Thursday, 3 April 2008

Dancing at Archipel

Alain and I leave the base at around 1am, we’re driving to Archipel, a club that Zlatko recommended to me while laughing, embarrassed, to himself. “It’s ridiculous,” he said “you just look at a girl and she’s all over you. It’s really...what’s the word...indiscrete. She’s touching herself and rubbing herself all over you.”

As we turn out of the FSD compound, the headlights of the car catch rows of long horn cattle in the road. Dozens of cows, trudging slowly up the main road towards us, in complete darkness and silence. “Oh my goodness, what is happening?” Alain says aloud. I can only laugh.

“At this time?” He’s already a bit drunk. I didn’t realise when I first got in the car with him, but he soon explains he’s been drinking whiskey with his parents. He stops to wind down the window and ask the farmer what’s going on. Further ahead, we see a heard of sheep, also heads bobbing, feet clicking on the asphalt. “They’re going to the Vice President’s house,” Alain explains, “because they heard that the FNL was going to steal their animals. They came from Ruigi, they started walking here at 3pm.”

For ten hours, they’ve been walking on the road, moving their animals to the only safe place they can think of – the Vice President’s house in the capital. I picture them camped outside this door, exhausted, pleading for protection.

At Archipel, men are stumbling outside drunk and aggressive. Alain’s been talking about money on the drive here, that someone was offering him 200 dollars a month to work for them. He can make that much in a week, he says. He writes one article for a hundred dollars, he says. I can’t help wondering if this is his drunken way of telling me how much money he expects when it comes time to pay him at the end of our three weeks together. “I’m not doing this for the money” he said at the time, when I asked him what his rate was. “Give me what you can,” and I told him I didn’t have much money.

There is one dimly lit dance floor in the centre of the club, everything else is so dark I can only see vague shapes moving around. Some of the shapes are couples dancing energetically, others are just stumbling around drunk. Alain points out several Burundian celebrities and government ministers. There’s an older French man in the corner, leaning on a tiny, thin Burundian girl who laughs and touches him on the shoulder. Outside, there are hookers lining the walls and talking to anyone who walks by. Inside, they’re girlfriends for hire, Alain explains. They’re not prostitutes, but they’ll ask you for money. I don't understand the difference. It reminds me of the girlfriends for hire in Morocco, and the old, French men in bars, also leaning on thin little girls.

Alain and I are moving lazily to the music with a friend of his, when a girl who looks only 16 or 17 walks over and puts her arms around me, says her name is Melissa. “It’s okay,” Alain tells me.
"French or English?" she asks
"Uh...English."
She smells of alcohol, asks me to buy her a beer. This is uncomfortable. She pulls me close and puts her legs between mine, grinding to the music. She rubs her hands hard over my chest and strokes my beard and keeps trying to pull my head to hers to kiss me. It's fun for a while - and even funny - and I’m dancing, doing my best to enjoy it. But after a few minutes it just become depressing. It's too much. I try to push away from Melissa, but it’s literally impossible. She's wrapped around me tightly, and without aggressively shoving her across the room, there's nothing I can do but play this game of trying to keep my distance and looking anywhere but at her face. She tries again to rub up against me and grabs my hand to move them over her body, I'm fighting against it, and we're wrestling like that in the corner of the dance floor. She’s asks me to buy her a drink again, she tries to hold my hand again. This is getting tedious now. Finally she tells me "I'm going home" - and I just say okay, and feel relieved that she's gone. I look at Alain and laugh.

This is what Zlatko was talking about.

Soon after, one of Alain’s friends is dancing with us. She’s very beautiful and seems to know Alain well - she's not young and desperate like Melissa. I never got her name. She looks elegant in a tight black and white dress, and she isn’t afraid to dance with Alain and I. All around me, people are crushing against each other, sweating in the humid and hot night. Men are pulling young girls closer, women are rubbing themselves against their boys. No one is embarrassed. If you want to dance with someone, pull them closer and put your arms around them. If they like it, they’ll stay. If not, they’ll move away. No one pretends that they're not looking, or not interested, or that they don't want to touch.

At first, I’m uncomfortable holding Alain’s friend so close, I think if I put my hand here, or move like this, she’ll think I’m a pervert and slap me. But, quickly, I understand what’s going on here. It’s something we should all understand, it’s something so simple. Everyone’s enjoying themselves. The girl may not know me, but she knows Alain, so maybe she trusts me, and if it feels good to have a stranger hold you close and move his hips with yours, then why not do it. She smells of sweat and shampoo. Her dress is soaked in sweat, but it doesn’t bother me tonight. I like it. The whole club smells like this, and it’s a hot and sexual smell.

Sometimes, I move away but Alain’s friend pulls me closer. Other times, she moves away and I pull her closer.

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