They’re dark, they smell of beer and the loos don’t work, but every man should have one. Jackson Biko salutes the Kenyan institution that is ‘the local’.
The loo doesn’t flush. The loo hasn’t flushed since Rudisha won gold at the Olympics. Not that the two are related. There is a polite notice on the door of this loo that informs you of its demise and directs you to the ladies. And what loo do the ladies use? The ladies use the ladies.
This is my local. There is a beaded curtain that you brush past to get in. Inside, your eyes will take a moment to get accustomed to the darkness. It smells of beer. There is a fortified, grilled counter at the end of the room from where the barman, Ngash, serves you. He doesn’t talk much. Rumour has it that he used to be a poacher but turned a new leaf after his mates were killed by KWS wardens. Nobody has had the guts to ask him if it’s true. Not even me.
Every man has his local. It’s a bar that is usually walking distance from your house. A place where you go in your sandals and shorts. A place where everybody knows everybody’s name, or face. You don’t even need cash at your local; you can drink and leave a bill on account. At your local they know that a man can get thirsty, but not every man has money on him to buy a drink.
The local is the one place where Kenyan men remain truly Kenyan. It’s the one place where we are unburdened by pretensions. The testosterone spirit of the Kenyan male is found in the local, not in glitzy bars where bottles are placed in ice buckets.
Even though tribal affiliations mar Kenyan politics, you will never hear of a bust-up in the local because of divergent political temperaments. In the local, you are friends first and political animals second. The decorum in locals is unmoved by anything other than the core ethos that draws the patrons there; to drink and chew fat.
There are never any women in my local. There are females, yes, but not women. Once you step into my local you invariably leave your gender at the door. Everybody is treated as a man. Which means nobody makes any effort to ask for a phone number. Or for a dance.
Strangers are picked out right away in locals. They simply don’t match the decor. They stick out. Mostly they are not bothered, and in return they are expected not to be smartasses. This means they should never talk louder than the locals, they can’t dictate what music plays, and they can’t change the TV channel. Do none of the above and maybe you will be welcome next time.
Talking of TV, at 7am the music is killed without notice and the news is put on. The same at 9pm. Maybe we are political animals after all.