We paid our bill and left Desalech Kitfo. You remember the couple I told you about, the Ethiopian lady and her Indian beau who joined our party? Well, they followed us out of the restaurant like we were in the same entourage.
Just outside, we found a guy in a van. I don’t know if he was arriving or leaving but he was there and we needed a ride back to our hotel. We did not inquire if he was operating a taxi service, we just got in and told him to take us to our hotel. The guy obliged us.
This is one peculiar thing I found about the few Ethiopians we had interacted with that night. They were very trusting of strangers. Like the lady who walked with us in the dark to bring us to this restaurant, this van driver who accepted to take us wherever without any fuss and the Ethiopian lady and her Indian boyfriend who got into the van with us, not knowing who we were or where we were going.
As we were heading back to the hotel, the Indian guy shouted, “Me, I want to dance!”
I don’t know who among our group said, “Me too.”
The van driver said, “Then I take you to the club instead of hotel.”
The Ethiopian lady said, “Let us go to club_.” I don’t recollect the name of the club that she recommended.
We turned left onto Airport Road and after driving for a short distance, took a right turn onto Cape Verde street. At the Junction of Cape Verde Street, Namibia Street and Ghana Street, we merged onto Mickey Leland Street. There were a series of clubs to our left.
Now, one thing about those in our party is that we were all of either Bantu or Nilotic extraction (forget the Ethiopian lady and her Indian companion). Injera does not make for a proper supper. It was only midnight, about two hours since we had dined but we were extremely hungry and in the absence of Ugali, sought the next best thing which is chips or French fries as they are popularly referred to in Addis Ababa. No chips joints were open. However, across the street, there was ice cream parlour that was still open. We resigned to filling our stomachs with as much ice cream as we could to shore up our energies for the rest of our night out on the town.
The name of the parlour was Tutto Gelato, if I recollect. They had very good quality ice cream. The kind that is actually made of milk. Not those fake things that are made by mixing milk powder with chemical compounds. There was a slogan on wall that said, “Enjoy it on a hot sunny day.” It was a cold chilly night, but who cared?
The ice cream came in several inviting colours and flavours and we were spoiled for choice. The staff were helpful and gave is different flavours on tiny plastic spoons to help us make up our minds on what we wanted. I chose two scoops of hazelnut and chocolate chip flavoured ice cream on a cone. It was very smooth and creamy and the flavours rich. I enjoyed it to the last lick.
With the ice cream session done, we returned to our earlier agenda which was dancing. We went back across the street and into one of the clubs, whose name still escapes me. On arrival, we found that it was so packed with patrons, there was barely space to breath.
The Ethiopian lady suggested that we check out Club Basement (not its real name) which was within the same building. I have censored the name of the club for fear that the events I am going to describe herein will put the manager into trouble.
We had to walk down a flight of stairs, into a sort of basement area to find Club Basement. We were not disappointed. The club was very modern, the kind with glass and chrome trimmings and leather seating. The whole place looked trendy and upscale but it was completely devoid of any patrons.
Being the Kenyans we were, we just walked in, got a table and sat down. The table, like several others around the club had a whiskey bucket containing a bottle of whiskey as a centre piece. A waiter came and informed us that if we sat at that or any other table with a whiskey bucket, then the only drinks we could order were whiskeys by the bottle. Very few, if any in our group were whiskey drinkers and so we abandoned that table.
We proceeded to sit at a lounge area in the dark recesses of the club. The waiter came running back and quickly informed us that that seating area was reserved.
“But there is no ‘reserved’ sign at the table,” I pointed out.
“I am here telling you now and so I don’t need a sign,” the waiter said.
We went to another lounge seat that was next to the dance floor. This time, the waiter did not attack us with some bizarre club rule. We proceeded to order a bottle of wine. The waiter informed us that he cannot sell wine to us. We needed to go to the manager at the counter as he was the only one who could make a wine sale. Very strange indeed! Could this be the reason the club was practically empty? They were not catering to all the different palates.
