By Tobias Chanji
Kwale, Kenya: The forest passes as any other, where people can fetch firewood as it happens in many rural areas.
It is strategically placed. A police station, church and school stand on the east. An airstrip and another school on the south, residential houses on the west while business and a major highway on the north.
That completes the picture of Chobingo forest, as it is famously known in Ukunda town, Kwale County.
Unfortunately, the forest is known for all the wrong reasons, as it has become a den of prostitution.
This is despite the fact that pupils and their teachers, besides other residents, pass through the forest each day as they go about their business.
Whistling and clapping
Standing near the forest, one cannot fail to identity the real ‘owners’ of the ‘facility’.
They are women mainly in their 20s, who have converted it into a lodging.
Dressed skimpily, the women stand on various paths inside the bush whistling, clapping and winking to potential male clients.
“We do not go out looking for men. We do not even have mobile phones but we prey on those who pass through the forest. This is our market,” said Lucy Wamboi Kimani, who has been nicknamed Queen Sheba.
Kimani said their services range from Sh50 to Sh200.
“Most men pay Sh50 for services rendered. However, those who require specialised treatment will have to cough up more,” she said.
‘Queen Sheba’ Kimani is the leader of the group of women, who operate at the forest.
She has been plying her trade for close to five years and she confirmed business is brisk.
“I have been here for around five years now, although the business has been in existence for over ten years. Its two founders Caro and Frigona have since died,” she recounted.
Unlike Muliro Gardens in Kakamega town where benches were used, at Chobingo’s, the ground comes in handy.
“If you have Sh100 or Sh150, you will be lucky to use a lesso. Those who pay less do not use a lesso,” she said.
Most of the women at the forest are drug addicts. That is why it is not surprising to find a woman with a child on her back at the forest waiting for clients.
“If the woman has charmed you enough, she will leave the child behind and you will accompany her just few metres inside the bush,” said Kimani.
At a mango tree, there are tins that women use to fetch water to shower inside the bush.
A broom is also at hand to keep leaves at bay.
“We are sometimes surprised of people who come for our services. Some are respected men while others do not want to protection. If you are in need of drugs that day and you have no cash you will be forced to give into their demands,” she explained.
When it is difficult to get clients at the forest, the women go in search of them.
On a good day, Kimani earns up to Sh2,000 but all these go to drugs.
All her ten colleagues at the forest respect her. They have to seek permission from her before searching for clients.
The women use all kinds of tricks to get clients. These include pole dancing.
Kimani, 31, was born in Nairobi before relocating to Mombasa. She dropped out of school while in Class Three.
“I was young at that time. I became a beach girl. It was not difficult to get a white man because of my age,” ‘Queen Sheba’ said as she puffs a marijuana joint.
She later faked an ID card. She claimed she used $500 bribe to get a passport. She went to Germany with her mzungu (white) boyfriend where they got married.
“After one year, we broke up and he threw me out without even my passport. I went ahead to register as a refugee. Because I was used to the high life, I started prostitution and strip dance,” she added.
An advert she placed in one of the magazines in the country landed her in jail for three months after she was accused of being a sex worker, says Sheba.
She later befriended a Nigerian, with who they were arrested with 7kg cocaine. He was jailed for eight years while she got five. She served two years before being deported to Kenya. She later started a massage parlour in Ukunda, which collapsed.
Kimani and her colleagues are getting help from Ukunda’s Teens Watch Rehab Centre, a non-governmental organisation.
“We give them condoms and syringes to reduce threshold for HIV infection. This is because during withdrawal period, they re-use syringes, which exposes them to HIV. We have someone who goes to pick syringes for them,” said Mr Cosmas Maina, the project co-ordinator.
Maina said it has become difficult to discourage the women from operating at the forest since they do not have another source of income.
“Drug addiction makes it difficult to get the women out of the trade. Besides that, some of them have children who they have to feed,” said Maina.