Fellow Countrymen At The Strip Club

Written by by Audrey Obuobisa-Darko

It was our first hangout since the semester began. Having each come to this strange country, to this strange city, for various reasons, everyone was excited to meet their fellow countryman. As far as Ghanaians go, though, we all tried to play it cool. I was the last to show up, skipping up the park with an overcooked pizza in my hands, an overdrawn smile on my face.

“Did I miss the introductions? Hi, I’m Naana.” 

“Hi Naana,” they sang back, eleven voices as one. 

“What program?” Hannah asked. She’d been in Iowa City longer than the rest of us, about two years. It was interesting to finally put a face to the Whatsapp group admin harassing us day and night for a potluck at College Green Park.

“Oh, sorry, African Art History, Masters.” 

I grew increasingly self-conscious as each word left my mouth. At a party riddled with racist white snobs, this would’ve been my trump card to get on their scanty intelligent-African-friend list. But here, to these fellow Ghanaians who had probably sacrificed so much to come here for a “serious education”, I must have looked like a silly girl who understood nothing about the hardship she came from. It probably didn’t help that I’d brought a low-effort non-Ghanaian dish—a burnt one at that—while the table was laid with noble indigenous foods they’d taken their time to make; kontomire ne ampesi, fufu ne nkrakra, g?b?, banku, mp?t?mp?t?.

They looked back at me with blank expressions on their faces, some nodding, some smiling, some not bothering to hide their looks of “na ?de?n nso nie?” Hannah broke the silence and kept the introductions going.

“Nadia, Petroleum Engineering, PhD.”

“Kwei, Business Analytics, PhD.”

“James, Neuroscience, Masters.”

The day wore on tenderly, people letting loose, sharing funny stories from back home between mouthfuls. Soon, we were running around playing games like little children, spitting Ga and Twi expletives at all the white people that walked across. 

I moved away to check my phone. When I looked up again, James was staring straight ahead at me, his back against the park swing, beer bottle in hand. I turned to see if there was anyone behind me, and when I turned back, he was already headed my way.

“Naana, right?” A smirk on his face, a gleeful smile in his eyes. “Me and some of the boys are going to the gentlemen’s club tonight. You should come.” 

“The gentlemen’s club?”

“Yes, the gentlemen’s club.”

“I don’t understand… Why am I being invited to a club for men?” Shouts erupted on my far right. The others had gathered around an old bench, playing a heated game of Uno.

His forehead gathered itself into a frown. “Oh no, no, not a gay club, ei, oh no no—”

It was my turn to frown. “No, that’s not it. I don’t have an issue with a gay club.”

“The strip club,” he laughed. “The gentlemen’s club is the strip club.”

“Oh… Ah, hell yes let’s do it! ” My voice cut through the park a little too loudly. Afari from Biology and Kukua from Chemistry shot curious looks in our direction.

“Text me your address. Pick you up at ten.” 

Maybe, I should have questioned the impish glint in his eyes, or the intermittent glances over my shoulder at where Asante from Data Science and Kwei from Business Analytics happened to stand, or how he’d guessed that I, whom he’d just met at this meeting of likely-conservative Ghanaians, might be interested in watching other women in a performance of nudity. But of course, I didn’t, and 10 p.m. came right along. 

“Where are the others?” I asked as I got into the front seat of his very, very empty car.

“Who?” he frowned. “Oh, they changed their minds last minute, sorry, so it’s just you and me. Hope that’s okay?” 

My reply climbed up my throat and stayed there. I turned to look at the empty backseat, and then back at him, his forever-grinning face. Sighing, I eased into my seat and looked ahead at the road. 

He reached across my chest and drew the seatbelt over me. “Your first fun night in Iowa,” he smiled, starting the ride.

Baaba J’s Wonderful played low and dulcet from the car speakers. Woody’s Show Club was a thirty-minute drive out in Cedar Rapids, a city a ways away from our college town. We pulled up in a quiet, dimly-lit parking lot, a short distance from a glitching neon sign that read “Gentlemen’s Club” in illegible letters. 

“Free for men, $10 for women,” the receptionist said. She wore a sheer lace bra, her crystal nipple piercings bending white light as she worked the register. The only next thing she had on were platform heels an unholy height above ground.

She read the incredulity on my face. “I know, it’s fucking ridiculous.” She bit her lip and smiled half a smile. “Alright don’t worry babe, I can break the rules for a gorgeous girl like you.”

A strip club is a club where people strip, so why did I start at the sight of women stripping in a club where people strip? Bodies bodies bodies, everything everywhere all at once. The stage stood like a magnificent dining table, seats pushed in all around its circumference, a pole in its centre. Dinner was indeed about to be served. Save for the spotlight on the stage, the rest of the room was nearly pitch black, lightly tinged a deep blue hue.

