Published: May 9th 2009May 9th 2009
Chez Ntimbe and Lilongwe Night Life
Last night, I had what will become one of the more memorable nights of my life.
After a long, busy week of â€œworkâ€ â€“ traveling around town in these little public transportation buses and asking questions to locals â€“ L_ and I decided to go out in Lilongwe and enjoy ourselves. Two days ago we road a minbus with a guy from Pittsburgh named S_ who works for MSF, and decided to meet up with him at a bar in Old Town and hang out for a bit.
We started off at a local hang out called Diplomats â€“ maybe there were a few other white people (muzungu) in the bar, but mostly it had a natural feeling of a local bar where the older people go to watch soccer; complete with a long, deep bar, Carlsberg signs everywhere, two small fuzzy TVs, and ties hanging from the rafters. This was the exact kind of place that I was looking for to begin my night.
Not God Bless Americaâ€¦
After meeting up with S_, we spoke for a bit about the HIV policy of pharmaceuticals, and how intellectual property rights have created a situation where it is in the incentives of Western governments not to allow the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV+ patients. While I donâ€™t want this blog to become too preachy, itâ€™s becoming increasingly hard to say â€˜God Bless Americaâ€™ when you realize that even Al Gore personally called the President of South Africa to tell him not to distribute generic ARV medications, keeping the cost of medications at $13,300 per patient per year â€“ way too much for damn near anyone in any of these countries to afford. So Americans then complain about how Africans arenâ€™t responsible, let us reframe the debate to: if you only make a few hundred dollars a year, and medications cost $13,300 per year, should you feed your children or take ARVs? And how about this: when some countries deservedly told the US/EU to go fuck themselves and that theyâ€™re making the drugs regardless, the price dropped down to $88 per patient per year â€“ much more reasonable. The fact of the matter is that these impossibly selfish intellectual property rights of major pharmaceutical firms are killing thousands per year, and may be the single largest contributor to failing to curb the spread of HIV in much of the developing world. While I understand the necessity for keeping incentives for pharmaceuticals to pursue research into new drugs, we have to ask ourselves: at what cost?
Anyways, back to the night. So after hanging out in the local bar for a couple hours, having a very interesting and depressing conversation, we decided to go dancing for a bit at a very popular club named Chez Ntimbe. Now anyone who has ever traveled with me is probably aware that I have this propensity to wind up in places where there are prostitutes, and somehow last night was no different. In fact, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if every girl but a couple were prostitutes; a fact that demonstrates how fucked up life there is when you realize that we were at a club, not a brothel. (In Malawi, if thereâ€™s alcohol, or more generally local women after dark, there are prostitutes. Kind of like Skeeps with the sorority girls actuallyâ€¦).
How to describe Chez Ntimbe? Imagine a dance club with all mirrors, damn near all locals, playing a great mix of Malawian/Western music with enough space to move around in, though still feel absolutely packed. That begins to describe how incredible this place was. Upon arriving, the four muzungus (myself included) just grabbed a spot on the dance floor, and just let go â€“ something social pressures, judgments, and general space limitations doesnâ€™t allow you to do in Ann Arbor. I have to admit, it is pretty kick ass to just dance with a Carlsberg in a place like this, it reminded me of the euphoria I felt at times during SAS when I was truly living well.
However, after a bit, it turns out a tall, good-looking (read: white) man in Malawi begins to attract a rather intense amount of female attention. The first girl to come over to dance with me, after maybe 5 minutes, told me to lose my friends and take her home â€“ and that was on the reserved side. Unfortunately for me, I try to be nice to these girls â€“ dance, speak, hang out â€“ whereas they misinterpret that for me wanting to fuck them (I mostly consider that rape). So that being said, across the course of the night, probably a solid 10 different girls â€˜propositioned meâ€™ to which I could only smile and say zikomo kwambiri (no thank you). For those who donâ€™t know, 90% of professionals in Lilongwe are HIV+, so Iâ€™m still trying to come to terms with the fact that on average at least 9 of those girls live an increased life of suffering to which I could never comprehend. And from a responsibility perspective: when you have the decision whether to eat or let some pervert molest you for a bit, what would you choose? Even writing this now creates a morbid feeling in my stomach, as last night I truly went outside the Ann Arbor/Naperville bubble to see the reality the majority of people in the world live with on a day to day basis.
One funny, or rather sardonically amusing, point in the night came when these girls realized that I had been dancing with other people, causing a bit of jealousy and competition to flare up. So picture me, in the middle of a crazy club where Iâ€™m about the only white guy, getting tracked and competed over by a series of increasingly aggressive girls â€“ kind of funny when you step back from it since there was no way in hell I was going anywhere with any of them.
But I do want to say that the entire night wasnâ€™t just me dancing with what turned out to be professionals, I did meet some great people including a regional manager of a bank, one of the premier saxophone players in the country (he invited me to his show on Sunday), and in general got to spend an amazing night with maybe an increased level of preoccupation about the locals girls, but overall in a great atmosphere with interesting people â€“ what more could you ask?
As I spend more and more time here, I begin to realize that Harper Lee was onto something when she stated that you can never really understand someone until you see the world from their perspective; and I have to say it doesnâ€™t reflect well on back home.