Easy Money, Easy Lay: My Experience as a White Woman in Africa

Easy Money, Easy Lay: My Experiences as a White Woman in Africa

I walked alone along Lake Malawi, past children bathing, women washing pots, and fishermen repairing hand-carved wooden pirogues. As I walked, I thought back on the last time I had walked solo along an African beach some fifteen months back.

white woman in africa
Walking on my own eventually stopped.

I’d always loved walking on my own. And in the fifteen months I’d been here, I hadn’t stopped walking. I had just stopped walking alone. Now I walked with my husband.

This is not some declaration of undying love, nor the romantic tale of a newlywed couple. I didn’t walk next to my husband because I couldn’t get enough of him. I walked with my husband because it was easier. There’s no way to put this softly—it’s just plain hard being a white woman in Africa. By yourself, it’s even harder.

I didn’t walk next to my husband because I couldn’t get enough of him. I walked with my husband because it was easier.

I hadn’t always noticed this. When I’d studied abroad in Senegal many some time ago, I’d walked with confidence down the streets, sidestepping advances from local men with ease. “I’m married,” I’d declare, showing off a fake wedding ring I’d placed on my finger for these exact purposes. And I’d walk on merrily, no more bothered than that.

My thick skin seems to have thinned as of late. If I go for a solo bike ride in Botswana or a walk alone to a market in Tanzania, I get infinitely more “friendly greetings”/catcalling than if I’m with my husband. The not-so-innocent attention makes me feel like an impala being stalked by a ravenous pride of lions.

The reality is that in the last decade or two the African man’s perception of a Western woman has changed. This may be due to the growing trend of women, young and old, coming to Africa to get themselves “a piece of meat.” From backpackers on overland trucks looking for a night of fun with a rasta-man to older women trying to relive their days of glory, in the minds of African men, foreign women have come to equal easy sex.

We also equal easy money. Local men (dubbed “Beach Boys”) swarm the beaches of East Africa in hopes of finding themselves a foreign girlfriend who will send them currency from abroad, or at the very least, fund their mischief for a few weeks. You can’t really blame them for their ideas—we come to their countries wearing bikini tops and short shorts, spending cash willy-nilly when their own penniless women never reveal so much as their knees.

We fare little better with the young boys. People seem to believe that a woman (especially an older woman) gives money more freely than a man, so begging children approach women first to prey on our supposed motherly instincts and sense of sympathy. I can’t walk through a village without being asked for pens or sweets. The chants are especially numerous if I’m alone.

With the African perception of a foreign woman straight out of a hip-hop song—“Easy money! Easy lay!”—it’s little wonder I tend to walk in the safety of my husband’s stride.

With the African perception of a foreign woman straight out of a hip-hop song—“Easy money! Easy lay!”—it’s little wonder I tend to walk in the safety of my husband’s stride. Strolling along the banks of Lake Malawi the other evening, I thought back on the way that Africa had changed me. The harassment made me cautious and cynical. When I passed people on the streets, I averted my eyes and mumbled greetings before quickly walking on. I rarely stopped to speak with someone, and it had been a long time since I’d made friends with a local.

And with this realization, I forced my skin to grow a few layers thicker. I raised my head proudly and willed my sense of humor to kick in, ready to face the inevitable onslaught. The onslaught came quickly—a group of men catcalling to me in Swahili. Instead of walking on annoyed—as I would have but an hour before—I stopped to ask them what their words meant.

The man who had spoken to me translated, “You are beautiful, walking lady.” Instead of allowing myself to feel disrespected, I thanked him for the compliment, walked on, and smiled as I felt my skin become rhino-thick.

It’s up to us Western women to change the impression we make on Africans. If you plan to travel to or live in Africa, consider following these five tips:

  • Dress more conservatively than you would at home, especially keeping in mind to cover your legs.
  • Avoid wandering into bars alone, as this is telltale prostitute behavior in Africa.
  • Don’t ever give to begging children. If you are feeling generous, give to a registered charity.
  • Wear a fake wedding ring to nip unwanted attention in the bud.
  • Watch the signals you give off to local men. Things that aren’t flirtatious in the West are often misinterpreted as such in Africa.

The bottom line if traveling as a woman in Africa is to develop a thick skin and a sense of humor. It will get you through a lot of harassment and unfavorable situations!

white woman with kids in africa
A thick skin is essential to living in Africa.

About Brittany Caumette

Brittany CaumetteBrittany Caumette has been traveling around the world almost non-stop for nearly a decade. What started as an obsession has now become a way of life. Currently three years into an overland around-the-world trip that has brought her through Africa, into the Middle East, and now into Europe, she writes about her experiences on her website,
, Wandering Footsteps.