James led me further into the club, where lounge seats and tables lined up along the bar. I’d said during the car ride that I hadn’t been to a strip club, and that excited his already-excited face the more. Red thongs, tulle bras, no thongs, no bras, the heavenly bodies of women came and went all around us. 

“You can call any girl you like,” he whispered. “They will come to you. Just don’t follow them into the back rooms or you will have to pay.”

I nodded my head slightly and turned back away from him, still taking the place, the people, the paradise in. The sparse number of people present made sense for a Monday night. On the stage, a full-figured woman with toned arms and legs for days made a coy show of wiping down the pole. A man, and later another man, pulled the chairs attached to the stage and sat down. The show was about to begin.

James leaned close to me, his breath hot on my neck. “So, will you call any of the girls?” He sat up and forward. “Ok you want drinks right? Let’s call one of them for drinks.”

He stretched his hand out into the lane on his right, where the strippers walked to and fro, and grabbed the ass of the first person in reach. A short white woman, long brown hair. She turned abruptly, the alarm on her face dissipating as quickly as it formed. A small heart-shaped face, large blue moon eyes.

“What can I do for you, beautiful people?” she said. Her eyes landed on me and lingered.

James reclined in his chair, legs open, balls to the world. “Drinks. Old fashioned for me and a mimosa for the lady.”

She nodded at his response without turning in his direction, gaze fixed long and unwavering on me. “Will be right back.”

More people took seats at the stage. The performer, whom the MC introduced as Arabella Red, cat-walked round the table to the sultry opening beat of Beyoncé’s Partition. She walked close enough to the edge that the table audience could brush her lightly on the thighs and legs, their hands outstretched as though they reached for the hem of Jesus’ garment. As the thrusting bassline of the song intensified, she moved to the centre, and, with one hand guiding her panties down, slowly grinded her crotch against the pole. 

James shifted close to me, his eyes never leaving the stage. “Is this how you like your women?” 

Our server returned. “Old-fashioned for you, poinsettia for you.” 

As she set my bright-red cocktail down, her face broke into a smirk which grew the longer she looked at me. 

“Thank you,” I smiled. 

Our looks gradually fed into each other, the rest of the club almost falling away in the moment. A few feet ahead, Arabella Red worked the pole like it owed her every last dime. She was fully undressed, twirling round the silver rod from the ceiling, graceful legs splayed all the way, the audience basking in wonder below. 

“Cinnamon,” she said, and sat next to me. “You’re pretty. Don’t think I’ve seen you round here. This your first time?”

I turned my back to James and leaned in closer to her. “First time in here, first time in Iowa, first time in the US.”

“Okay new girl. Where you from? Enjoying Iowa?”

I nodded hesitantly, at which she widened her large moon eyes and laughed. We talked about the weirdness of Iowa City, the eerie absence of sound on each street, how different it was from the burst of light and sound in Accra. She chuckled generously at all my answers, throwing her head back and bringing it forward just in time to seize my gaze. Her hand rested on my knee when we began to talk. A couple laughs in, her hand was well on its journey up my thigh. She sipped my drink and asked what program I studied.

“Wait, African Art History?” Cinnamon squealed. “That’s my fiancée’s department! You must have met her. She works here too.”

“Really? Where’s she right n—”

“Is this how you like your women?” a tipsy James drawled into my ear, his breath charged with the pungence of bourbon and Angostura. His lips stayed there, next to my cheek, panting softly, waiting for an answer. I kept my eyes on Cinnamon’s lips as she spoke.

“You can ask her for her number, you know. She’s talking to you so she’s interested in you. You can ask her for her number. She will give it to you. Ask for her number.” 

I sighed and turned to him, mustering a smile. “Thank you James. I think I’ve got this.”

“So,” I circled back to Cinnamon, “your fiancée’s here some—”

“Make sure you don’t go to the back with her or you’ll pay.”

“Alright, James,” I replied over my shoulder, “don’t worry ab—”

“Ei but chale you’re enjoying o—”

“Oh my fucking Awurade James!” I spinned sharply in my chair, unintentionally slapping his face with my braids. 

Only a few people looked our way. Either my scream was masked by the volume of the music, or altercations were an everyday occurrence at this strip club. James laughed awkwardly, raised his arms in surrender, and backed himself towards the bar.

Cinnamon wrapped her hand round my upper arm. “Ignore him. I’ll be performing soon. Let’s go to the stage.”

The current stripper, whose name I couldn’t catch over James’ babbling, was wrapping up her performance. She crawled on her knees round the stage, picking her earnings with her teeth in premium coquette fashion. Cinnamon clapped and cheered her colleague on.

“And now,” the MC chimed, “geared up and ready at the stage is the sensational, one and only floor queen, Baby… Cinnamon!”

