other reaping financial benefits.

Tune in to Kenyan radio; look around at the local hotspots; check out your married neighbor. The sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship is alive and well; but as this need-based union increases in popularity, so will the debate on whether having a girlfriend for the weekends or more than enough extra cash to take a lavish vacation are worth risking marriages, forgoing true love, damaging self-esteems and challenging relationships as we know them. Is this the direction that relationships in Kenya are heading and what are the long term ramifications? Now is the time for us to be talking.

(By Sandra Grzybowski and Rose Odengo)

*Names have been changed

First published in the April 2012 issue of Destination Magazine

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