Ngong Hills Hotel doesn’t necessarily stand out. Sandwiched between a supermarket that’s a former shell of itself and a petrol station that could pass for a tree energy store; it lurks in the background. Like a shy girl waiting to be wooed. I’m here for a digital marketing course. It’s one of those things,career development. Insight here, fact there punctuated by a few jokes. Learning. You know how it is with these things. At the end you get a certificate, they say for the C.V. and you know Kenyans; we want a certificate for everything. Even yellow fever vaccine has one.
The hotel wouldn’t force you to come in. When you’re sitting in traffic, listening to Kenny Rogers and wondering why a liter of petrol is cheaper than a liter of milk: you won’t look up, see it and want to drive in for a quick one. Beer or whisky. Maybe a glass of wine. You just won’t. Half the time you won’t even notice it’s there. It doesn’t strike you as a place you’d love to go. Heck! It doesn’t even lightly tap you on the shoulder. You might mistake it as one of the many apartments along Ngong road. Your attention might be drawn to the empty parking lot of the supermarket. Or the low fuel prices on display. Your nerves might be tested by the maneuvering mini buses weaving so close to your car you swear their hooting tore off part of your paint. If you’re like me and you’re walking, getting your blood flowing and lamenting why fare prices don’t drop in tandem with fuel ones; you keep left. On the damn sidewalk. Lest you are in the way of the blaring death traps.
It’s a group of young professionals here. Even the old ones are young. Or trying to be; if the khaki pants and denim shirts are anything to go by. The air is full of vibrance and saturated with the soft tap of keyboards. They suggest a tweet here and a like there. The introductions are brief. Nothing past the first name. Nothing past the title. It’s how it’s done. The law of the land. Last names are so last decade. Tell anyone your last name and they’ll ask if you still use yahoo and update your mood on MySpace. So its just your first name, if possible the short version of it. It’s hip and cool. More memorable. Urban. Until a Karanja Wanyoike tells you that you should call him Kash or Wanyee. Here, last names are for a court date or an officer that just doesn’t know how to ask you for a bribe. Quick one, ever notice how difficult it is for officers to get bribes from people wearing spects? Is that a thing? Ama because they have trouble with their eyesight they can’t see them for the eyes? I’m going out on a limb here.
We have this perception about shy people; they are naive. We tend to be drawn more to the outspoken and obnoxiously loud crowd. They ooze confidence. It leaks from their pores like money from an unaudited parastatal account. We want some of what they have. The pizzazz in which they do things. That eloquent confidence that comes crashing into a room like a tsunami. That loudness; the one that says I am here. Look at me. Like me. Being shy has never been used as a good thing. Actually it’s an insult. Being shy. You’ll walk in on a group of ladies discussing bras. You’ll turn pink. Walk away. But one will call you back, insist it’s okay to stay. You will be adamant; to leave. Then she will say these words “Kwani you are shy”. It’s not a question. It’s not a statement. It’s a challenge. You won’t say yes. You might but you won’t. Instead you’ll brush it off with an “Aii shy? Nani? Mimi?” Then laugh. A shy laugh. And still walk away because a talk about bras isn’t your cup… of tea.
Inside it’s nothing like the out. The atmosphere changes. It’s like the cream walls of the seven, maybe eight storey building have an ecosystem of their own. The sound of traffic gets carried away by the wind. Away from your ears. There’s the distant drone of engines because, Nairobi. You even feel lighter walking into the compound. And it’s not that they have a large garden. No. It’s just the place is airy. I imagine this is what it would feel like walking nude on a Thursday night at the beach.
The reception is set in such a way that it’s the first place you access after going through security checks. Behind the semicircular wooden desk are three hosts. I don’t know why three. I also don’t know if it’s a daily thing. Two ladies and a gent. At first they don’t say hi to you. Shy. But they warm up as soon as you exchange greetings. With them it’s like you have to initiate. Again, shy.
I don’t travel much. Actually I don’t even travel a little. That wanderlust bug hasn’t bit yet. So I would not know much about hotels. And their stars. But I do know when thought has been carefully put. And it’s the little things. You know. Shit I’m starting to sound like someone’s girlfriend. The way they start a sentence with “aki babe si…” and you know the answer is either yes or you’re in trouble. Hehe. Okay, where was I, ah careful thought. I know when there’s been something carefully thought out. Like the terrace eating space that’s naturally lit and unnaturally warm. Especially when the sun decides to try out new bras. To the hooks on the doors in the men’s bathroom. Where you can hang your blazer as you finish up business. It’s ironic though, you hang up your coat before making a long call. Am I the only one seeing this?
I don’t know how many stars Ngong Hills Hotel is. I feel like I should ask it. But it’s somewhere in transition. You can feel it. The struggle. The decor, finishings and interior trimmings all say it’s trying to move from budget to class. A big move. The curtains are a shade of maroon with gold details. The hotel embraces brown. Amd shades of it. Especially for the seats; which at first glance look like leather high back seats. It gives the place a war, ambiance.
Being there for a conference type thing I don’t have a clear picture on their menu. I also wasn’t looking to go off budget and sample some freelance. But with what was made available; I sort of liked. It was like a teaser. A promise of what to expect when I was ready. The problem with these shy people is they give you space. To decide. And walk away if need be. But it was a promise nonetheless. One you could tell it was eager to keep.
Like me, this was also the first time for some people at that hotel. Some swore to have never seen it. Others just assumed it was an office block. But what it did once we got there is make sure we talked about it. And not Ati twitter. No. This is not a place you will tweet and say you’re chilling. No. This is one of those places where you send the Mrs a text, at 4.00 pm just before work is out. Tell her to meet you there. And she’ll ask where the place is ; she’s genuinely never heard of it. But once she gets there she’ll never want to leave.