By Josephine Kinuthia, Kikuyu, Kenya
Place: Palace Hotel Nairobi
As I hurried to the fifth floor to counter-check the preparations being made I felt a tingle of excitement. As usual our hotel was a beehive. Bookings pouring in and everybody was busy and happy. More bookings meant more profits. Things were looking up. As the head housekeeper it was my responsibility to make sure that our rooms were in shipshape condition.
Ours was a five star affair, nothing but the best. Our guests were wealthy people out to indulge in luxury. Our service was impeccable our facilities the best on offer and our staff were highly trained in customer service. It was wonderful place to work.
One weekend on February 1970 we received a booking from an Arab who was making a stopover in his way to Lamu for Maulid celebrations. We had been told that he was a wealthy client and very religious. It was for him that I had to double-check the beddings and other items.
As I got off the elevator another visitor came into my line of vision. She was an eleven-year-old British tourist here wither parents. They were quite conservative people with an air of aristocracy. The young girl looked like wazungus; yellow hair and a slim body. She was always accompanied by what I later learnt was a chaperon.
Although she was a VIP guest it was a delight to serve her. She had ready shy smile for staff. As she passed by I bowed politely and she acknowledged with grace. She reeked of good breeding.
The Arab Visitor’s room turned out to be just fine. In deference to his religious leanings, I ensured that the fridge bore no alcoholic drinks. A spotlessly clean prayer rug was provided, making sure the walls carried no offensive photo or artwork. I made sure any literature therein would not be untoward.
I went to assure the manager Clive Howard that everything was okay and found him in a fit. As it turned out we had to prepare VIP wing for an American Hollywood bigwig. He was arriving that evening to begin a tour of Kenya with an aim of recommending filming locations.
I told Howard not to worry, as everything would work out just fine. He was an excitable man who mulled over the most mundane things buy he was a good boss and the success of our outfit was largely due to his attention to details. Now he ranted, and handed me a long list of dos in order not to offend this VIP. It seemed even the government was taking an interest and the ministry of foreign affairs was constantly on the phone about this visitor..
Ordered for the suite to be prepared and personally supervised the work. The Hollywood man had given a long list of preferences but they were our standard offers. He wanted chilled champagne and a room facing the city.
Later that day Mr. Howard complained that a guest had cancelled a booking and then changed his mind. “Can’t they make up their bloody minds?” he thundered. I calmly listened to his grumbling then told not to worry too much because there was sufficient room for them. He was referring to a lady client travelling with her young son from Asia to the US. The booking stayed and they came.
The youthful Caucasian woman was accompanied by her son who looked not older than ten. He had bright eyes, a wide smile and was inordinately curious. He was obviously of mixed blood with his curly black hair and dusky complexion. They were to stay for a short while evidently to meet friends in Kenya.
It was early in the evening when the Hollywood man breezed into the lobby with his entourage. He was a tall slender man with a broad smile and genial manner. He twanged his way through the check in procedure making everyone fall in love with him. He was dressed to kill and the flamboyance, I later learnt was hallmark of Hollywood people. This visitor was in fact an accomplished actor.
It was a very long weekend and Howard was stretched to the limit. This was really not necessary because our staff was ever at hand and everything worked like clockwork. Our guests were pampered like royalty in line with our tradition. But the fussy Arab had not yet arrived and there was no word about if he would come or not. Howard was livid.
He hated it when clients failed to turn up even though it happened every day. He took it as an affront even though it could be caused by perfectly understandable reasons. I told him that maybe our would-be visitor had decided to go straight to Lamu.
“Courtesy,” said Howard “demanded that he cancel his booking officially, not simply fail to turn up.”
The weekend went very well, all things considered. I shall not forget it and neither will Howard. Neither will any member of staff on duty that long weekend in 1970.
At the close of the weekend, I watched as young Lady Diana Spencer checked out with her parents and escort. It was her first visit to come to Africa. I still recall her blond curls and shy smile.
The doorman led them to their waiting car as the Hollywood man-made for desk to sign out. We were charmed by Ronald Regan and impressed by his generous tips. Now he bade us all a hearty farewell American style as prepared to travel to Mount Kenya for the rest of his tour.
The elegant white woman took her son by the hand. They had an appointment in Siaya district, something about family. I still recall Young Barrack Obama’s cheery wave as they drove off. Like Diana Spencer it was his first time in Africa.
But looking back now what really made my weekend was what did not happen. Our mysterious Arab guest actually never turned up at all. He later sent a note of apology to Howard and I happened to read it.
It was signed by Mr. Osama Bin Laden.