The double lives of 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.

Giggling girls

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.”

It does not bother her that her choices might be frowned upon.

“Some people think of me as a prostitute, but as long as those close to me don’t know this, I don’t mind,” she said.

While in her third year at a local university, she once deferred her studies for a semester to answer a growing demand for her services.
“I got introduced to a certain man at a party. He was a researcher and in the country for a couple of months. He wanted female company, and I offered myself and my services for the right price,” she said.

It wasn’t hard to dupe her parents.

“I told them we were having examinations, and I’d be extremely busy with studies and research,” she said.
In two months she went to Zanzibar, Seychelles, Lamu, Malindi and eventually back to Nairobi. In return she offered exclusive company.

Wage bill

She says her total wage bill wasn’t as big as she hoped, but she managed to rent and stock a clothing stall in Nairobi’s central business district.

Letting and stocking one of these stalls can cost upwards of Sh500,000, bearing in mind that the goodwill amount paid to the stall owner ranges between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000.

“The rest was put in bank accounts,” she said

On average she charges a client Sh12,000 for a night during which anything goes.
“When you pay that amount, you own me. There are no questions asked,” she said. But all payments are made in advance, a minimum of two hours before the rendez-vous, through mobile money transfers.

“This way, I get to know your full identity and know you are serious. In this business, good will is paramount. Plus, it is also a form of insurance just in case someone tries something stupid,” she said.

In the seven years she has been in the business, not all memories are fond.

A year ago, she accompanied a businessman for a weekend to a coastal resort. After all the plans had been made, the two met in town and made for the airport to catch a mid-morning flight, unaware that the man’s wife had got wind of the scheme.
“We got to the check-in counter, and she suddenly burst in causing a scene. She demanded to know who I was and what I was doing with her husband,” she said.

The man claimed he had no idea who the woman was, and in a bid to cut costs, he had just shared the taxi with her and split the fare.
“He proceeded to invite the wife for the alleged conference. I was left at the check-in desk. I turned around, took a taxi and headed home,” she said.

If she makes so much money, why doesn’t she indulge herself? Maybe move to a better neighbourhood, buy a car or expensive clothes?

“Timing and planning. Right now the only source of income comes from my parents — or so they think. What I am doing now is primitive wealth accumulation. After my studies, and moving out of home, I will let loose,” she said. Till then, she said, she will keep doing what she does.

“The only way they will find out about my other life is if I die, and they get contacted as the next of kin. But I won’t be around for the backlash,” she said.

But Lilian, a student at a private university on Thika Road, says poverty has driven her to do what she does. She said she was so poor she could not afford cocaine. It wasn’t a great tragedy, though, because she could still smoke her friends’ bhang and get drunk on a “mzinga” – a 500ml bottle of an alcoholic spirit.

For a whole semester she wore someone else’s clothes so as to look nice and, on a couple of not-to-be-forgotten occasions, their bras and panties.

When a chance to attend a big shot’s party in a house in Nairobi’s Riverside Drive came up, Lilian could not let it pass.

Today she is a regular at the place where she strip-dances and offers massage and sex.

“In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be doing this. but it makes me pay my bills and live a good life,” Lilian told the Sunday Nation.

“Once I asked for supper and breakfast as payment. The man bought me chips and chicken. My friends keep on telling me that it’s a choice. What they don’t understand is that this is an obligation.”

Imelda says hers isn’t a phase in her life; it’s a lifestyle.

“This is a lifestyle I have chosen for myself. I will sustain it for as long as I can,” she said.

Isn’t the soon-to-be lawyer afraid that maybe her other life might catch up with her? The dangers? Diseases? Her moral standing?
“Over the years I have learnt a thing or two about taking care of myself,” she said. “When the time comes for me to move on to something else, I will. Bu, for now, I’m in it.”

“Don’t worry about us,” she added. “We are adults. We can take care of ourselves. There is another group mothers should be worried about.”

The 5-ft7-in curvy girl with nearly flawless skin and short, curly hair casually hints at a possible successor. She has grown quite close to a girl she has known for nearly a year now.

Every three months, she comes over, and for two weeks, the duo has a time-share agreement on the single room. “She is a very clever girl. In April, she came over, and I was shocked to discover she, too, had her list of well-paying clients,” Imelda said.

But there is a problem. The girl is a 15-year-old high school student.

At the close of every term, she tells her parents her grades are worse, and she needs holiday tuition. Gladly, the parents, who are large-scale farmers in the North Rift, send her the enrolment fees and pay for her hostel accommodation. As it turns out, there are no classes. The two weeks are spent “reconnecting” with clients. That’s the group Imelda wants parents to worry about.
Fr Dominic Wamugunda, the dean of students at the University of Nairobi where he also teaches sociology, says dealing with students leading a double life on campus is a major challenge.

“It’s not a question of poverty because there are students who proceed within their limited means and succeed. There are many former students who are straightforward in the way they do things and have lived moral lives.”

He said a few other students are in it because society has openings for these kinds of activities. The social media, he noted, have opened young people to all kinds of behaviour patterns.

“All of us must think together – my view is that we are all responsible. Students are in the experimentation stage.”

By Daily Nation.

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