Flown to Mombasa to attend the launch of the luxurious seaside Shaza Club, sleep and the sea win the night, and I miss everything.
The short man in the flat cap looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
I first saw him at the Air Kenya terminal at Wilson Airport. I was late, as always, and sleep deprived. The first of this would make me almost delay the chartered flight, and the second would make me miss the entire launch party later that night.
The man in the flat cap looked like someone I’d know. I’m good with faces, but terrible with names. Add to that odd mix that I have a rather obsessive brain about detail and you can see my dilemma.
It didn’t help that he sat two rows in front of me on the 45 minute flight to Mombasa. Or that, in the bus to The Shaza Club, he walked in right past me.
I hadnt been to Mombasa since September 2013, for the inaugural Capture Kenya. Even that was a two-night stopover that involved flying back in a stupor. Someone had the frights about flying, so he demanded we move to the bar immediately after breakfast. What no one tells you is that its not very fun to fly while trying to understand whether the cabin is spinning.
But here I was, in a bus from the airport through Mombasa. Through its roads under construction and its incomplete bridges, its many posters of its politicians announcing their successes, its traffic jams, its street kids guarding mountains of trash; a truly Kenyan town.
The bus cut through Mombasa, on to Bamburi, and then to Shanzu. The terrain soon changed, not noticeably at first. It didn’t have the suddenness that often marks the boundary between two classes. The scenery that tells you you are leaving the heart of the city for its finer, quieter parts. Where the roads are narrow because no one needs wider ones. Where roundabouts were built around aging trees. This tapered off, then wore off, then came back, then in Shanzu reappared, then tapered off again.
In my mind, member’s clubs are often stuck up, colonial places where men in pinstripe suits sit around, smoke cigars and swirling glasses of whiskey and talking about easier years.?
But Shaza is from a different time, for a different person. The 5-Star members’ club on Shanzu Beach Road is a work of art. It has 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom suites, and penthouse suites that are an absolute marvel.
It has this warmth you don’t get in hotels, because it’s not a hotel. It is, instead, a home away from home. Each suite, even the smaller ones, is an actual apartment with a kitchen and a living room. Once you pay the one-time fee, it was 2.4 million bob that night, with a discount, you get a lifetime transferable membership at the club. Holidays suddenly become much less hectic, and you can still swirl your whiskey at the pool bar. It has three bars, each designed for its own experience. The Jawhara, my absolute favorite, is the home of nightlife.
That’s where I saw the man in a flat cap again, now in a swim cap. We momentarily locked eyes, and I thought I should wave or say hi. But the double of spiced rum had just been set infront of me, and there are priorities.
I’d already seen the two-bedroom studio suite I’d be sharing with a couple; a bald man and a lady in a flowery dress. I only saw them once, when we first met, and when we were checking out.
That bed looked inviting, but I had to eat, and find rum first. These decisions turned out to be mistakes.
I’d missed the sea, to the say the least. I had been to several lakes in the years between the two visits, but there’s something different about the sea. Lake Turkana is gorgeous, and that’s an understatement. Lake Victoria is a bit scary because its beaches are so suspiciously small around Rusinga Island, but its stunning at sunset. And there’s Lake Paradise, in Marsabit, that gem of a scenery! There had been the Indian Ocean, on the Dar side, but it was a short midday walk on a stop over in the city.
The sea breeze, to people I know who grew up near it, is the smell of home. The humidity is tranquility and healing skin. The whooshing of the sea, sometimes not even the sound of it, just the sight of it, is like music. I wonder if people who’ve always lived next to it are aware of it, of its rhythm. To us mountain people, it’s at first weirdly hot, and then uncomfortable, and then calming. I prefer the sound of the waves to the humidity, but it seems it’s hard to find one without the other.
I am saying these things partly so you can see why that night, I fell asleep in my suite at The Shaza Club. Why I missed the entire launch party which hosted that heartthrob, Ali Hassan Joho, and a finely laid-out dinner whose dress code was pure white.
At 6:30pm, I thought I could take an hour-long power nap. I am the king of naps after all, even at house parties. Fellow insomniacs know what it means to feel even remotely sleepy, you feel the urge to take it there and then. The launch wasn’t until 8pm, so once I took a quick nap, I would wake up and be fresh, ready, and in all white in good time.
It was a bad idea, as it often is, to take a power nap in a place where you can either hear the sound of the sea or experience the calm of the mountains. It never works. It didn’t work that night.
I set myself on the bed. Then I dreamt I was in a room with a balcony that opened up to the sea. I dreamt of a man on a small dugout canoe, an old man, fishing in the high waters, alone. Trusting his life to his experience, trusting his future to the water. I dreamt of his wife, smiling when they both got home that evening, tired and hungry for each other’s company. There was something in that dream about coconuts too, I can’t remember that part. I drooled, I turned, I stretched, I explored the depths of sleep more than I had for the previous week.
I woke up 6 hours later, fresh as morning and ready to launch things. Only that part was done, and it was time for the after party. There was a hue of inebriation in the Jawhara Bar, and the music was great. I was too awake, too fresh, and it was selling me out.
I was now too awake to go back to bed, and too sober to understand what was going on. The Shaza at night was stunning, with lighting playing with the architecture to look like something from a painting. There was no one in the pool, and for once I wished I’d taken swimming lessons. I stayed up, first exploring, then just at the balcony, watching the sea.
When I got home later the next day, I realized where I’d seen the man in the flat cap. He was on the front cover of the magazine I’d been reading right before I left. I’d stopped and bookmarked the feature about him before the flight to Mombasa.
All images courtesy of The Shaza Club.
The Shaza Club Website [Link]
Request for an Invitation [Link]
One story is good,
till Another is told.