We went and found the manager at the counter. The first thing we noted was that there was only one brand of wine on display, Acacia medium sweet red wine.
“Could we have two bottles of wine?” one of my colleagues asked.
“We do not sell wine,” the manager was quick to respond.
“But I see Acacia red wine there,” my colleague argued pointing at the wine on display.
“That is just for display and decoration,” said the manager. “We do not sell any wine.”
We looked at each other in disbelief. Where we came from, people were quick to make a profit. You did not enter a club or a pub that had wines lined up just for display.
“However,” the manager said quickly as we were turning to leave. “If you buy a bottle of whiskey, I can sell you the wine.”
“We don’t want a bottle of whiskey,” my colleague said. “None of us here drinks whiskey.”
“How about you sell us beer then?” another colleague said. “Could you sell us wine with beers?”
The manager placed three different brands of beer on the table, “These are what we have here.”
“I have not seen these ones before,” my beer drinking colleagues said. “We have tasted St. George, Walia and Bole Lager but not these ones.”
“These are vanilla flavoured beers,” the manager said.
My beer drinking colleagues immediately recoiled. A beer should just be a beer. Why flavour it with vanilla. Is that the only thing the patrons at this club partook? Vanilla flavoured beer and whiskey?
We gave up and were turning to leave when the DJ’s changed shifts and another DJ came on with even better music. We hit the dance floor. Too bad for the manager of this enterprise, if he did not want to make a sale, then so be it. Back home in Kenya, a manager would even go to the neighbouring bar to get the specific drink you ordered if he did not have it in stock. I guess the business model was very different here.
After dancing for a while, the inevitable happened. We got thirsty and wanted to drink something. Our corrupt Kenyan culture kicked in. Everyone had a price and if you wanted something, you could get it at the right price. Two of my colleagues went back to the counter and called the manager for a quiet meeting in his office. Ten minutes later, they emerged from his office with two bottles of Acacia medium sweet red wine. At a very mundane price, the manager had agreed to take down the club’s decorative pieces and sell them to us for our refreshment.
In the meantime, we continued dancing. The DJ was top-notch and was responding to his audience. He played Tanzanian hit after Tanzanian hit and we danced away. At the same time, the club started filling up. I guess the change in DJs meant that it was peak time. After all, it was only two o’clock in the morning. The reserved seats were taken up by those who had reserved them and the whiskey tables also filled up with whiskey drinkers. I guess selling whiskey by the bottle was the club’s business model and it had its clientele.
In Ethiopia, sheesha is legal and I saw that almost every table had a sheesha hookah. This was not to be seen on the Kenyan club scene anymore since sheesha was banned. The Ethiopian lady who had accompanied us ordered a hookah for herself.
There was something bizarre about this Ethiopian lady and her Indian boyfriend. They did not act like a couple at all. In fact, upon our arrival at the club, the Indian boyfriend had ordered himself a bottle of whiskey, secluded himself on the lounge seat opposite ours, and proceeded to enjoy his bottle of whiskey in solitude. His girlfriend, on the other hand, was seated with us at our lounge seat enjoying her sheesha. I did not see them talk to each other. Not even once.
Another interesting thing we noticed was that the Ethiopian lady only came onto the dance floor to dance when one of our lady colleagues was dancing. Some of our male colleagues had tried to draw her to the dance floor but she had declined. However, anytime this lady colleague stood up to dance, the Ethiopian lady joined her on the dance floor. On several occasions, she even tried to engage my colleague in close body dancing. My colleague had to keep escaping her. The cat and mouse games became their entertainment for the night.
By this time, the club had hit its peak. The music was jumping and the wine, courtesy of our Kenyan underhandedness, was flowing. Our group was still patronising the entire dance floor, much to the intimidation of the other revellers. Some ladies who were seated at a table behind us timidly joined us on the dance floor and then went back to their seats.
