It is Saturday evening at Chintheche Inn, south of Nkhata Bay where during my research on ethnic conflict, I stayed for the night, and I and a friend decide to go out for a beer in the pub. We sit at a corner and chat as we wait for our drinks. After a while, a mixed race couple catches our attention.
She is a blonde white woman aged around 45, looking like she weighs almost 200 kilogrammes. Back in Australia, Canada or the US, she would be considered ugly. Her escort, a lean, dreadlocked Malawian in his early 20s, obviously doesn’t mind. He kisses and hugs her again and again and it is obvious that both are aglow with happiness.
Is it real love? My partner and I wonder. Is he trying to make her fall in love to benefit from her wealth? Or is she trying to fall in love to profit from his may be chamba? Did she pay him to be her date?
In recent years, from my observation during research, Malawi is becoming more popular as a tourist destination and the number of sex tourists also seems to rise. Sex tourists frequently visit Nkhata Bay, Salima, Mangochi and Karonga, places I visited on research on a different topic, but the sex tourism caught my attention too.
Most of these white ‘sex tourists’ would have problems finding a boy-friend or husband due many things, including obesity.
But it is different in Malawi where many men prefer women with curves, as it is a sign of wealth and health. In addition, there are quite a number of Malawian men who dream of marrying a white woman to escape poverty.
“I don’t care if she is stupid or ugly,” says a taxi driver outside People’s/ Bazaar Nyirenda Building in Mzuzu.
“I just want to settle in a country like Australia, Germany, Sweden, USA to start a better life. Are you married to a mzungu in Australia…. Why not? If I were you, I would already have married one, and never come back to Malawi and wallow in poverty.”
Some white women accept this scenario because from the exchange, they get what could pass for love, and, of course, sex. In these couplings of convenience, both parties are happy but for different reasons.
Alina (not her real name), a 23-year-old from Germany I met at Kande Beach Lodge, south of Nkhata Bay, says she fell in love with Chengapanu (not his real name), a 35-year-old house-keeper at a lodge near Nkhata Bay. She is happy that she finally found love.
“I never had a boyfriend in Germany. Men didn’t like me back home because of my weight.” Alina weighs 110 kilos and has suffered from depression and self-esteem issues, she says, since she was a teenager.
But things changed when she came to Malawi. Alina and Chengapanu met at a Lodge at Nkhata Bay where he was a housekeeper.
“As soon as I saw her”, he says, “I knew she was the one. I have never seen such a beauty in all my life!”
“When I am with him I feel like a queen,” Alina says of Chengapanu.
“He made me feel beautiful and desirable for the first time in my life.”
Before Chengapanu, she had never met a guy who showered her with so many compliments. The couple is planning to get married and settle in Germany. “I asked my father to offer Chengapanu a job at his company,” says Alina.
Women like Alina are easy targets because of their lust for love.
“The way these guys seduce you makes it so hard for a sexually active woman like me to say no,” says Jane (not her real name), a 58-year-old British widow I met in the pub at Livingstonia Beach Hotel in Salima.
Jane visits Malawi three times a year to visit her Malawian boyfriend. He is 22. She knows that it would not be as easy for a woman her age to find such a young boyfriend in Britain.
According to Jane, it’s not all about love.
“I met a woman who told me that she is just visiting Malawi to get good sex and nothing else. And I can understand where she is coming from.”
Reports show that women from Europe, especially Italians and Dutch women, frequently fly to Malawi and East Africa on sex tourism missions.