Women working in spas in Nairobi share their experiences and how they make more money by offering extra services that are not on the menu
Mercy Mbugua’s face hides many secrets behind her flawless skin and perfectly done make-up. The 29-year-old woman studied beauty at a renowned beauty college in town. She has worked in three high-end salons in town, but only decided to shift to a massage parlour when working in a salon didn’t work out well for her.
Two weeks after she resigned from her last salon job, Mbugua got wind of an opening at a spa. She decided to give it a shot. “A friend introduced me to the manager and I went in for an interview and later joined as a masseuse,” Mbugua says.
It was one of those spas in upmarket areas in Nairobi where masseuse offers clients ‘happy ending’– code for a massage session ending in an activity of a sexual nature. She agreed to share her story on the condition that we don’t reveal her true identity.
“When in college, lecturers once in a while mentioned these ‘extras’ and how to manage such scenarios whether you wanted a tip or not comfortable at all, so I knew what to expect,” she says. Here, walk-ins can be assigned someone or even choose from the women on shift, though many men pre-book, based on a previous service. Her first experience in a spa left her puzzled.
Inside one of the spa’s five private rooms, Mbugua and her client got ready for a session. The space was cozy in a ‘morally right’ way, with a shower stall in the corner and a padded massage table in the centre. Candles, lights turned down low – it could be an ordinary massage clinic, so she thought.
The client removed his robe and lay face down on the massage table with a towel on his lower waist. Mbugua spread oil on his back and engaged in small talk. “Are you having a good day?” “Have you been here before?” and other random questions to wad off the weird silence.
As she was about to finish, he made the request. She froze. “He definitely wanted extra service,” Mbugua says. The extras include hand jobs or penetration for the bold clients and masseuse. This wasn’t Mbugua’s favourite moment, but she did it.
“However, I refused anything more than oral or hand job,” she says. As a wife and a mother, this was just disturbing but she kept going. When the deed was done, she quickly cleaned up, got her tip and left. So for her, the rule of the thumb is: unless a client pays for one of the more expensive sessions, she is not willing to offer the extras.
“The client might tip anywhere between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000, which increases the chances I’ll remember him the next time he comes in. Clients love it when we recall their names and what they like,” she says.
If she handles four clients in a day and each pays Sh3,000 for the hand job, she could make Sh12,000 in a day and when she works for three straight days in a week she makes Sh36,000. Once the client is gone, Mbugua collects the towels and puts them out to be washed. Then she waits for the next guy to walk in the front door. Over the last years, spas have sprouted at a high rate.
Many are concentrated around Kilimani as well as in gyms. The leafy suburbs locations are ideal for men on the way home to the spas after work (the busiest time for many spas is around 5:30), and for clients who don’t want to be spotted.
Unlike many spas, which maintain a low profile, today, spas try to build customer loyalty with a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. On a good day (weekends), with seven girls on shift, the parlour caters for 20 customers.
According to Dickson Koros, a spa manager, a typical midday crowd is made up of businessmen and women on lunch breaks. He’s proud of how the business has grown. “Our girls make good money. We encourage them to be smart with it.
Get in, save, and get out – that’s my motto ,”Koros says. He prefers to hire university students or recent graduates the likes of Mbugua because they’re responsible, stress-free and just free-spirited. “I like the fresh faces,” he says.
Another masseuse, Rose Mwang’ombe, has mastered her act. Unlike Mbugua, Mwang’ombe enjoys what she does and secretly wishes that a client asks for the happy ending. For her clients, Mwang’ombe makes sure that her body language communicates.
Also she doesn’t mind penetration, “as long as the client looks and plays the part,” she says. “ Some clients are shy to ask for the extras,” she says. “I prepare them with small talk before the massage, something like ‘I can’t wait to get started’,” she says.
According to Mwang’ombe if the client wants to lose his towel or stretches his thighs during the massage, then she knows he’s up for the extras. “That’s when I begin quoting my menu and rates,” she says. However, she insists that not all clients want the ‘happy ending’.
“Some visit genuinely for the massage, no happy endings, no extras- just the massage,” she says. “You have to be careful not to sell the ‘extras’ idea to someone who’s completely clueless about it, things might end up wrong for you if they decide to report,” she adds.