I do not know why they would feel intimidated by us. We were definitely not dressed up for clubbing. Some of us were in t-shirts and slacks and some were in t-shirts and sweat pants. Much the same way as you would dress to go out and mow your lawn or scrub down your porch. Most of the ladies in the club, on the other hand, were dressed to the nines. There were different arrays of shorts, micro mini-skirts, ripped jeans, form fitting short dresses, bodysuits, catsuits and tumbo-cuts accessorised with high heels, block heels, kitten heels, wedge heels and all the different variations of heels.
The two timid ladies finally found courage to dance with us longer. Again, they preferred to dance with our lady colleagues and not the men. This was puzzling but we did not care, we continued dancing as more and more revellers joined us on the dance floor. The DJ was on the decks with the perfect party music. The Indian beau was drunk on is whiskey bottle and was practically kneeling on the floor.
I looked at my watch and remarked that it was half past four in the morning. Dawn was approaching and we had a flight to catch. We needed to leave and, at least, get a few minutes to shower and pack our belongings before we headed out to the airport.
It was therefore time to settle accounts and we went to the counter to do so. We got our bill and confirmed it against the independent list we were keeping. We did not want to be fleeced. The total amount came and our preferred payment option was by credit card. We shouldn’t have been surprised that such a big establishment did not have a PDQ machine.
The next alternative was to pay in cash. We had very few Ethiopian Birrs left which we handed over to the manager.
“Do you accept US Dollars,” my colleague asked the manager.
“Yes, of course,” the manager said, much to our relief.
My colleague proceeded to produce United States Dollars from her purse. She had fifty, twenty, ten and five dollar bills. She counted out the relevant amount of money and handed the notes over to the manager.
“We only accept hundred dollar bills,” the manager said.
“What?”, we exclaimed, taken aback.
“We do not have any hundred dollar bills,” my colleague said. “This is the only cash we have.”
The manager took us to his office and showed us a circular from his top management. It read in part, “…we shall only accept hundred dollar bills due to the poor exchange rates for smaller bills…”
This was a set-back! How would we settle our bill? Could maybe, someone rush back to the hotel and try to exchange the smaller bills for hundred dollar bills? This was assuming that the hotel accepted smaller bills. Luckily, our Kenyanness came to the rescue as one of my colleagues came up with a very simple win-win solution to this conundrum.
“Look,” said my colleague. “We will overpay you by twenty dollars and you can use it to absorb the low exchange rate or do with it whatever you like.”
This was very acceptable to the manager. He quickly accepted the notes and gave us our receipts. We walked out of the club, only to be followed by the Ethiopian lady. She had abandoned her Indian boyfriend and seemed agitated as she ran up to us.
“What’s up?” one of my colleagues asked her.
“I need money to pay for my sheesha,” she said.
“Can’t your boyfriend pay for you?” my colleague asked.
“He says that I spent the evening with you guys and not with him and so you should pay,” she said. ‘In fact, he is not my boyfriend anymore. I have dumped him today.”
“We don’t have any more money left on us,” I said. “You need to find another way of paying for your sheesha.”
I mean, the sheesha was not so expensive and we would gladly have paid for her but we truly had given the manager all the cash we had on us. We were even worried about how we would get back to our hotel. This time, we were not fortunate enough to find a random van driver hovering outside, waiting for us to hijack him.
We contemplated walking back to the hotel. All we had to do was walk for a short distance down Mickey Leland Street, take a left turn onto Namibia Street and then merge onto Cameroon Street and we would be there. This sounded doable but we quickly dispensed with that plan when we saw groups of menacing looking young men lingering across the street.
The only option for a ride back to our hotel was a rank of old Russian taxis. We had to hire two of these to accommodate our number. We negotiated the fare with the drivers and got in. Getting into the taxi involved unlocking the kichapi that held the door shut. For those who don’t know what a kichapi is, it is what English speakers refer to as a shoot-bolt and is commonly used to fasten doors, windows and closets. Not car doors.
Our night out on the town thus ended in a rickety drive back to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning.