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Close encounters at the Florida 1000

Tony Mochama goes galactic for a little bump and grind, gives a nod to the Nairobi Flesh Exchange and discovers a place where the cliché of the “sweet nothing” plays out in real time to real tunes as the raunch of a real world.

To get to Florida 1000, you don’t take a time capsule 1,013 years back to Miami, although the nightclub, popularly also known as “Madhouse”, does look like a space capsule. You go near the bottom of Koinange Street, commonly called K-Street – and synonymous with street walkers who flash their wares late at night – next to the Kenol petrol station. There is Madhouse.

This particular evening, I enter Florida 1000 through the neon-lit door, get the compulsory beeper-up-and-down body check from a granite-faced bouncer, pay the 300 bob (Kenyan Shilling; about ZAR33) that men have to pay (entry is free for a certain class of ‘lady’) and make my way up the slightly frayed red-carpeted staircase.

On the second level, there is an in-house restaurant, a door at the end that I first mistake for ablution facilities until I see the smoke wafting out of the gloom, the huddled mass and the furtive faces: smokers.

Third level is the actual Madhouse. Circular in design. The dance floor a silver arena where male bodies meet female bodies and bump and grind together. Foreplay made formal, formularised. Apt, because at this moment of organic collision and the ritual mating dance, American crooner R. Kelly is opining from a video on the walls that he “don’t see nothing wrong… with a little bump and grind”.

I sit in one of the cubicles that surround the dance arena, on one of the plush leather seats that are balm to a bum, and watch a Caucasian chap in a muscle T-shirt bump and grind himself against a lithe, dark-skinned African girl in an impossibly bright red dress, twirl and ‘tune’ (woo) her by whispering – and here the cliché is perfectly placed – sweet nothings in her ear.

I sip the Kingfisher wine I’ve ordered from the waiter (there are no women among the service staff in Madhouse) and wonder why he feels the need to play out this charade, as Mariah Carey, on the veejay’s wall, carries on about how if you need a friend, she will be there, because she cares. Is his act meant to fool us into thinking they are a couple just out for some good-time Sunday night dancing? Is it meant to fool her that, like Mariah Carey, he really, really cares about her and is just not out to use her body in exchange for cash; that she is his “Lady in red” and he is her alternate-mzungu Richard Gere from the 1990 movie, Pretty Woman, here in the Florida 1000? Or is he fooling himself that she is the tart with the golden heart, in which case he would have to be a little bit mad himself?

In the cubicle next to mine, an older Asian man in spectacles, hair gone silver, is more honest in his motives and more direct in his approach. He scans the dance floor with the hungry eyes of a hyena, the intensity of a hawk, until his X-ray vision alights on two Kenyan girls dancing seductively together for show.

One is chocolate-skinned and big (in a toned way, big), a one-piece black dress crisscrossed by pink belts and gladiator-style sandals; the other girl light and lithe, cutting a demure figure in a flowing flowery dress, swaying her hips gently to Usher: “I want to make love to you, in this club… in this club.”

The Asian sends a waiter with a note to the fake, lipstick lesbians on the dance floor. They peruse the paper. Their eyes follow the waiter’s outstretched index finger, till they alight on the muhindi man. They giggle. Their lipstick-lesbo act becomes more pronounced.

After Usher is done, they come over to the Asian man and, rather pointlessly, the waiter ushers them to the lounge-leather chair with a fawning obsequiousness that demands a good double tip later.

The Asian sexagenarian is interested in sex, but not a double act. Ménage à trois ain’t his repertoire, not tonight. He sends the bigger, brazen lass off – she goes straight to a gang of mzungus about 135 degrees northwest of us – and places the smaller, coy damsel on his lap, pap!

Glancing over, the not-too-far-off veejay says, rather incongruously: “Shut your eyes and think of me making love to you, under the Latin moon.”

I keep my eyes wide open. I cannot think of anything more disturbing, no matter the nationality of the lunar orb above this Madhouse.

Shortly thereafter, the Asian vanishes with the lass in the floral dress. Three more Kingfishers get me to my feet, to the silver-coloured dance floor, where I groove enthusiastically to Flo-Rida’s “Wild Ones” – “ohh we are the wild ones, uuuuuu, show me how you do…”

I retreat to the smoking section of the club because I need to strike up a conversation with the match-striking ‘wild ones’ of Madhouse, try to understand the intimacies of the carnal currencies in this Nairobi Flesh Exchange called Florida 1000.

