I have been keen to see Kampala’s nightlife for some time. So when my last day in Uganda happened to coincide with Ronald’s birthday, it was inevitable that we would end up in a night club.
After returning from Jinja, we headed to Amnesia. Amnesia is apparently well known for its theme nights, though I couldn’t discern any particular themes when we were there.
On one hand, the club was fairly refreshing. In the UK, nightclubs are rubbish, and everyone knows they are rubbish, but it still costs a small fortune to go to one. It’s a strange economy, and on reflection I have no idea how they survive. By contrast, Amnesia was rubbish, everyone knew it was rubbish, and it was splendidly cheap
The social dynamic in the club was interesting too. In Uganda, the women approach the men, not the other way around. It fits into Uganda’s broader gender roles where the men are frankly pampered while the women do all the hard work. Some of the women can be fairly forthcoming, and apparently they were interested in the only Muzungu in the room (though I was characteristically oblivious to this).
So perhaps they weren’t so forward after all. In any case, they were nowhere near as forward as the women in one Rwandan nightclub I visited in 2012. It was laced with prostitutes, and an accidental stray glance could get you surrounded by hookers. At the back of the club was a small doorway, you turned left for the toilets and right for the brothel
I’m going to be honest; I didn’t actually enjoy Amnesia very much. As soon as I walked into the room, I remembered that I hate nightclubs. To enjoy myself in a club, it really has to be silly enough for me to enjoy it ironically. The problem with Amnesia is that it took itself too seriously. Where was the cheesy 80s pop? The naff themes? The students in fancy dress
The other problem is that Amnesia was exactly the same as so many other nightclubs in the UK. There was nothing unusual, no unique African take on the nightclub concept to spark my interest.
The situation was also hindered by a slightly strange social dynamic. I was with Ronald and his female interest, Patience. Patience was pleasant enough, though at times she seemed to be either pissed off with Ronald or playing it very cool indeed. Though the situation became predictably more awkward when Patience started to play it less cool.
I’m used to socialising with my friends and their partners, so why did it feel so strange this time?
It occurred to me that I was in a group with Patience, but I did not know her and that it was almost impossible for me to get to know her. In a club where the music is far too loud to talk, our only communication was the occasional saliva-laced remark into the other’s ear, neither of us ever quite sure that the other understood what we were saying. I’m not the most relaxed person in a nightclub, and I found this awkward situation strangely inhibiting.
The real problem, of course, is that pre-drinking has not arrived in Uganda. This is the practice where a group meets in a bar or somebody’s house to drink before going to a club. It’s probably not a good idea medically, and Theresa May won’t like what I’m about to say, but socially it is absolutely essential. It is the way you bond as a group before entering a location where audible communication is almost impossible. It means that you are already a coherent group, that you no longer need to get to know each other, before the available forms of communication are narrowed down to shouting, sign language and rhythmic body movement. And I excel at none of these forms of communication.
Admittedly, there are some people where it can be healthy to limit communication in that way. Frankly, it’s probably one reason why clubs are popular; because you don’t have to sustain conversation for hours on end. But even so, I felt bad that I never had the chance to get to know Patience.
Mixed with this was the melancholy of leaving Uganda after spending four months getting to know it and growing so fond of it. Of course I will come back, but who knows when and under what circumstances.
So I sat back as the next piece of bland western hip hop washed over me. “Do you need another Nile Special?” Ronald asked with a broad grin on his face. “Why yes, I rather do.”