Sawyers queue for unprotected sex in Chikangawa

Something raw is happening behind the scenic beauty of Malawi’s Chikangawa Forest—scores of men are queuing for sex with a single woman in a nondescript shack, most times without condoms.

Despite the threat of contracting HIV, the men—mostly sawyers starved of sex due to isolation from their families—are also paying a premium for the unprotected sex, which has become one of the most expensive commodity around the forest due to the natural laws of supply and demand.

In the discomfort of a little shack, a woman (name withheld) takes up to 25 men in one night: one at a time, with or without a condom while the rest wait on a disciplined queue outside.

On a good weekend, the woman can make more than K120 000 (about $718), especially if it falls on paydays—far more than what most middle managers in the corporate sector take home.

The sexual activities are so high in the area that local grocers fail to meet the demand for condoms, whose prices have doubled to K100.

The scarcity forces some men to pay more to have unprotected sex, raising fears of high transmission rates of the deadly HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Nation had a four-day live-to-tell experience in four Chikangawa timber centres: Luwawa, Nthungwa, Raiply and Kalungulu where, at some points, we saw men on queues, waiting for their turn with a prostitute.

“People queue here as if they were receiving coupons for sex. It is something you have never seen or heard in your life, but it is happening here in the forest,” said Patani Yiteta, a local found at an open bar called Nkhando at Luwawa.

He said young and old women trek into the Chikangawa Forest ‘sex nest’ from districts and trading centres such as Kasungu, Jenda, Mzimba Boma, Mzuzu City and Nkhata Bay to seek lucrative earnings which can rise to K50 000 (about $299) a day.

There are all classes of people that live in the forests. Some have been there for over 20 years working for the Department of Forestry under the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources and Environment.

Others are sawyers working for private contractors who cut timber or truck drivers and their assistants who transport the timber whereas some are small-scale traders and service providers.

At Luwawa, according to Yiteta, the orgies peak during paydays as “beautiful girls” come from distant places “to service” the clients.

He said a popular girl only identified as Maria is considered the best sex service provider in the area.

The Nation was in luck on a Saturday evening. After sampling traditional wine at Nkhando, our crew witnessed five men lining up near the market’s makeshift bar for a girl who identified herself as Linda from Jenda Trading Centre.

The price per ‘session’ had considerably gone down from K2 000 (about $12) some four days earlier to only K500 (about $3) because, said Linda, few customers were hanging around and many had returned to their stations.

“The men come from faraway places. It is easy for us to operate from here for a whole week and move on to places such as Raiply, Nthungwa and Kalungulu depending on where people are being paid that week,” explained Linda who charged K500 for the talking session.

She said her original home district is Kasungu and that she has been visiting parts of the forest for the last six months.

Risky behaviour

The girl, who confirmed that she sometimes sleeps with up to 25 men a night, said she has managed to open a shop at home with the proceeds.

Said Linda calmly: “Most of the men demand more than one session, but if the line is very long, I charge extra—up to K3 000 [about $18]. The good thing is that they are usually highly aroused after weeks without sex, so they do not take long [with me].

“I can make as much as K50 000 a day or collect up to K120 000 in one pay weekend, although it is tiresome and I refuse some clients. Others, when drunk, do not want to use condoms; I charge them more for the risk.”

Linda said when the wood in the forest is ready and there are many truck drivers, she sometimes has sex in their trucks. However, she said most clients from Lilongwe “are stingy”; hence, her preference for sawyers.

These earn an average of K180 (about $1.08) per plank. In a month, this could translate to K54 000 (about $323), according to a woodcutter who comes from Mulanje (name withheld) and has been working in the forest for two years.

The cutter, who was with six friends on Sunday afternoon at Kalungulu, said he is aware of the risk his promiscuity poses. But, since he cannot live with his wife in the forest, the girls are a convenient way of dealing with lust.

“I do not feel guilty or bad about anything even if I know that I will be having sex with a woman right after witnessing a friend getting out of the room having slept with her,” he said.

Another sex worker found at Raiply Trading Centre said the queues develop only deep in the forest, not near the M1 Road where many girls reside at trading centres along the highway.

“Some of our regular clients are supervisors who are part of the pay teams, so they give us dates they will pay people in a particular part of the forest. That is how we know which areas to go to and on what dates,” said the sex worker who only identified herself as Shakira.

She claimed she has never suffered from any sexually transmitted infection (STI).

A man, who identified himself only as Hunga, said some trading centres in the forest have become so expensive due to the impassable roads, absence of services and high money circulation that apart from the expensive sex sessions, other basic essentials are also priced higher than normal.

“The condoms that they use cost between K70 and K100 here, yet they cost K50 elsewhere. Carlsberg beers sell at around K250 to K300, groceries are double the price and this trade brought by women is worsening things. Very soon, the forest will become the most expensive area in this country,” he complained.

Hunga said he grew up in the outskirts of the forest along the Lilongwe-Mzuzu Road.

HIV and Aids programme

Asked whether Mzimba has a deliberate HIV and Aids programme for the vulnerable areas around the forest, district health officer Dr George Chilinda referred The Nation to the district’s HIV and Aids coordinator Raymond Kawayi.

Kawayi demanded a questionnaire after two days of follow-ups. He later asked The Nation to contact Mzimba North Aids officer Anne Nguluwe who said she is not responsible for the forest area.

The Chikangawa story unfolds against the background of similar activities in the country, notably the recorded prostitution exposed by our sister newspaper Weekend Nation a few weeks ago.

The undercover article exposed prostitution at and around Kamba entertainment place in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre, where couples use open spaces (football grounds) and guarded parking lots in the city for short-time sex.

The story also uncovered organised prostitution in Ndirande Township, where a barman set up a room where customers queued up for a woman, who in turn pays a levy to the ‘landlord’.

National Aids Commission (NAC) executive director Thomas Bisika expressed disbelief over the Chikangawa sex practices, saying the commission has invested resources to fight HIV and Aids in forest settlements through behaviour change and other programmes.

Said Bisika: “For people working and living within forest areas, we signed a grant agreement worth K7.2 million (about $43 113) with the Department of Forestry since 2010 to target the [people] through HIV and Aids interventions. When we get a report [from the department], we will know how much they have worked in that field.”

According to the NAC CEO, Chikangawa must also have benefited from the commission’s other investments in national HIV initiatives.

"We have a multi-tier approach. This involves procurement of condoms for general prevention targeting the whole country. Last year, we procured 42 million condoms for free distribution apart from free HIV testing and counselling services," he said.

Bisika said having realised that prostitution mainly arises from vulnerability brought by poverty and low income, the commission introduced social cash transfers and bursaries to economically empower women and girls.

Principal Secretary for HIV and Aids and Nutrition in the Office of the President and Cabinet Dr Mary Shawa said her office will investigate the Chikangawa matter.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali said the ministry will also look into the issue and seek a way forward.

Chikangawa plantation managers were reportedly out of duty stations when The Nation tried to seek their comment on the social activities within their jurisdiction. The Department of Forest headquarters in Lilongwe were also not immediately available for comment.

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