For The Gambia — a country known as the Smiling Coast of Africa — fits the bill for just what they are seeking.
And that, put simply, is love. The smiling, obliging and charming Africans give them the kind of attention that some of them may not have enjoyed for years.
Many of these unlucky-in-love women want to return home from their two-week break with a tan, a smile — and a new lover in tow who can give them the affection they have craved for years.
The young men, some of them teenagers, target the white women. Marriage to a “toubab” — a white foreigner — is their goal. They see them as their ticket to a new life in a country with endless opportunities.
In a country where half the population live below the poverty line and the average wage is £30 a week, a European girlfriend seems to make perfect sense.
But a happy ending is not guaranteed.
Solomon Minding thought he had hit the jackpot when he married an older British woman — but now warns local young men NOT to follow his example.
Warning … Solomon Minding tells young men to be wary of relationships with Brits
Speaking from his village home 20 miles from the bustle of the notorious seaside pick-up joint of Kololi, he said: “Young Gambians realise how beneficial a British woman can be for them.
“I tell them to be careful. They are looking for benefits and a new life out of a Third World country.
“They get to the UK and the old woman who wanted a man in her bed for the first time in 20 years becomes boring.
“Many of the relationships obviously don’t work in the real world. Our lives, our cultures are too different.
“I tell the boys not to go unless they are guaranteed a job, because if the marriage doesn’t work, they’ll be homeless in a cold country with no friends and no way home.
Kololi, The Gambia
Holiday romance … tourists dance in a Kololi bar with Gambians
“They don’t love these women, they never did — so therefore it can never work. Often they are already married, because we can marry four wives here.”
He added: “Poverty here is a disease which makes common sense disappear.”
Solomon was one of the first wave of Gambians to marry a Brit — holidaymaker Catherine, who he met in 1992 when he worked as her tour rep.
He said: “She was nine years older than me. She had not been loved. She had grown up in a care home and run away.
“Life with a caring Gambian who romanced her was probably amazing. We got married so I could go to the UK but I felt trapped there — it was boring, just me and her.
Gambia, Africa map
“When we had our son Peace, who is now 17, she didn’t like my Gambian lifestyle any more. She got annoyed with me smoking wacky baccy, hanging out in the pub and chilling out.
“I went to the council and got my own flat and she had hers. We split up.”
Just how the wooing process works became clear at the Club One bar and restaurant on the Senegambia Strip in downtown Kololi.
At the end of dinner, tables were pushed back, a Bob Marley impersonator took to the microphone and the women who were quietly sitting together rushed to the dance floor as the young Gambian men eagerly pounced on them. The transformation was both remarkable and shocking.
Anti-Aids billboard in Kololi
Risk … anti-Aids billboard highlights danger of unprotected sex
The women gyrated their hips into the groins of the men — known as gigolos — who are often young enough to be their sons or even grandsons.
Some even started kissing, despite The Gambia being a country where couples are rarely seen holding hands.
This is a secret life for hundreds of British women who can get a package holiday here for as little as £400 for a week.
Sylvia Eastment has just married her Gambian husband Alagie — despite knowing he was planning to wed a young local woman.
‘The happiest day of my life’ … 55-year-old Sylvia Eastment weds Alagie
The 55-year-old single mum, from Ramsgate, Kent, has been using her Disability Living Allowance to fly to see Alagie up to five times a year since they met. But Alagie’s antics are so well known to hotel staff that they refuse him entry and Sylvia has to stay with him in his home, which has no running water or electricity. Now she pays his rent and is trying to secure him a visa to the UK.
She beamed on their wedding day as she told us: “This is the happiest day of my life.”
Divorced mum-of-one Helen Sykes spends as many of her holidays as possible in The Gambia since starting a relationship with Ousman Njie, 32, four years ago.
Helen, who is in her 50s, has helped him to buy his own café and bar and said: “I’ve always wanted to set somebody up in a restaurant and now Ousman has one. He’s a wonderful man, adorable. I’m so happy I’ve met him.”
