How to enjoy a Malawian nightclub

Forget that you don’t much like nightclubs in your own culture and your own city, where you feel safe and comfortable. Walk with purpose into the dark club, where some people sit around tables in an open-air section and others dance on a compact stage by the bar. Make room for your group on the dance floor, and be watchful of the other patrons who push into you trying to get to the toilets.

Keep your chin up and eyes forward; don’t engage with the older man you notice standing alone off to the side of your group, giving each girl you’re with a long, up-down stare from top to bottom. (This character seems to be in every nightclub around the world.) For that matter, don’t spend too much time watching the Malawians dancing around you—this, coupled with a glance at your own reflection, will immediately remind you that you stand out here. Not (just) because you’re white, but because your body will never move with the same flexibility and rhythm of the locals.

Don’t watch the television playing above the bar. One screen is football, okay, but the other is showing the news—and refugees in Syria, conflict in South Sudan, and human trafficking in China, the top stories of the evening, are sure to kill the party mood.

Notice that the women dancing around you are the same women who were on the street outside when you drove in, women the other volunteer identified as prostitutes. Try not to think about whether or not they are part of the 10% of the population that is HIV positive and what their lives must be like.

Put a smile on your face and do your best to feel the music. You’re far outside your comfort zone, but at least there’s a good beat here.

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