You know you’re in Africa when…
The DJ plays Milli Vanilli and it’s not an attempt at sarcasm or a remix with wicked beats. It’s straight-up, cheesy-ass, lip-synching, Milli-freaking-Vanilli.
I went out partying with a couple of friends last night. We drove into the cite at 11 PM, and headed first to a fantastic bar called the Eclipse. The first thing I think of when I go to a place like this is what I imagine a Greek bar/restaurant/cafe would look like. Everything is tiled with large white tiles, and short 2 or 3-feet high cement columned railings sectioning off seating areas. Posts go from the ceiling to the floor at various intervals. The bar is large and extends very far to the back, a series of steps up and down, separating various “islands” that each have their own dancefloors with full-wall mirrors (a paragraph on that later). Alleys between the various islands are smooth brushed cement in open air, and all the islands are roofed, lit with bright colored neons: blues, greens, reds, a few marooned disco lights here and there. In the corner of the center island, adjacent to the bar is the DJ booth, home to the most obnoxiously talkative DJ in the world.
All the tables are cheap plastic tables that slide an inch on the tiled floor if you put your drink down too hard. All the chairs are baby-blue plastic chairs, the stackable kind made of one piece of plastic, with a rounded back, large legs, and a curved seating area that cups your behind for hours of drinking and watching. All of the chairs had this random weird Hinu-esque wheel design on the back that sort of fascinated me. I couldn’t decide what it was.
I’m pretty sick these days and and can’t have carbonated drinks. Since I don’t have alcohol, my options were limited that night and I ordered a mango juice and got an entire mango juice carton, and when I ordered a bottle of water, got a 1.5 liter bottle of water. So there I was, looking I like I had just come from the flippin’ market, my section of our table the hair in a soup of tables covered end to end with orphaned green and brown beer bottles. The Congolese like their beer, man, it’s very, very impressive. This group of four behind us got delivered three dozen bottles over the course of the night, and by the time we left, I counted nearly 30 bottles, covering the entire plastic table top.
The music was amazing, and we danced up a storm, coached by our dancing compadre who developed this desire to see us all hop like bunnies across the room. I humored him once or twice and just whacked him the next time he motioned me to hop, but it was all in between bales of laughter, and taking breaks to wipe our tears. When we would tire of dancing, we’d sit back in our surprisingly comfortable baby-blue picnic chairs and look at the dancers on the dance floors in the various islands around us.
Dancing is serious business in Congo, too. Congolese people take some things very seriously, and dancing is obviously one of those. It’s not just dancing, either. It’s an art form, and it’s a competition. This is where I’m breaking down the mirrors for you. I don’t think very many Western chicks would choose to look at themselves moving their bodies for hours on end, in public, facing a wall-sized mirror. For two reasons: 1) it’s freaking weird, what is this, a ballet studio? and 2) face it, they don’t like their bodies that much, and mirrors and scales are sort of the enemy.
Not so in Congo, for a few reasons: 1) All women here love their bodies, the bigger the better, and most don’t own full-length mirrors at home, so this is a bonus 2) If you stare at yourself dancing, you can correct your dance moves 3) you can compare yourself to other dancers and see who’s the best, since you’re all dancing facing the mirror, and not, absurdly enough, facing your dancing partners and 4) you can kind of see who’s checking your ass out, which is a big bonus.
Sometimes, if you forget for a minute where you are, all you see are scores of people silently drinking beer and staring at rows on rows of mostly chicks, grinding against themselves, rotating their hips as if they were kneading dough or wrestling themselves out of a tub of sticky honey, all facing a mirror, as if they were taking some weird, slow, disco aerobics class in a bar, and their audience was fascinated and bored all at the same time.
The mood picks up very frequently, as soon as the DJ plays something everyone loves. Girl, You Know It’s True by Milli Vanilli, or Jump, Jump by Kriss Kross, both got everyone moving, and clapping, but so did a bunch of other songs by Koffi Olomide, and some Ivoirian and Nigerian singers that get people’s bood pumping. Most everyone gets up and dances, not necessarily on the dance floor, but next to their tables, and clap, cheer each other on.
Sometimes, when you’re sitting down, young guys will walk by and moonwalk, or throw in an insanely brilliant dance move, and go through a couple minutes of an elaborate dance routine, in the cemented alleyways in between the islands, and people will cheer them on, as we frequently did, clapping in big hurrahs when they’re done.
Around midnight, the white neon lights flashed on and we left for the nightclub, which was significantly less entertaining to people watch but much more fun for dancing. Wouldn’t you know it, that our night club was called Le Moulin Rouge, complete with a red-neon windmill outside. The club was actually pretty fantastic. All mirrored, air conditioned, with fancy light shows of green and red dots dancing around the small dancefloor like sequins of light. The music was pretty great (except for the Angolan crap that they insisted on playing for at least fifteen minutes, which included chickens and sirens and all kinds of awful sound bites). We even were treated to a Machel/Lil’ John Defense remix theme from Trinidad, which rocked.
We left around 2 AM, all of us had weddings to go to. Different weddings but same experience: here, you do weddings on Saturdays, very often. We all shared a cab, and by the time we dropped me off right in front of my gate, one of the scariest things that can ever happen to you in Africa happened to us: we were surrounded by military personnel. About ten of them, all in navy blue uniforms, with combat boots, and a couple of them aiming AK-47’s away from us, but holding them horizontally. They asked for ID, and let us go after checking it, but we sort of fumbled goodbyes, they walked me to my gate and I crawled into bed, a little more brittle, remembering a little more of the wars, and a little less of the nightclub.