She blew me a kiss and stepped onto the stage. Her performance set began with Alina Baraz’s Electric, its tempo sensual and paced just right. She abandoned the pole and slithered gracefully across the floor, snaking her body to the wave of the music. This was a woman who knew how to do her job. She was the kind of stripper that made you feel special, singing the lyrics to you as she looked you in the eye and popped her pussy, only to move on to the next person with more cash and do the same. Cinnamon went carefully around the table, giving each customer a faux private stripping experience, one less article of clothing at a time. She was naked when she got to me. 

“Hi… you.” 


“How are you liking Iowa now..?”

“Turns out it’s not so bad. You never asked me my name.”

“You never offered.”

“I don’t offer much, in fact.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”


“Naana… Naana, would you like to touch me?”

She took my hand and guided it up her inner thigh. My hand was cold, her skin unbelievably warm and supple. She beckoned me forward and put me in a headlock with her sturdy legs, my face only a tongue’s length from her groyne. Cinnamon had incredible core strength, supporting her weight with her hands on the stage while she thrusted her hips at me to the beat of Rema’s Dirty.

“You can look, Naana, but do not touch.”

I let my hands fall limp to my sides and watched her, taking her body, her movement, the place, the people, the paradise i—

“?nn? de? woafeeli o!” James yelled at me from across the room.

He staggered over from the bar, his shirt unbuttoned all the way, his fly undone. Cinnamon’s legs were still on my shoulders, but she had stopped her tease at the sound of his voice. 

He bent over and wheezed into my face. “So, abi you know the lie.” His gleeful face was drawn back on. He cocked his head in Cinnamon’s direction and winked at me. James breathed billows on us, a caustic brew of stale beer, vinegar, and lordknowswhat, onto my face, into her lap.

“Sir, I need you to step away from the ladies,” the MC boomed into the mic, “you’re interrupting the show.”

James burped and waved a weak dismissive hand. “Eh, Naana, abi you know the lie.”

“What are you talking about, James? I need you to step back.” The uneasy feeling from earlier in the car crept over my skin. I grew more and more aware of the silence in the club, all the eyes on me. The music had stopped. My shoulders began to founder under the weight of Cinnamon’s legs. I motioned for her to move. 

James’ face darkened. “But you know why I brought you here Naana.”

“Sir, I’m going to have to call the police if you don’t back away now. Sincere apologies, my people, we have a tiny situation on our hands. Kindly grab a drink and relax and the show will be back on soon.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, James.” I turned to Cinnamon. Her brown hair was damp from sweat, sticking to her shoulders, covering slightly her troubled moon eyes. “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

James ran his hand over his head. “Oh Naana man I didn’t think you were this slow?” He burped and took three wobbly steps back. “Abr?fo mmaa wei, they don’t like me, they don’t like me!” He yanked his shirt off and hurled it at us. 

“What the fuck James!”

“Sir, final warning, step away, now.”

He put his arms up in the air and smiled. “Okay, okay. Relax.” He lowered his voice and ambled forward. “You’ve got the girl. So abi you know the lie. Let’s go home and continue this party.” The impish glint, the gleeful grin.

My heartbeat rang in my head. I heaved long breaths and looked at Cinnamon, my back to James, hoping, begging that she’d see the contrition in my eyes. 

“Ah, you won’t do? Okay, fine, it’s okay, let’s go home.” He lunged at me and grabbed my wrist.


James jerked my hand away and pounced at the MC. “Massa, ?nhy? me abufuo!” He snatched the mic and smashed it on the floor. 

Cinnamon screamed and clasped my hand. Four armed cops burst through the doors and grabbed James, pinning him to the floor. The music was suddenly back on, Ice Cube’s Wicked blaring through the speakers overhead and all about us. He writhed and fought back as they pulled his arms behind him. 

A low hum of murmurs rumbled beneath the music. Camera flashes pierced through the low-lit club. Cinnamon broke down on the stage, covering her face with her trembling hands. Only when she let go of mine did I realise I was shaking.

“Ever since mebaa ha. Since last year. Every Monday. Happy hour. Free entry. Mennyaa ?tw? baako sei da!” James bawled as he was dragged away. “Naana! Naana! Call me o. ?fa a fr? me o. Put my number on speed dial. I’ll be out soon. Put my number on speed dial. Herh ?nn? de? woafeeli o, Naana!”

The doors swung shut, but not before the idiosyncratic quiet of Iowa City had wormed its way into the room. FKA Twigs’ Tears in the Club punctuated the MC’s apologetic voice as he wrapped up the show. 

A slender black woman rushed towards Cinnamon, cooing comforting words in a mellow undertone. She slipped a dress over the frightened stripper’s head and guided her off the stage. Cinnamon’s fiancée’s arm over her shoulder, they walked past me, and out of the club. Cinnamon did not look back.

I walked out into the desolate parking lot of Woody’s Show Club, left behind in the biting cold of Iowa City by my fellow countryman. 

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