14 thoughts on “Easy Money, Easy Lay: My Experience as a White Woman in Africa

  1. November 9, 2017
    Reply

    You are a wonderful woman, i read your response to Segun in Gold Coast Australia and you are one among the few that would wish to live in a world of diversity not a world of homogeneity. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Amilcar
    April 9, 2017
    Reply

    You should try visiting Mozambique, the safest and most hospitable Portuguese speaking country in Southern Africa. Men in Mozambique will not be interested in you because of your race or money. The Mozambican people like to learn about new cultures. Most people in the country are educated and very polite.

    • Brittany Caumette
      April 12, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you, Amilcar, for reading and replying to my experience. In fact, I met my husband in Mozambique! Though I spent a short time in your country, it obviously holds a special place in my heart. I hope to return one day and get to know your people and culture better! Thank you.

  3. Marwa
    February 8, 2017
    Reply

    Mandi has said it all but it depends with a place, for example along the beaches it quite true but in Public buses and other places things are different. I am a Tanzania and I live in Dar es Salaam and I have always admired having a white girl as a friend but I have never bothered any white girl.

    • Brittany Caumette
      April 12, 2017
      Reply

      Hello Marwa,

      In fact I found the people of Tanzania to be wonderfully hospitable and respectful, especially in villages and smaller towns. I hold fond memories of my time there and hope to return one day.

      Thank you for your message!

  4. Segun
    September 18, 2016
    Reply

    I am a black male. I live on the Gold Coast in Australia. The most irritating part of my day is when I’ve got to go out. The way white people (men/women, boys/girls, kids/adults) stare at you is so worrisome. The salty looks you get are nothing but demeaning. I had a white girlfriend, I broke up with her because I could no longer condone the awkward remarks these white folks be making whenever I’m with her in public. The insults are less when I’m alone so I did the needful- broke up with her amicably. That said, I really do think the people over there in Africa won’t insult you because they consider you human unlike the folks here in Australia. I REALLY DO HATE GOING OUT HERE IN AUSTRALIA.

    • Brittany Caumette
      Brittany Caumette
      September 19, 2016
      Reply

      I am so sorry to hear your painful story, Segun, yet I am not that surprised for I have heard these types of experiences from many friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately our world has a long way to go before racism is eradicated. I recognize that my experiences in Africa may not have felt as demeaning as yours in Australia, but they did affect my sense of self-worth and confidence. The bottom line is that, no matter where we are in the world and what we look like, it would be wonderful if others would SEE us without assumptions, stereotypes, or judgment…

  5. Jane
    February 14, 2015
    Reply

    Brittany,

    Great post! It seems like Africa can pose some difficulties if one isn’t careful, but developing a thick skin is something we all need to do at one point or another I guess. Anyway, I was curious about the African men that approach you. I am going to be heading over to Africa and am fairly open to the idea of an African guy. Have you taken any of them up on their offers? As a white girl I’m sure I can speak for most of us when I say that curiosity about black guys is a common thing (especially about “the rumors” haha). If so, how was it? Better than with other guys you had been with? Would you do anything differently?

    Thanks!

    • Brittany Caumette
      February 14, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Jane – thanks for your message, and especially your frankness! Indeed, on my first experience abroad (in Senegal) I ended up having myself a Senegalese boyfriend. On the whole, it was a wonderful experience, because I got to dig deeper into the local culture with him as my guide. It helped that he was a wonderful, honest, and caring person — which isn’t the vibe I get from most of the Africans that have tried to pick me up. If you’re really interested in sampling the local men, try to choose well (with your gut, not your loins!). Skip the men who seem interested in you merely for money or white skin, and remember that HIV is a REAL problem in Africa – sometimes up to 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 people infected. A friend of mine is currently in a very successful long-distance relationship with a Ugandan man, so these cross-cultural relationships CAN work (read http://www.pinkpangea.com/2014/07/experiences-with-foreign-men/ for more on that). Good luck and happy travels!

    • eric
      December 1, 2016
      Reply

      Lol what’s that negativity about african guys. In ghana it depends on the city you visit. Some are well educated, descent, polite and think of all the best qualities you looking for but some cities are the direct opposite

  6. Brittany
    May 19, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks a lot for reading my thoughts on living and traveling in Africa as a white woman, and for sharing your own hesitations and fears. I am lucky in that my negative experiences have mainly been annoying and uncomfortable rather than dangerous. Of course, living in a city and going out at night does increase the dangers. My advice is to make some good girlfriends! Or, to get a good taxi or moto-taxi driver that you feel comfortable with – that worked for me when I lived in Kampala. And that way, you will feel more independent and won’t have to always bother your boyfriend!
    Good luck and enjoy Tanzania!

  7. May 12, 2014
    Reply

    I have lived in Tanzania for five months now and can definitely sympathize with how hard it is. I feel uncomfortable going just about anywhere without my boyfriend, which is a hard pill to swallow as an independent woman. Developing rhino skin is helpful, but the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations are tough to avoid. Thanks for sharing, it feels good to know I’m not alone!

    • eric
      December 1, 2016
      Reply

      Try Ghana

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