Dan Lawton : Journalist

Scenes from a Bar in Lome

This is one of two posts I’ll be writing about nightlife in Lome, Togo.  Check back tomorrow for the second installment.

A body contortionist in Lome, Togo

A body contortionist in Lome, Togo

My friend Baba says we should go to a bar called Panini because it’s the best Lome has to offer.  Lome sits on the ocean in the West African nation of Togo.  It’s a broken city, full of huge decaying buildings that point to a much rosier past.  Its main road is a long sweeping boulevard that abuts the oceanfront and is populated mostly by motorcycle taxis.  The drivers drink heavily on weekends, and wrecks are prevalent.

We charter four motorcycle taxis to the bar.  The place is packed.  The main attraction is dancing, and throngs of people clog the dirt street.  Prostitutes, most of whom are well under age, dominate the dance floor.  Two or three of them wiggle into the center at a time and gyrate wildly.  Their hips explode like cannons, from angles that seem inhuman, and with an unabashed sexuality–a fierce, wild lasciviousness that frenzies the bar.  At one point, a fat hooker bends over and displays her massive ass while her companion slams her pelvis into it.

When they finish dancing, they collapse in adolescent laughter and mingle about, chatting.  They’re just girls again, and it dawns on me, suddenly, that if it wasn’t for the ass-hugging hot pants, the massive gold hoop earrings and the thick lip-gloss, they could be at a junior high dance.

Other people are dancing, but no one dares to lay claim to the dirt road, which is acting as the main stage, until a fat man in grey sweat pants sidles by.  His eyes are coal-black, vacant and wild–the eyes of a man barely clinging to his mind.  The hookers clear a space and he swivels his hips and jiggles the fat of his gut beneath a stained white undershirt.  The crowd whoops and cheers.  They approve.

A prostitute at a bar in Lome, Togo

A prostitute at a bar in Lome, Togo

The jiggler has one other move, which involves grasping the drawstring on his pants and pulling it to his mouth like a microphone, and when he does this, everyone cackles, especially the hookers, who shower him with small change and scream for him to “Dance, dance, dance!”  Someone hands him a half-finished beer and he swigs it down.  He doesn’t stop dancing while he drinks, and the beer spills from the corner of his mouth and tumbles down his hairy neck and onto his shirt.

The most spectacular performance comes from a body contortionist, who suddenly appears next to me with both of his legs over his head.  He then hops, like a toad, across the road, holding this freakish posture.  I’m impressed and pay him a dollar, but no one  else is interested.  When he tries to hop back onto his chair, a security guard pulls it out from underneath him. Everyone laughs riotously and minutes later the fat man in the grey sweat pants is back jiggling his gut again by popular demand.

Baba says we should leave and go to another bar, so we stand and walk toward the roadside, but on our way out chaos erupts.  A scuffle has ensued, apparently among drunken friends, and the security guard pulls out a giant cane and menaces the participants.  At the same time, the hookers eye me leaving–the only white man in the bar–and come rushing over, their long acrylic nails groping at my arms and beneath my belt.  We round up four motorcycles on the quick and I peel the girls off me, but before we pull out of the traffic, I spy a naked man recumbent on the ground.

He is contorted into the fetal position on a patch of mud next to an open sewer.  His head is partially obstructed by the tires of a truck, but his body is visible, along with his genitals, which are pinned between his legs and twisted in a strange way.   I think he might be dead, but then see his arm twitch.  No one seems concerned, and the girls resume their shimmying feet away from his head.

For more pictures of nightlife in Lome, check out the photo gallery.

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