Last Friday I went to Paddy’s International. In every travel guidebook and website about Sierra Leone this nightclub is mentioned as the “hot spot” of Freetown, so I’ve wanted to go there for a long time.
As mentioned in my previous column, I was accompanied by a few new American friends that I made recently: Two interns from New York (a Korean-American named John, and a young woman named Tori, who is originally from Trinidad), and a young graduate from Los Angeles (a white man named Tristan). John and Tori happen to be staying at the same hostel as I am, and I met Tristan on the flight back to Sierra Leone from the States last week.
I wanted my Awoko colleagues to come as well, but only one – Ishmael Bayoh – was able to join us.
Anyway, I arrived at Paddy’s at around 11 p.m. And while an hour before midnight is a relatively late time to go out in the States, I soon saw that it was a very early time to go out in Sierra Leone. While the club was spacious and vacant for the first couple of hours we were there, crowds of people started piling into Paddy’s at around 1 a.m. as the all-night dance party officially began.
Now, one thing that I had yet to witness firsthand during my time in Salone is the nightlife – mainly, the ever-present profession of prostitution. Awoko reporter Ophaniel Gooding wrote a couple of stories about ‘Kolonkos’ this past week, and many of the things he’s told me about prostitution in Sierra Leone borders on the shocking, at least to me.
It’s not as if I’m surprised by prostitution, itself – it’s one of the oldest professions in the world and I’m sure it is present anywhere, whether it be in Africa, the United States, or wherever. But I suppose the most astonishing thing that I’ve seen and heard about ‘Kolonkos’ is how they are accepted as a relatively normal part of life.
So entering Paddy’s, I was well aware and, admittedly, a bit nervous about an inevitable encounter with a ‘Kolonko’ or two… or three.
Sure enough, as soon as I sat down at the bar with John and Tristan, a pretty-looking woman sat down next to us and started up a conversation that would eventually lead to an invitation to “have a good time.” Tori, being a good-looking black girl herself, would get her fair share of looks and flirtatious introductions as well, but since she was hanging out with us (two Asians and a white guy) for most of the night, I don’t think she got as many interactions as we did.
As for John, Tristan and my exchanges with ‘Kolonkos,’ some women got the picture right away that we weren’t interested, while others were much more persistent. I already knew, from rumors and stories that I’ve heard, that telling ‘Kolonkos’ I have a girlfriend or wife (whether that’s true or not) doesn’t exactly deter them. But I was convinced that something else would work: Telling them I have a boyfriend. It might sound absurd, I know; but I figured I would at least try it out.
There was one particular woman who would just not leave me alone. I initially told her that I’m not interested and that I didn’t have any money, but that didn’t seem to stop her from continually sending me “invitations.” This was when I told my little ‘harmless’ lie.
“I think you’re cute,” she said.
“So does my boyfriend,” I answered.
“Your friend?” she asked.
“No, my boyfriend. That guy over there,” I said, pointing in John and Tristan’s direction.
“Really!?” she asked in astonishment.
“Oh… okay. Well that’s good…” she said, as she turned around and walked away.
I did feel a little bad about lying to her, but it was almost necessary considering how relentless this person was. And, more importantly, it worked!
Anyway, aside from having to lie to a stranger and consequently having the reputation of being gay (at least to some people) for the rest of the night, dancing was extremely fun. I normally only like to dance with close friends, but once I saw guys dancing not only with girls, but with other guys or just by themselves, I quickly gained a sense of relief and comfort and just let loose. I’ve grown very fond of the Nigerian hip-hop group, P-Square, so I was especially excited anytime the DJ played P-Square songs or any American pop artists like Chris Brown or Timberland.
I found myself dancing with many random people: Tori and Tristan; a strange white man with a handlebar mustache; different groups of guys with some slick moves; and a few different women. After dancing with one woman, probably the only one I saw wearing a traditional African dress, I met up with Ishmael and had the funniest conversation of the night near the bar where John, Tori and Tristan were having a drink.
“I think I found a girl who isn’t a ‘Kolonko,’” I said to Ishmael.
“Who? The one you were dancing with?” Ishmael asked.
“Yeah. She was dressed much differently than the other women here, so I thought…”
“She’s a kolonko,” he said before I could finish.
“Really? How can you tell?”
“Some of them will dress that way on Fridays because it’s traditional,” Ishmael said. “98 percent of the women here are kolonkos.”
The actual percentage was far below 98 percent, especially away from the main bar, but I went along anyway and asked the subsequent question: “Can you find me the remaining two percent?”
Ishmael smiled, pointed to Tori and replied, “She is sitting with your boyfriends.”
By Yu Nakayama