Party town … young tourists mix with Gambian locals in Kololi
Ousman said: “I love Helen for real. One day we may marry but I am not looking to live in England as my business is here and it’s cold there. She is older than me but age doesn’t matter with love.”
After 30 years in London, Polly Francis moved to The Gambia when she met hotel receptionist Lamin Sarr eight years ago.
The retired nurse, who is in her 50s, used inheritance money to build them a home. She said: “I know I’m old enough to be his mum and that people must think I just came here looking for a toyboy but I didn’t. I fell in love.
“He is a gentleman — quiet and strong, my best friend.”
Lamin and Polly
‘Polly and I are real’ … Lamin Sarr embraces Polly Francis, who he calls his ‘wife’
Polly — who has just had a hip replacement — can’t afford the £800 UK visa for Lamin and they are not married because she is not yet divorced from her husband.
She said: “Our home here has no running water but I wouldn’t swap it for London. I don’t miss the rushing around. I do miss my family, though.”
She has a daughter and two sons — aged 40 and 30 — and said: “My elder son found my relationship hard to accept but my younger son has been to visit us. He and Lamin get on well.”
And Lamin, 33, said: “I love Polly. I call her ‘the wife’. The men who marry for the wrong reasons are trying their luck.
“I don’t blame them. But Polly and I are real. She makes me happy — she is wonderful.”
“Women — often white, European and “of a certain age” — flock solo to Senegal’s shores year-round for what one hotel manager called “the three ‘S’s: sun, sea and sex.”
The growth of Senegal’s female sex tourism has its roots in poverty and the lack of jobs for the country’s young men. Senegal’s unemployment for youths is estimated at 30 percent, according to the International Labor Organization, and the average person in Senegal earns about $3 a day, according to the World Bank.
“It’s a question of survival. Life is hard. If I didn’t have these women, I’d be struggling,” said Moussa, a 31-year-old dreadlocked drum player who has been “dating” female tourists since 2003.
“The women come here alone. They hit on you, and you go with it,” Moussa said. “They like men with rastas who play the djembes [drums]. It’s part of the ambiance.”
“Besides,” he added with a sly smile, “they know men who play the drums are powerful in bed.””
MORE than 50,000 Brits flock to The Gambia’s beaches each year. And for a minority, it offers far more than your average holiday escapism.
The chance to feel young again in the arms of a young Gambian can be too tempting to resist. But women should beware – more than two per cent of the population are living with HIV, compared to just 0.2 per cent in the UK.
And according to the Foreign Office, attacks on tourists are isolated – but increasing. So don’t take valuables or large sums of money to the beach or display them in public, and take particular care when visiting isolated beaches.
“Bumsters”, or young boys offering help and advice on beaches and in bars, should be politely but firmly refused.
The country is desperately poor but holidaymakers spending cash on organised trips, in bars and restaurants and on local crafts, will help generate wealth far better than risking long-distance and potentially dodgy relationships.
In 2009, Sofie Amalie Klougart traveled to Mombasa, Kenya with the nonprofit ActionAid. Her day job was to document ActionAid’s numerous efforts to alleviate poverty in the country. Fascinated by the country, Klougart spent her nights and weekends traveling the country in search of stories.
While visiting the country’s numerous beautiful beaches, Ama was struck by the many older European women she saw carousing with young Kenyans. When she inquired with one of the women, she found that she was witnessing what many call “Romance tourism” — lonely men and women who travel to impoverished countries in search of companionship and locals who willingly oblige, in exchange for gifts, free meals, and, sometimes, cold hard cash.
Klougart began documenting the affairs of the many women she met on the beaches of Kenya who introduced her to the sometimes troubling and sometimes empowering world of women who go after exactly what they want and nothing more.
Klougart first came across “romance tourism” while she was walking along the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya. There she saw older, single, white women, who were often surrounded by young Kenyans. “It was very easy to spot,” Klougart told Business Insider.
The hotels in Mombasa were full of European travelers, both male and female, traveling alone. Everyone at the hotels, from the receptionists to the help, was aware of relationships between those in the hotel and the locals, according to Klougart.
