“Do you have some change you could help me with?” pleads a scruffy elderly white man in a baggy green T-shirt.
We can barely hide our shock at the sight of a mzungu beggar, and especially on the Kenyan Coast, where a white person is typically considered a goldmine: a tourist with a bundle of disposable dollars.
We look in dismay at the bedraggled old man of European descent. Peter, for that is his name, is a British national who is well-known in Mtwapa.
He has been living here for the past seven years, doing menial jobs and hassling people for alms.
Few people know his second name, as he will not divulge it. He was 54 when he first came into the country.
Several visits later, he decided to settle in Mtwapa, Kilifi County. Then misfortune befell him.
Peter had travelled to more than 20 countries across the world before he came to Kenya.
During his travels, he says he learnt at least 25 languages, with Chinese being his favourite.
WORK FOR FOOD
His sojourn in Kenya, however, has not been good. Here, he has been leading a difficult life, at least two years as a homeless person.
Three days before we met Peter at a pub in Mtwapa, we had heard stories about how he was robbed by a Kenyan woman.
During our conversation, Peter confirmed that a woman took off with all that he had, leaving him with only his passport, which he always keeps on his person.
Today, the 78-year-old man lives with a Good Samaritan, who has given him accommodation at her servant quarters at La Marina Estate.
Joyce Auma, a mandazi vendor who has been feeding Peter in exchange for odd jobs such as splitting firewood and cleaning, says they rescued him from a thicket near a building under construction, where he had lived for two years.
Peter now works for Auma to earn a meal. “She is a good person,” he says, gratitude written all over his wrinkled face.
It is Auma who asked her friend to take Peter in after she spotted him being rained on two years ago.
“I have been selling mandazi and fried potatoes here for the past three years. He comes in the morning for breakfast. That is what I can help him with since I cannot give him shelter,” says Auma.
She describes Peter as a good man with a bad temper, especially when asked why he cannot just go back home to England.
“If you want to have a bad day ask him to go back home. He does not want to hear that,” she says.
Why, really, does he detest the idea of going back home? He says the coastal weather has been friendly to him, compared with the situation back home.
“My skin reacts to the cold back home. I enjoy the weather here,” says Peter.
A broke white man is something of a paradox, especially on Kenya’s Coast. Not so in Mtwapa township.
Here, white men, the majority in their sunset years, roam freely, eliciting a glance from the residents or just clinical interest.
Tucked away from the bustling town is a residential area christened Heaven, with immaculate modern buildings, bars and simple but classy hotels lining dirt roads.
The place is christened Heaven because of its apparent affluence, compared to other areas nearby, and its uncanny ability to lure white people as residents.
PAY FOR WI-FI
But life in Heaven is not heavenly. Amid the apparent affluence are the ‘Wazungu Kimbo’: ageing, broke men who live in penury. Some are virtually homeless.
Walking down the street that starts from the famous Posta area all the way to the beach, one easily spots groups of white people seated on the verandas of pubs sipping water or tipple.
Some wear vests, others are clad in faded shirts. Their skins are tanned, thanks to lengthy exposure to the tropical sunshine.
They converse in low tones, barely drawing attention to themselves.
Mtwapa Paradise is one of the joints frequented by the white men. There is free Wi-Fi but you do not get to use it until you buy a drink.
Sylvia, the waitress, will issue the password after taking your order.
At Paradise, one of the foreigners walks in and orders a 500ml bottled water, which costs Sh25, and in the same beat asks for Wi-Fi to be switched on.
Sylvia knows the man too well. “He usually comes here to use the Wi-Fi, but he knows that he must buy something to enjoy the luxury of using our internet connection,” she says as she switches on the Wi-Fi router.
Contrary to the expectation that, being foreigners, they would order expensive drinks, they always drink on a budget.
“They have a specific quantity that they drink on a daily basis and, most of the time, they don’t exceed two beers. You cannot serve them anything more than that,” says Sylvia.
The most frequent patrons are German, who settled in Mtwapa after they lost their money to local women.
Frank Merkt, who is living with a Kenyan woman whom he says he is “assisting because she has children she cannot cater fully for”, admits that he has not been lucky with women.
“They (women) are thieves. They have stolen from me more than once. I no longer trust anyone,” says Merkt, 78, who has been visiting Kenya for the past two decades.
Merkt, a German architect, first came to Kenya in 1999. In Mtwapa, he met Pauline, whom he accuses of fleecing him.
She started the process of acquiring a passport so that they could travel and live together but turned this quest into a cash cow.
According to Merkt, she would ask for money to pay for the document, while already having it. “I sent her a lot of money for the passport, which I never saw,” says Merkt.
TRUST IS ELUSIVE
He left Pauline for another woman, whom he says used her children to get money from him, purporting to be seeking support for their education.
He was shocked to learn that she had no children. The ones he met were “borrowed” from their parents.
Merkt, now old and bitter, lives alone and does his own cooking, house chores and shopping.
Once bitten, twice shy? No, it did not work for him. “There is another woman I brought to the house and she ended up stealing all my household stuff. I will never trust anyone here,” he says.
For the past 10 years, he has been moving around on a bicycle. He spends most of his time at the pubs where he grabs a beer or two, before heading out to the beach and later retiring for the night.
“The weather is what keeps me here. I used to go home for three months and come back here. Even my children do not know that I come to Kenya,” says the father of two.
Hans, another German, frequents a hotel in the area owned by a German, where he and his compatriots hang out. He says the hotel serves the best coffee and bread.
For the past three years, the 66-year-old says he has lived in Mtwapa enjoying the “favourable weather”.
“I caught the African virus when I first visited in 2003. Whenever I go back to my country, my body reacts differently,” he said.
Hans, like his compatriots stuck in Mtwapa, has lost all his money to conniving Kenyan women.
Ironically, his ex-wife of Kenyan origin lives in Germany. But how does he live in Kenya without any source of income?
“I used to work as a gardener in Germany. I receive my pension every month from home,” he says, adding that he does not plan to go back to his country.
This is despite his complaints about being treated “like a foreigner”. “I hate the way we are treated like foreigners. When I am at the shop and someone else comes after me, they are served first. When I try to complain they tell me to go back to my country,” he says.
According to him, the neighbours despise him. Patrick Muhanji, a chef at Honey Pot Bar and Restaurant, says they are used to the European men hanging out like the rest of Kenyans around Mtwapa.
“They are not tourists. We call them Wazungu Kimbo. They have relocated to Kenya and are now part of Mtwapa,” he says.
The Wazungu Kimbo earned their name for staying in Mtwapa long enough to even learn Kiswahili, explains Muhanji, who also lives there.
He says that the foreigners party on budget and even shop on credit.
Yet some never learn from their past misadventures. Muhanji says sometimes the Europeans party with young men and women who end up stealing from them.
The Saturday Nation caught up with Mercy, a young call girl in Mtwapa who lives with a white man.
Mercy says the women who steal from the foreigners do so because some of the men are “too stingy”.
“If you live with someone who is using you without giving you any monetary gain, what do you do? I have been living with my mzungu for almost a year now and it is because he is catering for my needs,” she says.
She reveals that a majority of the small businesses in the area are owned by women who are in relationships with foreigners.
Do they consider leaving? None of those we spoke with wants to seek the help of their embassy or appeal for help from home.
They prefer to suffer in the friendly coastal paradise. We are told that some people once fundraised for Peter to get airfare but he took the cash and stayed on.