letters from nairobi

The Eldoret Club
December 20, 2011, 09:16
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

As I write this, I am sitting in the lounge of one of the strangest places I have ever seen: the Eldoret Club.

Eldoret is a town located 260km from Nairobi, in the midst of the Rift Valley, with a population of approximately 500,000. The surrounding countryside is mostly agricultural – sheets of maize dry on sheets in the sunlight, and young boys herd cows and sheep along cracked dirt paths. The hours pass slowly here, as hawks glide lazily above the treetops.

Like the rusting railroad tracks that crisscross the town, having once brought electricity, piped water, and prosperity into the sleepy village, the Eldoret Club is a relic from another era.

Constructed in 1924 on what was once farmland, the club is an erratic mishmash of bygone times, halfheartedly masquerading as a nostalgic retreat with modern amenities. The club lounge, which overlooks a sprawling nine-hole golf course, is an experiment in interior design – wood paneling touches every inch of surface, outlining even the ceiling tiles. Mountains of shiny, plastic plants frame doorways; electric green paint bounces off of walls. The furniture is sagging, dejected, having given up the façade of providing comfort as the decades wore on.

There is an unmistakable echo of the Overlook Hotel here.

Outside the lounge, the club grows more peculiar. There are several rooms offering various entertainment options: a “badminton room” with a drooping net and no rackets, a “TV room” with a cracked television, and a “snooker room” (“adults only”), where yellowing signs dictate playing rules and ashtrays are built into all surrounding surfaces – full of crushed cigarette butts and scattered ashes.

It isn’t that the Eldoret Club is such a terrible place – in fact, the rooms in which we are staying are quite nice – but there is something intangibly despondent about the atmosphere. Once upon a time, it seems, diplomats in crisply ironed shirts toasted to a well-played drive; powerful men discussed politics in smoky rooms; the sound of jazz music floated out into the open air.

Now, there are still men drinking, smoking, and congratulating one another on putts, but a sense of frivolity and hollowness pervades the gestures. No one comes here to see and be seen; instead, aging wzungu lounge by the pool, basting in the sun.

What’s bleaker than a country oppressed by colonialism?

Trying to recapture its remnants – in vain.


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