Klougart met her first subject, Louise, on the beach. She told Louise that she was doing a story about love. Louise laughed and said, “Love! That doesn’t exist here!” Louise was in a relationship with two different Kenyan men and introduced Klougart to many of the women in the area.
Louise first began living in Kenya in 1997 when she went to work as a tour guide. As a tour guide, she saw many tourists have romances with the locals and she swore that she would never become one of them.
Not long after, Louise began dating a Kenyan man and had a child. The three of them moved to France, but Louise kicked the man out after she caught him cheating. She moved back to Kenya so her son Joshua could connect with his roots.
Most often, the women begin “dating” the Kenyan men because they are lonely. The men usually play along because they live in awful poverty. Playing along can guarantee the men a comfortable bed in a hotel, as well as meals and gifts from the women that the men keep or sell for things they need..
Most of the women are from Germany, Switzerland, eastern Europe, and Turkey. The women are usually older, wealthy, and overweight.
In many cases, money is handled discreetly so that the women can preserve the fantasy of the romance. Other times, it is far more explicit, with women paying the men directly for sex.
One woman that Klougart met travels from Germany twice a year, staying three weeks each time. She visits the same man each time she comes.
When she arrives, she gives the man enough money for him to pay for everything while she is there. Many of the women hate the idea of playing the “sugar momma.” When she leaves, she gives the man money as well.
In many cases, the men are looking to secure a way out of Kenya to Europe through their lovers.
This can lead to elaborate relationships that blur the line between the reality and the fantasy.
Many women get caught up in the fantasy and experience hurt, confusion, and anger when they realize that they were just being used.
Most of the time, however, the women are aware that both are using each other. One for companionship and the other for economic security.
For example, one of the women Klougart met works in the hotel industry in Europe and travels to Kenya each year to escape her life. Her husband died of cancer 20 years ago and she doesn’t want a new father for her children, only some companionship when she needs it.
Klougart learned that the practice is not limited to Kenya. It is common in numerous other vacation spots, especially the Caribbean.
Birds flock and gigolos hustle in the Gambia
For tourists in the Gambia, even the beach is no refuge from hustlers, known as “bumsters”, who sell horseback rides—or themselves.
Sitting alone at a café just off the busy Senegambia tourist area in the Gambia, I suck back my beer. A waiter materializes at my table, smiling a crocodile smile, and asks, “What is your good name?”
I answer, and he churns it over on his tongue, taking possession. “Sa-rah, Sa-rah. I like that name. Sa-rah.” He practically sings it.
I’ve been here long enough to know not to use my real name. He leans forward with his hands on the table, and the questions begin in earnest. Thankfully, they are the same questions asked by the other hundred or so Gambian men who have introduced themselves to me in the past four days, so I already know the answers. After all, this is the Gambia, a former British colony tucked into the middle of Senegal, known for its kora drumming, marijuana, birdwatching, and “bumsters”. These male hustlers are everywhere in Senegambia. They will act as your guide, find you a taxi, and do, well, anything else you desire, for a price. Mainly gigolo and partly con artist, they are skilled at the hard sell.
The waiter is closing in now, but he seems an affable sort, or else I’m just falling for the charm.
“Where are you staying?” he asks. I tell him I’m staying much further down the coast. He tells me I can’t stay so far away becauseWednesday is ladies’ night at the bar and he’d like to escort me. I’m getting the feeling that every night is ladies’ night in Senegambia.
I swear I didn’t know that the Gambia was a hotbed of female sex tourism when I booked my ridiculously cheap charter flight from England. I wanted to go to Senegal, and since the Gambia is located right in the middle of the country, it was the ideal launching point.
One of the poorest countries on Earth, the Gambia has no major natural resources. The only significant agriculture the country has is—literally—peanuts. The unemployment rate is extremely high. A 2004 report by the United Nations Development Programme states that 82.9 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 a day.
Evidence of sex tourism is everywhere in the Gambia. After only a few minutes on the Senegambia tourist strip, I’ve seen three couples, all weathered Euro-style women of a certain age with nubile twentysomething (or younger) Gambian men, holding hands in the bright sun. It works the usual way too: foreign men with youngish local women sipping beer in the shade of the strip’s restaurants.
