Welcome back! This was originally written as a single behemoth o’ bloggery, but given that it was over five pages single-spaced in Microsoft Word, I tried to improve its readability by chopping it down and posting its parts on adjoining days. If you’re just joining us, start back at Part 1 before you jump in here. Thanks! –M

On a much more minor level, high season brings irritations like longer lines at the town’s one bank or greater traffic on the handful of paved roads (the latter of which being particularly troubling to the teachers I work with, as virtually all of their students walk to and from school.) With the above-mentioned exception of fish, the prices of things – from mango juice to textiles – often rise dramatically. Public transportation is particularly irksome for people who don’t look adequately Kenyan: assuming you’re a clueless tourist, rather than a year-round NGO worker or missionary, the conductors on matatus will ask for double or triple the normal price and argue heatedly when you don’t pay it. They’ll threaten to leave you on the side of the road, although follow-through on this is usually quite low.

Street harassment also experiences a sharp uptick – a phenomenon not just limited to me, but something I’ve discussed with MANY female volunteers of all manner of skin tones/body shapes/physical presentations. I’m fairly well known in my community; even people who haven’t met me personally generally recognize me as “the lady doctor/teacher from the clinic near the post office.” I’m friends with the woman who runs the kiosk where I buy fruit and the cashiers in town where I go for soap and dry goods. They greet me in Swahili and ask about work. During the low season, I inevitably get some attention for my sheer existence, regardless of how I’m dressed or behaving (doubly so if either of those things are even slightly suspect) but most people are either friendly or ambivalent.

However, when high season comes, it’s common for the area to experience an influx of unemployed young men looking for work as beach boys or curio-sellers. They don’t know me. To them, I’m just another mzungu here on holiday. I can barely walk to the bank without an admirer or five stepping into my path, greeting me with some combination of “Ciao baby,” “You so sexy,” and/or “I love you with every part of my heart.” Usually, it’s easy to brush past them or tell them off in rapid Swahili. Occasionally, a persistent one will follow me for a few hundred yards continuously professing how he yearns to make me the mother of his children. (Herein lies another benefit of thorough community integration: one who seemed to be drunk or stoned tried to follow me down the semi-secluded path that leads to my house, alternating between requests for money and offers to “play sex.” A male community member who works near the chief’s office, and whom I stop and chat with amiably any time I pass by and see him there, happened to also be nearby. He quickly intercepted the would-be Don Juan and dissuaded him from his quest. Threats of ass-kicking may have been involved.)

Basically, even in the absence of a physical threat, what sounds like a minor irritation can quickly escalate to a day-ruiner and morale-dampener. (There are international NGOs devoted to changing this sort of thing, but given how many hats I’m already wearing, addressing it in any more formal way than telling guys it’s not OK doesn’t seem like a feasible task for me to tackle at the moment.) I wouldn’t go so far as to draw climbing correlations about street harassment as a “gateway drug,” but it does normalize gender inequality in a deeply disturbing way. It enables the same insidious climate of casual disrespect that creates space for someone to say “She may be 14, but I paid her $20 and she didn’t seem to mind.” A catcall is in no way on the same level as a child rape, but they are both symptoms of the larger social ill of gender inequality.

But of course, this isn’t a problem confined to Kenya, or even to Africa. Women struggle with this the world over – including, quite definitely, in the United States. I think I’ve diverged adequately from the topic at hand that I need to return focus to … what was I talking about again?

Ah, yes. High season.

And so, as with so many things, it’s difficult to come up with a basic explanation of what the enormous tourist presence does for my community. I struggle with this when trying to explain life in my area, as people like to ask things along the lines of, “So do you think it’s, like, better or worse that your area gets so many outsiders all the time?” Tourism is good. Is it? Would the young men and women who are trafficked to serve the sexual needs of foreigners in less body-rich areas agree with you? Tourism is bad. Certainly, if you’re not considering the thousands of jobs it creates, from hotel receptionists to professional fire dancers. Or the marine reserves and turtle protection zones that are funded almost entirely through tourism levies. Or the general net-positive of providing people with a cross-cultural pedagogical experience, like the gap year students who plant trees in the Arabuko Forest, or the ill-informed armchair historians who never realized the scope of medieval civilization in East Africa until they visited the Gede ruins.

A reductionist blanket statement, while offering a tempting narrative, is both impossible and not useful. Therefore, I suppose the best we can do is this:
Tourism is. It simply exists. What can we do but work to solve the issues it creates, while celebrating the victories it spawns? A balancing act, imperfect and necessary, as old as the human desire to wander.