In 2009, Sofie Amalie Klougart traveled to Mombasa, Kenya with the nonprofit ActionAid. Her day job was to document ActionAid’s numerous efforts to alleviate poverty in the country. Fascinated by the country, Klougart spent her nights and weekends traveling the country in search of stories.
While visiting the country’s numerous beautiful beaches, Ama was struck by the many older European women she saw carousing with young Kenyans. When she inquired with one of the women, she found that she was witnessing what many call “Romance tourism” — lonely men and women who travel to impoverished countries in search of companionship and locals who willingly oblige, in exchange for gifts, free meals, and, sometimes, cold hard cash.
Klougart began documenting the affairs of the many women she met on the beaches of Kenya who introduced her to the sometimes troubling and sometimes empowering world of women who go after exactly what they want and nothing more.
Shet first came across romance tourism while she was walking along the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya. There she saw older, single, white women, who were often surrounded by young Kenyans. It was very easy to spot,she says.
Klougart met her first subject, Louise, on the beach. She told Louise that she was doing a story about love. Louise laughed and said, Love! That doesn’t exist here! Louise was in a relationship with two different Kenyan men and introduced Klougart to many of the women in the area.
Louise first began living in Kenya in 1997 when she went to work as a tour guide. As a tour guide, she saw many tourists have romances with the locals and she swore that she would never become one of them.
Not long after, Louise began dating a Kenyan man and had a child. The three of them moved to France, but Louise kicked the man out after she caught him cheating. She moved back to Kenya so her son Joshua could connect with his roots.
Most often, the women begin dating the Kenyan men because they are lonely. The men usually play along because they live in awful poverty. Playing along can guarantee the men a comfortable bed in a hotel, as well as meals and gifts from the women that the men keep or sell for things they need.
Most of the women are from Germany, Switzerland, eastern Europe, and Turkey. The women are usually older, wealthy, and overweight.
In many cases, money is handled discreetly so that the women can preserve the fantasy of the romance. Other times, it is far more explicit, with women paying the men directly for sex.
One woman that Klougart met travels from Germany twice a year, staying three weeks each time. She visits the same man each time she comes.
When she arrives, she gives the man enough money for him to pay for everything while she is there. Many of the women hate the idea of playing the sugar momma. When she leaves, she gives the man money as well.
This can lead to elaborate relationships that blur the line between the reality and the fantasy.
Many women get caught up in the fantasy and experience hurt, confusion, and anger when they realize that they were just being used.
Most of the time, however, the women are aware that both are using each other. One for companionship and the other for economic security.
For example, one of the women Klougart met works in the hotel industry in Europe and travels to Kenya each year to escape her life. Her husband died of cancer 20 years ago and she doesnt want a new father for her children, only some companionship when she needs it.
Klougart learned that the practice is not limited to Kenya. It is common in numerous other vacation spots, especially the Caribbean.
You can see more images at Klougarts website.
This story originally appeared on Businessisider