This is what you see in broad daylight. Behind closed doors, a darker picture emerges. A 2004 UNICEF–sponsored report confirms that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is on the rise in the Gambia. Charges against child-sex tourists have been brought before courts in the Gambia and Europe, according to a 2007 report from ECPAT, an international network of organizations devoted to ending sexual exploitation of children. The report notes that “the occurrence of child sex tourism in the Gambia is well documented,” and that when the bumsters aren’t selling themselves, some pimp women.
The trend of female tourists visiting the Gambia for sexual relationships with adult males is reportedly increasing, and some of the relationships lead to marriage, says a 2005 report from ECPAT: “Older and relatively wealthier female tourists form sexual relationships with younger men who are eager to escape poverty and have a better life abroad.” Many Gambians are utterly dependent on tourism for their survival, and when there is nothing else to sell, some sell themselves. Immediate gratification, such as a meal, can appear to be the beginning of an escape from poverty.
But these are the things you’d rather not think about while out for a walk in the midday sun.
Stepping off the threshold of my hotel, I hear the cry, “Boss lady, bananas?” ringing across the sands. From the other side, a young man makes a beeline in my direction with his hand extended. “Shake hands,” he says. It is not a question but a demand.
Walking on the beach, I meet Abraham, Musah, Lamir, and so many more within minutes. I say, “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you” as politely as I can. Heckling results. Smiling is a mistake. I get rude, and some observers yell back at me, “This is Gambia. It’s nice to be friendly. It’s nice to be nice.”
I follow a white man in his 50s down the main drag; he keeps fending off the demands with a constant refrain of “Maybe later, maybe later.”
“It’s too much,” says a birdwatcher I meet a few days later. “You understand why, but it’s too much.”
Aside from gigolos, the country is also renowned for birdwatching, with over 300 species of birds and excellent birding sites on the coast and up the Gambia River. I join a group of Belgian birdwatchers for an offshore boat tour to Bijol Island, an important breeding site for the Caspian tern and grey-headed gull that is part of the Tanji River Bird Reserve, located about 45 minutes down the coast from the main tourist areas. Join is perhaps not the right word, as the birdwatchers are so enraptured by what they are seeing I don’t think they notice I’m there, though they do let me look through their massive telescopes occasionally. On the way back, one of the birdwatchers admits he feels a little guilty—at home in Belgium, he wouldn’t be able to set foot on such an important breeding site.
The Gambia also boasts excellent regional cuisine, including domada, a rich peanut sauce served on vegetables or meat, and yassa, a meat-and-onion dish that is worlds better than its name implies.
But the constant hassle detracts from what could be a rewarding destination. Some tourists call it greed, but I can’t tell where need ends and greed begins. Many Gambians tell me it is very different away from the main resorts, and I believe them, but all I know is that I need a break from my vacation.
I take a taxi to Boboi Beach Lodge, a rustic haven an hour down the coast near Kartong at the Senegal border. The taxi driver is friendly, not pushy. But as we approach the lodge, he starts to close the deal.
“You need a friend in the Gambia,” he says.
“I don’t want a friend.”
“One night with me and you’ll want me again and again.”
“Thank you,” I say, “but I’ll be okay.”
“I can spend the night with you,” he says, unloading my bags from the back of his jeep, smiling kindly at me. “You shouldn’t sleep alone. It’s lonely to sleep alone.”
I thank him for his kind offer, and that’s all.
He has to ask, because someone might say yes, and who knows what a world of possibilities that might bring—free beer, a good meal, food for his family, a wedding ring, or just maybe a ticket from poverty to paradise.
Access: Once in London, book a cheap flight to Banjul, the Gambia’s only airport. The currency in the
Gambia is the dalasi, and travel in the country isn’t as cheap as you might expect. A meal at a tourist restaurant might cost 200 dalasi, the equivalent of over $10. People speak English, as well as Wolof and tribal languages.