Monday, January 12, 2009

High Society

It was hard getting back into the swing of work after the holiday break. Everyone seemed to be moving in ultra-slow Africa time and was suffering from a bit of lethargy. To perk things up, a friend hosted a mid-week dinner party. It was great to see her house, now furnished with all her belongs that had recently arrived from her previous posting in India. Dinner parties are easy here - all you do is tell the housekeeper/cook what you want prepared, and voila! It magically appears for the guests. No panicking about whether the bathroom is clean or having to go grocery shopping - there’s someone to take care of it for you.

On Sunday, I went to the Ngong Race Course to bet on the ponies. I had only been to Saratoga once and never got the hang of how to bet, but for some reason, this was much easier. It might have been because they do not post the odds on the horses - you are just given information about the horses, jockeys, owners and their win/loss record. It makes it much easier to eliminate one of the factors.

The race course wasn’t much different from Saratoga, with the exception of there being two entrances. The one in which my friends and I went cost 200 shillings (about $2.50) to enter. Once in, we saw that there was a second grandstand area, smaller, not covered (the sun can get hot) and without the amenities of a restaurant, bar and VIP booths. This area was for the locals, and the entrance fee was considerably lower. When you consider that for many, a normal salary is 300 shillings per day, to spend 200 to go to the race track is steep. I’ll refrain from commenting on how if you’re only making 300 shillings a day, you have no business going to the track in the first place.

We watched and bet on three races and I ended up ahead by about 200 shillings, excluding beer expenses. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, especially people watching. The horsey set and ex-pats were out in force, and I ran into a few people I knew. Little did I know that it was also the place to see and be seen that day as it was the Guinea Cup, apparently something big in the world of racing.

That evening, I was invited to dinner at the Muthaiga Country Club. Muthaiga is the place that Karen Blixen, Denis Finch-Hatton and Beryl Markham wrote about. You can see it in movies where women are dressed in white linen, leisurely sipping their G+Ts and the men hang out in the “Men’s Bar” where no women are allowed except on New Year’s Eve. I was extremely curious about it and wrangled an invitation from a kind friend in the UK whose parents live in Kenya. Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t in town, but much of his family was so I was invited to meet the family.

From both the outside and inside, the club isn’t much different from any private country club in the states: dark wood paneling, deep leather chairs and sofas and lion heads on the walls. Oh, right - no lion heads in the US. I suspect the membership has changed somewhat over the years to reflect the wealthy Indian and local Kenyan population.

My friend’s family couldn’t have been nicer. They live in Nanyuki, an area about 3.5 hours north of Nairobi up by Mt. Kenya and run a gazillion acre cattle farm and animal conservancy. They don’t come to Nairobi much, but invited me to visit them before I leave. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get a chance before I head home. The other dinner guests included step-brother and girlfriend, brother, and two friends. One friend turned out to be Jomo Kenyatta’s (former President of Kenya) grandson and the other was an actress in a new Kenyan TV show that is launching next week. She was a hoot.

It was timely that I had been at the horse races earlier in the day as the step-brother’s girlfriend was also there. She’s a steward - it’s her responsibility to stand in the middle of the track and to make sure the horses aren’t mistreated and whipped too much during the race. It was fun to say, “When I was at the Guinea Cup today…” and have others know what I was talking about.

The dinner was delicious and the conversation lively, especially with the actress doing spot-on impersonations of some of the various accents that can be found in East Africa. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into old Kenya where in some ways, time has not marched on. I don’t quite envision becoming a club member, but I certainly appreciated a chance to peek in.


Meet Melida said...

So no one's wearing thos My Fair Lady outfits from the racing track scene... very disappointing! Glad to hear you're living the good life, though! :)

Denise said...

Well, Miss Adventure you continue to surprise me with all of the "roughing" it. This is certainly a life changing experience.