The double lives of Kenyan university students
It was a few minutes to 8 p.m. when Beth’s cell phone alerted her to a text message. “Come with eight girls. Mix them in different styles. Take a cab and let’s meet in South B,” it read.
Beth, who had been waiting with her friends for the message, was excited. They had to dress scantily, she told the young women who would soon make a short journey to the underworld where illicit sex, alcohol and rich men mix in one of Nairobi’s latest fads.
The house in South B was tastefully furnished, and the girls, undressed to their lingerie, lay in wait on a couch. The rich men would soon be coming to sample the young women on display and take their pick.
Moments later, nine well-dressed men in various stages of inebriation sauntered in, one by one. They ordered their favourite drinks from the well-stocked in-house bar.
They absorbed the sight before them – giggling girls who, in the ordinary course of things, should have been in the library studying – and, one by one, took their pick.
It was in this carefully arranged rendez-vous that Mary found herself with a politician, a man she had only seen on TV debating in Parliament. A first-timer in the business, Mary was embarrassed. But with Sh25,000 in her bag, she forced a smile and vowed never to speak about it.
That night she would join scores, even hundreds, of young women in colleges and universities – especially those close to cities and vibrant towns – who have been trapped by the allure of easy money.
They entertain the rich at private parties where morals and decency are thrown out the window in exchange for wads of cash that affords them flashy, high-priced clothes, laptops for their course work, high-end electronics for their rooms and money for eating out in restaurants and fast food establishments.
Some are driven into this way of life by poverty, others for money. Still others are driven by sheer adventure.
But nearly all these students live double lives; their parents, guardians, priests, sheikhs and relatives have not the faintest idea about their underworld activities.
Following the June 18 death of University of Nairobi student Mercy Keino in mysterious circumstances after attending a party in Westlands, Nairobi, the Sunday Nation has interviewed university students and administrators to understand the changing lifestyles of Kenya’s college students.
In the week-long series interviews with female students, we were directed to houses and apartments in South B, Lang’ata, Westlands, Parklands, Riverside, Lavington, Kileleshwa as well as hotels in various parts of Nairobi and Mombasa that serve as the bases for the parties.
Yet others advertise their services – known as escort services – on the Internet.
Take the case of Imelda. When you meet her, everything about her seems basic and normal. Her English is neither fancy nor accented. No misplaced words. Her sentences are terse and well-constructed.
In a couple of years she would make a great lawyer, but at the moment, Imelda has other priorities; she is driven by an insatiable thirst for money, sex and drugs––the fringe benefits to living life in the fast lane.
From the beginning she set the record straight. “I am not from a poor family,” she said.
“I am just not patient enough to sit around and wait to inherit my parents’ wealth. There is a certain path I want my life to take. And only I have the power to chart that course.”
With that ends the simplicity and begins the complication that is the life of the 24-year-old student of law.
“I have two sets of friends. Some know me as the responsible first-born child of a respectable, well-off family. The other set knows me as a high-end, unattached, very expensive escort,” she said.
Nothing about her single hostel room hints at the latter. The room is nearly bare of any luxury. A single bed measuring about three feet by six feet is on one side facing a window. By the window is a small study table with books and printouts spread on top. Opposite stand two wooden wardrobes.
The room looks like the perfect abode for a student living on state loans and minimum parental support. But closer inspection reveals bits and pieces of a good life. Next to a family portrait on the table is a gold, stone-encrusted bracelet with matching earrings.
A partially open designer handbag reveals quite a few ATM and credit cards; the prizes from her secret life.
“For me, it’s about a certain lifestyle,” she said. “I want more in life in as short a time as possible through whichever means necessary.”