Dancing Away My Fear in Harare, Zimbabwe
As a lone, female foreigner out for the night, seedy is probably not the most desirable adjective for describing the evening’s watering hole. Yet here I was, out in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and seedy was the only way I could describe Londoners Sports Bar.
“What am I doing?” I admonished myself mentally, second-guessing the recent change of mind frame that had brought me here.
For almost a year now, I’d been living on a farm north of Harare, and, until recently, that farm had been my refuge. However, it had been a very one-sided refuge. I spent my time with white farmers, hearing about their gripes with the government, their black workers, and the downturn of the economy. I’d listened to their warnings about going into Harare (“It’s very dangerous for white people!”) and their admonishments about befriending an African (“They all want something from you!”). And I’d spent almost a year mechanically obeying their commands.
Not only was I white but I was also female, foreign, and alone. Those four little descriptions added up to make me feel incredibly vulnerable in Zimbabwe.
There was little reason I’d felt not to obey. I’d read the newspapers, listened to the radio. I knew all that was going on in Zimbabwe between the white farm owners and the destitute black masses. Not only was I white but I was also female, foreign, and alone. Those four little descriptions added up to make me feel incredibly vulnerable in Zimbabwe. So I’d played it cautious and explored little outside the safe-haven of the farm.
One day, as I perused the archives of my travel blog, I stumbled upon entries of my time living in Kathmandu. I’d also been a solo female traveler in a foreign land then, yet somehow I hadn’t been plagued with fear. I’d explored the city, made amazing local friends, and learned the language, the cuisine and the culture. It had been infinitely memorable.
It was then I realized that fear was hampering my experience of Zimbabwe. Suddenly the farm felt more like a prison than a refuge, and I knew it was time to break free from my self-imposed incarceration.
When my newly-made African friends proposed a night out in Harare, I didn’t hesitate.
They watched the doors like hungry lions as decked-out women catwalked past them.
I heard the thumping bass of Londoner’s Sports Bar before I saw it. As we rolled into the dark parking lot, I spotted the outdoor braaii (barbecue) where a crowd of men stood, nyama choma (barbecued meat) and beer in hand. They watched the doors like hungry lions as decked-out women catwalked past them.
Swallowing deeply, I feigned confidence and walked through the entrance, sensing hundreds of sets of eyes upon me. “There’s no going back now,” I told myself.
Inside, my senses were immediately accosted. Through the dense cigarette smoke and ear-splitting dance hall tunes, the dance floor filled with gyrating bodies looked more like the swaying waves of a stormy black sea. The pool tables behind, packed with dodgy fellows, showed a scene right out of the film, The Hustler. In a corner, a few men sat on bar stools cradling their drinks and staring out at the room, forgotten cigarettes hanging from their lips. I wondered if I looked as dazed as they did.
An adjacent room had a handful of deep booths where I forced my new friends to hide with me. Without a doubt, I felt intimidated by this scene. As the evening progressed – and I nursed a drink or two – my senses relaxed and the scenes before me lost their sordid edge. A song I knew came on the loud speakers, and I couldn’t help it. I stood up, my new friends staring at me in bemusement. I walked to the dance floor and began to tentatively move my hips.
Within moments, I was surrounded by a mob of women, being teased, but also being encouraged. I accepted their dance tips and mimiced my surrounding group. By the time the song ended, I felt like I was just another wave in their sea.
Here, I forgot about being white, female, and alone in Zimbabwe. My fear – a tiny but constant prickle on the back on my neck – had stopped prickling.
And I knew when I sat down to my wide-eyed hosts, why I loved Londoners. Here, I forgot about being white, female, and alone in Zimbabwe. My fear – a tiny but constant prickle on the back on my neck – had stopped prickling.
Londoners Sports Bar might be seedy. Yet it’s the place where I wiggled and twisted and squirmed out of a few layers of protective clothing I didn’t even know I’d been wearing. The sizzling, fiery dance I shared with the women of Londoners melted my “Zim-fear” away.