Connie was Italian, heavily tanned and probably in her fifties. She wore white clothes which all seemed to say "disco" on them. We wondered what she'd been doing in Santiago de Cuba for months—til we saw her boyfriend.
Well, that's what my friend and I decided to call him. His name was Elvis, and he wore clothes we hadn't seen Cubans wear on that trip. He was lean, dark-skinned, about 30, confident. Connie were staying in the same bed and breakfast as we were; he lived in Santiago. Elvis sat in the courtyard while my friend and I ate our dinner, while his girlfriend changed with the door open. I unwisely argued with him about street harassment. He told us that because of Castro, Cubans could hold their heads high anywhere in the world.
In the meantime, there was Connie in her negligee, blasting reggaeton in the mornings and buying him jeans.
I thought of the two of them when I read Global Post's series on female-driven sex tourism, which includes stories from Senegal and Jordan.
Jordan is the smaller market, often involving Bedouin guides and confirmations of stereotypes of Western women being loose. The article quotes a British scholar's essay, that these women, mostly from Western Europe, "tend to see Bedouins as "real" men who fit neatly into "traditional stereotypes of masculinity." The same scholar, Jessica Jacobs, added that for the women she's studied, it's about more than sex:
"It's about the moment, the connection to nature, exhibiting a sense of freedom and experimenting with gender identity, doing things that they're not particularly judged for because no one from their own particular society is there to see them," she said.
A connection to nature: Does that sound colonial to anyone? And what's it about for the men? It's often pretty simple, as one of the Senegalese interview subjects testifies:
"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 Senegalese story includes an indelible sentence:
They were swaying in unison, pelvises pressed together. The only thing separating them now was about 25 years.
Twenty-five years — and a world of mobility and economic opportunity.