On Kenya's Muthaiga Club

At six o’clock, the power goes out on Bishiara Street.

Mr Bhupa clutches his smartphone, aims its torch at the sewing machine needle.

We stare at the fraying kikoy ballgown in the encroaching darkness. The tailor pats me on the shoulder.

The theme for Nairobi’s Polo Club ball is Arabian Nights. My attempt at flying carpet is a semi-hemmed flying dishrag. 

It is the Muthaiga Club, so I have visions of men in tailored tuxedoes and women draped in jewel-toned silks; Karen Blixen, pink gin, on white tablecloths.

Locals call it The Pink. There are watermelon walls and Doric columns and Legends. Once upon a time, Lady Delamere shot off rounds from her revolver on a founding New Year’s Eve to make up for the absence of fireworks. The crew from Out of Africa were forbidden to film here, so they built a Pink replica. There is an Italian fascist memorial in the Garden Room.

I walk into a crowd of faux Indian maharajas who went lunchtime shopping at Diamond Plaza, deciding that the unintended racial slur was worth the convenience of a mass-produced kaftan. There are bellyfuls of jangly belts and a human rights researcher dressed as Aladdin’s monkey, Abu.

It is Happy Valley meets Bollywood al fresco, red rose teepees and stretchy cocktail nylon.

A menu in Zapf Chancery promises Moutabel Hummus stuffed Dollamas Fatoush. I pray for an accidental lack of punctuation. It arrives; no number of commas could have saved it.

There is a hummus-like substance, sprinkled paprika spreading like bacterial blossoms, stabbed with a shard of half-eaten pita. There is oxidised eggplant, lukewarm tabbouleh and a soggy dolmade the size of an obese sea cucumber.

A Chicken Tagine with Green olives follows, dotted with confused gherkins lounging in a soup-bowl of Oxo and powdered cinnamon. The boiled cauliflower has a nose of feet.

I swap my puddle with the Russian-Australian correspondent to my left, in exchange for an equally Arabic palak paneer.

We don’t come here for the food, says the kohl-rimmed lawyer on my right, apologetically. I ask what the club’s “small army of classically trained chefs” can cook.

It’s better when they stick to what they know, he says. Kilifi oysters and chicken liver parfait.

A stick-thin-platinum-blonde belly dancer appears. The MC invites visiting international polo players to the dance floor, forces them to strip half naked and asks them to wiggle.

The felt-hatted DJ is trying to work out how to play YouTube on his laptop.

Two lines of ball-goers form. They do boat races, chugging beer out of plastic pint glasses, upend them on their heads. I pinch myself to ensure I haven’t time-travelled to first year in my Oxford college bar.

The lawyer finds me on the dance-floor, twirls me around and around and around, tassels a-whirl, until his turban unravels.

We flee and lie on the manicured lawn, where the air smells of cool dirt; crushed grass stains all over my dress and breathe in the Kenyan night; relief in its sincerity.


Muthaiga Club, +254 20 2326651, www.mcc.co.ke