The entrance to Liddos looks like the walkway into a fine dining establishment. Ambient lighting, chandeliers and a walkway that looks straight out of a restaurant that only does reserved bookings. Only that they serve adult entertainment as opposed to braised veal here. Wearing the facial expression you’d expect from someone that deals with drunkards and the horniest Nairobians, a huge man in a once-black suit walks you up a flight of stairs.
Downtown Nairobi at 1 AM is a paradox. Some streets are deserted, an arrangement of homeless people on the street, trying to get as much undisturbed sleep as the city council officials will let them. Other streets are as lively, and almost as chaotic, as they are during the day. Matatus calling for passengers, smokies served on steaming trolleys, and bright neon lights. Dancing red, green and white lights, inviting anyone fighting their demons of loneliness, alcoholism or sexual addiction to come in and numb their pain for as long as they can afford to.
I send money to a till that’s on the wall. One thousand Kenyan shillings that admits Reagan and I. We’re here because he said he’d never been to a strip club before, and as a former strip club connoisseur, I couldn’t let that happen. Or maybe we’re deranged young men, who had to take the disappointment of not getting into Boiler Room out on Nairobi’s nightlife. The Mall, where Boiler Room was happening, was chaotic. You went past security if you were white, or rich, but the rest of us harassed, begged and pushed the bouncers to let us in until we gave up and vented on Twitter.
Outside, as the Expressway stared lifelessly back at me, I had eaten smokies wrapped up in a chapati that was too hard around the edges, as we walked the streets of Westlands. I couldn’t complain though, it was the last chapati the seller had, and it was either i stayed hungry or drowned it in endless squirts of ketchup. Walking back from Alchemist, where the stage was being set down but the pallazo-pants-wearing and iPhone-clutching crowd looked like they wanted more, cleaners swept the roads, reggae wafting from the Bluetooth speakers of dreadlocked men who sold khat, cigarettes, sweets, condoms (and if you know how to ask for it, marijuana and Viagra).
Liddo’s notoriety as an accessible, affordable gentleman’s club is larger than its actual physical premise. Young men save up all month to come here. Married men lie to their wives and families to be here. To watch women dance seductively on a tiny stage where big expectations are placed on them. You know what I think? I think they used the term gentleman’s club as opposed to strip club because of Kenyan society’s obsession with political correctness, which is anchored in hypocrisy. Call it a strip club and demand to be protected by the same government that benefits from the beers sold in the club and religious groups will come for you. Lay low, and only remain recognizable to the horny, curious and sexually-starved underworld that is loyal to a fault, and you’re in business.
We sit down at a booth that’s near the pole. A disinterested young lady works the pole. She’s clearly only here because the sharp-tongued MC ensures that the pole is never empty. A waiter gets to the table even before I’ve confirmed that the screens in strip clubs actually play porn, (I confirmed that they do, only blunder is that it’s old porn, and most of the actors are probably in their 50s right now). It’s Ksh 350 a beer, and orders are made in twos, which underlies how inaccessible adult entertainment is to the common man.
Reagan fishes out two one-thousand shilling notes and points at me to show the waiter where to bring the extra two beers. I have a camera in my bag, a deceptively simple Nikon that would get me thrown out faster than empty beer bottles if I tried to use it. Strip clubs get their patronage from the wildly-effective word-of-mouth marketing. Your neighbour tells you how much fun he had at a strip club, without pictures and you now have this itch to go check it out yourself.
On the pole, there’s a stripper who’s using foam to spice things up. She’s built nicely, and she has those smiles that tell you she’d be really fun to hang out with, in a setting where there aren’t hundreds of eyeballs planted on her crotch. I’m not trying to take her on a date though, so I check out the porn on the screen.
The first thing I smelled about Dalvis was her massive wig that looked like a 70s-era afro. It looked good, but it didn’t smell like it, you ever let something go damp and you had to wear it on short notice? If you have never, then keep it that way, you don’t want to smell like Dalvis’ wig. Now she was on my laps gyrating her waist, and I was trying my best to breathe in the circumstances.
The MC, sharp-tongued and as wild as you’d expect a strip club MC to be, asked all the girls to find a guy and give him a lapdance for free. I know the horny guys reading this will troop to Liddos for a free lapdance. There’s really nothing for free in the world, and especially in Nairobi. You’ll pay for it somehow, it might take some time, but they’ll come collect.
