Yesterday I made an excursion to Montadia National Park in order to observe the largest species of lemur – the Indry Indry. In the end, I was able to observe, and photograph a whole troupe of them and some other species of lemur as well. I also visited a refuge for various reptiles and paid a visit to my favorite reptiles: the chameleons. Words cannot describe their beauty. I saw a couple of wild chameleons and, of course, some geckos as well.
My driver spoke somewhat decent English and the drive was a long one, so I posed many questions to him about Malagasy culture, the various ethnic groups (there are 18 major ones), burial traditions, monuments, traditional dress, marriage customs, language etc. etc. I mentioned something that a hotel owner in Morondava had told me. He had said something to the effect of, “the Malagasy do not like the French so much. The French raped them in the past and they still do so today; look at all the sex-tourists”. I wasn’t sure what the hotel owner meant by “sex-tourists” but it was clear that, in his opinion, any form of prostitution is equal to rape. I couldn’t help but notice that this expat American’s wife was considerably younger than him and was clearly of Asian descent – not African like most of the people in that part of Madagascar. The man was obviously well-off. I wondered if it was purely coincidence that a young, beautiful Malagasy had fallen for him and that his prestige/money had nothing to do with it. I thought that he might be a bit of a hypocrite – but I don’t know him personally so I cannot pass judgment upon him. But back to my conversation with the driver. I was curious about this odd, and despised, animal known as the “sex-tourist”. Do men really travel over 5,000 miles just to have sex in a backward country? Are there not many legal, and safe, brothels in Europe? I’ve seen many people here in Madagascar. I’ve seen many natives and many tourists, most of them (apparently) French. Not once did I see any obvious signs of the “sex-tourist”. Maybe they’re nocturnal.
I asked Andjry, my driver, what he considered a “sex-tourist”. Is anybody who visits Madagascar, and hires a prostitute, a “sex-tourist”? His answer was that anybody who comes here with the intention of preying upon children is a sex-tourist. As for hiring prostitutes, many natives do it – as do many tourists – but this is merely a transaction between adults. Nobody gets hurt and nobody cares. In fact, having been a prostitute does not even carry a stigma among Malagasy women. Their future potential husbands rarely care. When he told me all this, I told him my own theory: The hotel owner in Morondava is a “sex-tourist” and his mentality is a colonial one.
When foreigners visit a country, and impose their own morality upon the natives, this is a form of colonialism. In America, prostitution is “naughty”, “evil” and usually criminal. It is not socially acceptable. But this American attitude is not shared by much of the world. Many indigenous cultures view sex much more openly than do Americans. The Trobriand islanders are a classic example. I think the world has much to learn from Americans – but our uptight, Puritan, views on sex should not be for export. This being said, I do think there is a fine line between casual, commercial sex on the one hand, and a sexual invasion on the other. If large numbers of foreign men visit a land in order to take advantage of their women, this will obviously have negative consequences. For example, the large number of African men streaming into Europe are “sex-tourists” of the worst kind. They bring disease and violence and they have no intentions of ever leaving. The early European sailors, who colonized Polynesia, might be considered “sex-tourists” and they diluted the native populations of many islands.
I spent a lot of time on, and near, the beach in Morondava. I didn’t see any men hunting for prostitutes. Nobody walked up to me and asked, “hey, where can I get some local children to have sex with”. I did see two women, who were obviously prostitutes, loudly and aggressively trying to sell their services on the beach. They tried to push themselves upon me – so if there was a “victim”, it was yours truly. I just ignored them. Were those two women desperately poor? Were they starving and lacking any other alternatives? This was not the impression I got. It seemed to me they just wanted some easy extra money. As far as I could tell, there were no takers. If they did find a customer, then I’m sure all parties would have been happy; no need to call the authorities or get upset that “sex-tourism” had taken place.