It is ‘money come, money go’ for residents of Nyatike in Migori, who ironically live in extreme poverty and on the fast lane, despite sitting on one of the country’s largest gold deposits.
In nearly all homesteads, you’ll find huge mounds of earth, makeshift caves and mines, proof of the local people’s hit-or-miss search for the precious metal.
However, there is little to show for the tonnes of gold that have been mined over the decades, dating back to the beginning of the last century.
“Most residents’ lives rotate around gold mining, but the way they live does not reflect the riches they get. Most of the miners are school dropouts. Without anyone to advise them on investment opportunities, they plunder whatever they get on booze and women,” says Roselydia Akinyi, a social worker in Masara town, one of the mining hotspots in Migori.
It is said the miners disappear to Masara and the nearby towns as soon as they get paid, only to reappear a week later with empty pockets.
Most make as much as Sh80,000 a week, which is spent on alcohol and women in a flash.
For a new comer, Masara town, which boasts of over 100 buildings, passes as any ordinary country township, until nightfall, when the tiny town bursts into a vibrant night life.
“Here, prostitution takes centre-stage in the evenings and the situation gets worse during the ‘high season’ that coincides with the long rains. The lure of gold is so powerful that sex workers come from as far as Uganda and Tanzania. The town has five bars, which are always full of patrons in the evenings. The patrons are said to prefer light-skinned women, and are even ready to part with as much as Sh20,000 for a night with the seasoned wenches who bleach themselves ‘white’” says Oketch Rabala, 50, a leader of a local mining group, who adds that life in the area has always been like this since he was born.
In the town, the ‘yellow-skinned’ girls are referred to in dholuo as ‘wasungu ma Masaria’ (Masaria’s white girls). Some of the women are known to have lucrative investments from the spoils of the gold cash.
“Patrons are known to pay really well, especially if the girl is new,” add Rabala.
“Life in the entire area revolves purely around gold, but people remain poor. Sometimes, two or three men can compete for a single girl. The one whose bid is highest gets the girl. This can be as high as Sh30,000 for a night,” he adds.