Olepolos: The place between

Sunday November 18 2012

By JOHN FOX

As patrons of entertainment places Kenyans are a fickle lot, aren’t they? A place that was packed last year can be deserted this year. But some survive, no matter what the competition. And the Olepolos Country Club must be reckoned among the survivors.

I’m not very fond of nyama choma, so when I go to somewhere such as Njuguna’s along Waiyaki Way or the stalls in Kenyatta Market, it is more for the atmosphere than for the food.

But when I first visited the Olepolos Country Club back in 2005 I was struck by its setting, in the wild thorn bush country – and fascinated by the talk with the two directors and brothers: Lesinko and Chege Waruingi.

The Club was a fairly basic and open place then: a scattering down a slope of shaded eating (and drinking) areas and, of course, the kitchen for roasting the meat – mainly goat but also chicken.

But the other day a colleague told me that there have been a number of changes, including the building of cottages – so I decided to go and have a look. Since the club is mainly a weekend place, I chose to go on a Saturday.

From Lavington I took the road to Ngong, turned left to Kiserian, and then right onto the Magadi Road – and into a very different world.

Past Corner Baridi, the road curves down and south along the Rift floor. The club is on the left at the top of the next rise. True, there have been changes.

There are a few cottages now, of a manyatta shape, aligned across the slope, and with a view out to the broad valley and towards the Ngong Hills. They are neatly furnished, each with its own bathroom, a TV, and plenty of wardrobe space. When the generator is turned on there are lights and a heater for the water.

Other cottages are being constructed; one cluster is in a very different rondavel style, set further from the main buildings, and with a view towards Magadi to the south.

There’s a swimming pool, its blue water glistening in the sun. And, set apart, there’s a “children’s club”, with catering, climbing frames and slides.

Some privacy

When I first spoke with Prof Chege he explained the importance of the Club’s layout. “This is not like restaurants and bars in Nairobi,” he said, “where people are bunched together. Here, yes, it’s a friendly place – but couples and groups tend to value some privacy. So people like these clusters of eating places that are well spread out. Some people like the view over the valley; some prefer the shade of trees.”

His point was well proved last Saturday. It was raining when I arrived mid-morning and there was only a sprinkling of people. But when I left in mid-afternoon, the sun had come out again – and so had the people from Nairobi.

There were couples; there were families; there were many groups of, mainly, youngsters. It was a community of people all enjoying time out, but each couple, family or group, could enjoy their own company, without disturbing or being disturbed by others.

And the food? Nyama choma, of course. I had a large plate put before me of chips and a kachumbari salad of tomatoes and onions. The waiter then carved meat off a leg of goat – far too much for me. But it was tender and sweet.

The glass of red wine was also sweet – too sweet. It was a mistake; beer, I reckon, goes best with nyama choma.

I asked Veronica, who was managing that day, how many goats are consumed there on a weekend.

“Twenty at least,” she said. “On a good weekend, it could be 50!” A good weekend for the Club and its patrons – but not for the goats. On the way out, I stopped to watch two young Maasai stalking the next victim for the slaughter.

Lesinko had told me that “olepolos” means “the place between”. And that’s a very appropriate name for his Club.

Here, in the old days, this was a place between the Maasai and the Kikuyu. Now, for the young Maasai, it is a place between a traditional and a modern life. (Going back along the Magadi Road, I saw a young Maasai in traditional dress stagger and fall down in a drunken stupor. He was certainly between two worlds.)

For us it is a place within convenient reach between the crowded city of Nairobi and the wilderness of Magadi. And in the New Year it will be open to us weekdays as well as weekends.

John Fox is managing director of iDC; [email protected]