I strike gold in the smoky room among the curls of cigarette smoke and the ash whorls and – there is no polite way of putting it – the whores therein. A young lady with breasts popping out of her blouse, a blue-coloured weave, and eyes wide and round as the moon is bemoaning her fate at the hands of some mzungu earlier in the evening.

Nope, it is nothing as freakish as what has been titillating in Kenyan newspapers and TV lately – the sorry story about 11 young college women caught in a police bust, making pornography at the behest of some Swiss pervert, engaging in acts of bestiality with a dog – doggone no!

This story could be called “Saturday night betrayal”, where white guy staying at a hotel near Florida 1000 (the Laico, nee Grand Regency) comes to Madhouse, picks our lass here up, takes her back to the hotel, sends her off at the crack of dawn with a couple of thousand (shillings), asking her to return to ‘his hotel’ for dinner with him this evening. She sleeps “ka mtoto”, wakes up after noon to catch up on the week’s laundry (hers and her baby’s), dresses at leisure, returns to the Laico for culinary pleasure and… finds the Caucasian gone!

When she calls him on his mobile phone, he answers and tells her he has been unexpectedly called away on business to South Africa and is right now at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – MIA at JKIA.

One of the other ladies – the moniker the women of Florida 1000 use without irony, as in “ladies’ night” – clucks sympathetically at this tale of woe, but an older lady, a hardened whore, is sneeringly contemptuous: “Wewe Lydia umezuba sana! Mzungu ka huyo wa hoteli ni kulipwa kibunda mbele, ama baadaye, unamkausha!”

The narrative here is an old one: the one played between certain men and women of a certain kind; the one called “hit and run”, “wham, bam, thank you ma’am”; the one with illusions of a keeper; the one that made Pretty Woman the all-time favourite film among women of a certain generation.

It is with a man called Mateo, the owner of an establishment in Lamu called The Majzis Hotel (24 rooms) that I hit paydirt. Boyishly handsome, lock of hair flipping onto forehead, average height, grey eyes, wearing an open shirt and thin, silver neck chain, he comes into the smoking section and fumbles for a lighter. I strike him a flaming match.

We shake hands, instant buddies. He is from Italy; I tell him I am recently returned from Venice. He lives in Lamu. I tell him: “It is like Venice in its absence of motor vehicles, but instead of dogs, you have donkeys.”

Mateo orders me my double vodka and Coke, a Borana ‘babe’ brazenly orders a “Chee-n-Tee” (gin & tonic) on his bill, squeezes in between us, tells us she is “Little” (she is pretty, and pretty skinny, not like those folks called “Tiny”, who turn out to be the size of a small building).

She looks at Mateo, Mateo mostly talks to me, squeezing this little ‘squeeze’ from time to time – like she is just partly corporeal – as I ask him why he does not live in Malindi (“too many Italians!”), if there aren’t hotter babes in Watamu as compared to Lamu (“there are hot natives everywhere, as long as you’ve got the money and know where to look”). As he speaks, I get my moment of epiphany, the moment in which Archimedes displaces his bath water in the banya… and then races out in the nude, into Greek streets, screaming: “Eureka!”

But before we make the grand revelation, first: how will these strange little chit-chats and tête-à-têtes play out in the cigarette room, which I am by now convinced is a renovated “ladies’ loo”, because it is a replica of the women’s water closet in Madhouse’s sister club, Florida 2000, on the other side of town.

Little will be left high but not dry by Mateo, who will leave her 1,000 bob to wet her throat, as he predatorily goes after a tall, chocolate-coloured girl, Kozi, with a weave and almond eyes, and a tall tale about being from Southern Sudan – no doubt to create the familiar tragic war narrative that lends itself to ‘White Rescue’ empathy, as well as rendering the erotic more exotic, thus more erotic, and so on.

Kozi’s false claims to the Sudanese heritage will be outed after Mateo goes to the washroom and she speaks Kikuyu to another girl called Jackie Wairimo, who wanders in to ask her for a cigarette – Dunhill Switches, those that change flavor on being squeezed, thus one day giving the smoker a kaleidoscope of rainbow-coloured cancers.

I will not reveal this secret of ‘ours’ (natives) to Mateo.