The gist is to get to ‘interested’ enough to actually pay for a lapdance, or order drinks for her. I don’t drink at all, so I tell Dalvis to take a break and drink the beer that Reagan got for me. She’s chatty, and interesting. In five minutes, I know she lives along Jogoo Road, with her one-year-old that her mother looks after as she works a ‘night shift gig’. As you’d expect, a lot of the girls look like they’d rather be doing something else, instead of being scantily clad, shaking their bodies for a living.
I have moment of guilt. Am I, Victor Karuga, guilty of objectifying women and not respecting them by patronising a club that takes away the dignity of black women?
Am I actually putting food on the table for an unemployed young woman, (I actually sent Dalvis 500 and told her to buy him something) who would otherwise be struggling for work?
It’s an interesting moral conundrum. I shouldn’t even be here if I was ‘raised right’ and followed my Christian upbringing. Yet, here I am, watching black woman, after black woman take to the stage to satisfy my carnal desires. My dirty, twisted desires. There’s a white man next to the pole, he’s in a settee with a woman who’s so drunk, her legs look like hot noodles when she walks. Like in most places in Kenya, he gets preferential treatment by the waiters and the girls because his skin colour means he might spend more than the rest of us.
I actually don’t take offence when a waiter ignores me for a white person, yes it stings, but he’ll probably get tipped better there, and we’re all looking to get paid. Controversial, but that’s a hill I’m ready to die on. Speaking of dying, it’s almost 2:00 AM, I’ve been here for an hour and I’m wearing Reagan’s sunglasses because he went into a special VIP room to get a more secretive lap dance.
It’s Dalvis’ turn at the pole, and I check her beers for her as she shakes her jelly-like behind at men who gawk and stare like she’s the first naked woman they’ve ever seen. It’s strange being in a strip club with fellow men, because there’s some that are here because they’re sex addicts who genuinely need help, there’s some who are here to tick an item off a bucket list, and there’s those that just want to be surrounded by others and keep away the voices that gnaw at their souls and keep trying to turn off the flame that keeps their sanity.
Reagan emerges from the lapdance room, as disheveled as you think he’d be, a sheepish grin on his face. A good lapdance can have you seeing stars and opening your wallet, and he’s lucky I’m here to whisk him away and save his money. Dalvis asks me to give her 1,500 for a lapdance, I laugh her off and she’s a good sport about it. She’s only trying to get as much money as she can in an economy that requires you to work hard, steal as much as you can and pray that you keep your freedom and sanity.
At the exit, there’s a burly security man that asks for me to look after him (loose translation). I fold a five hundred note into his palm, it’s a lot for me, but fuck it, if Dalvis got hers, my man here can too. We walk into a Nairobi night along River Road, looking forward like we’re Lot and we’ll turn into salt if we look back.
At the Thika Road stage, there’s two girls in bandage dresses that are asking for transport money to go home. Some fake friends left them stranded and they just wanna go home. A man in combat boots and a burning cigarette pays for their fare. He gets a hug for his chivalry. Outside the bus to Weteithie, I light up a joint as I admire Sakaja’s Nairobi. It’s just been cleaned and it actually is clean.
Back at Liddos, it’s probably gotten spicier. A few men will regret their lapdance-fuelled financial decisions in the morning. For Dalvis and her colleagues, it’s just another day at work, trying to get their bills paid. Regulation is needed obviously, to protect the performers against physical and financial abuse, but I think places like Liddos, as hated as they are by religious folk, have a space in society. They’re a pressure valve for the sexually-starved segment of society. Men and women who are so desperate to watch the soft glow of red bulbs against human skin, they’ll pay for it. You can not preach it away, or ban it, it will find a way to evolve. Think banning alcohol, marijuana, or sex. Humans have both angelic and demonic voices speaking to their conscience, sometimes they need to do wild things in a controlled environment to keep the balance that brings sanity.
At our stage, because we keep spending our monies on drugs and pleasure, and we are yet to buy our own cars, the bus ferries Reagan and I into Thika Road, where we silently stare out into the darkness. The passengers inside the bus most likely have their thoughts fixated on their beds, or their houses. It’s been a hectic night, and as wild as it was, maybe Liddos was what I needed. What we needed, to keep our sanity from spilling into the wild side.