***

Mark Doty, in his Granta essay, “Insatiable”, talks about having sex with an ex-con in construction boots and a towel, an oil worker fresh off the big rigs in the Gulf, hungry for touch; the beautiful, lean, muscled doctor who whispered in his ear as he entered Doty, about how he wanted the essayist to “infect him, covertly, leak the virus into his [the doctor’s] bloodstream…”

The thrill of Florida 1000, I come to realise that night, is not just the commerce of the carnal. The reason I see no other black paying male clientele in this place is not by accident.

For Kenyan African males who just want to pay for sex (KSh2,000, just like in Madhouse) and get it over with, the trade has increasingly devolved to discreet compounds and brothel apartments where, as a lawyer buddy of mine told me, “you get to choose from a parade of girls who you wanna fuck, get a massage, fuck ‘em, and then do a hot shower and you are right outta there, at home, in time to help out with the tois’ homework.”

Florida 1000, Madhouse, then becomes a ‘House of Dreams’ – from the music videos on the walls to the mating rituals – where foreigners, the Caucasians, the Asians, the Chinese in the house, can all get access (for a fee, but pretend it is for free, hence the extensive ‘tuning’ charade) to all those black ladies they see on the street as they work on Chinese import infrastructure, or in black pornographic videos in a dim room, or wherever. And because of the power structure of this carnal convergence, the guys can, in extremis, convince/coerce these girls to have sex with their best friend too… or, even, man’s best friend.

As a German friend told me, upon landing in Kenya once: “I want to have sex with African girls… lots and lots and lots and lots of African girls.” Sex samples, that is what the ‘Madhouse ladies’ are. Forget the sequins and the dimples, there is a narrative of lists of porn positions and awkward orgasms to be catalogued here.

As I leave the ‘cigar room’ (yes, in the phallic sense), I almost bump into the girl in the floral dress on the corridor, who earlier left with the Asian sexagenarian. I cannot help thinking their engagement was a quickie in the car, at some secluded spot, with a night watchman surreptitiously playing look-out for this hook-up, as that is the way things work with men like these.

On the staircase of Madhouse’s first floor, I do bump into a Rasta lass with a hot-pink half-top, short hot shorts, platform heels, and tennis-like armbands with a marijuana leaf on each.

“Wattagwan, mon,” she greets me with a hoarse voice (cigarettes, whisky, yelling in riddim clubs?) and we fist bump. “You from Jamaica?”

“I am from Kenya,” I say evenly, “not from Kingston town.” Natra, as she tells me her name is, wants to get stoned and asks me if “niko na ndukulu (weed)”. I do not.

Now she is doubly disappointed. “What sort of Rasta man does not carry ndukulu with him?” her eyes accuse me. I touch my dreadlocks, think of telling her my hair is a dedication to Dedan Kimathi, the Mau Mau hero, that I began to grow them in February 2007 to commemorate a half-century of his demise, after the Brits hung him for leading the insurrection for liberation and independence. Instead, I give Natra 200 bob to buy herself a beer (ama ndom, if she can get it in the streets).

“So you are going home alone?” asks Natra.

I nod.

“But won’t you be lonely, ma mon?”

Outside in the midnight air of Koinange street, just before I step across the road to get a cab, I look back at the building called Florida 1000.

The Madhouse looks like a space ship. I fantasise how, some night, the entire enterprise might break free of the Kenol station, just blast off into outer space, taking bouncers, deejays, veejays, waiters, barmen, harlots, disco revellers, cigarette smokers – the whole kit-and-caboodle – to some distant planet, far, far away from Earth; somewhere where the quantum of mad desires, crazy fantasies, inter-racial fetishes, cheap thrills, exo-erotic thrills, the carnal convergence of Caucasians and Africans (and everything in between) can be explored by green folks with big heads and small sex organs all covered up in Spandex-like, silvery, shimmering space suits – not alien scientists thinking of inter-planetary procreation, but creatures intent on mad, inter-galactic recreation between species, close encounters of the sexual kind.

 
CHRONIC ISSUE 2This article was originally published in the Chronic (March 2013).

In this issue, artists and writer from around the world take on the philanthropic complex to unravel the philosophies of dependency and power at play in the civil society of African states. To read the article in full get a copy in our online shop or visit your nearest stockists.
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