The film above was created by Jim Dandee, one of the PamojaTogether students. Jim is a graduate student in the Film Department at Boston University.

Pride and Perfectness

By Elizabeth Mehren, Anne Donohue and Jennifer Beard

Some lodging establishments live up to their names. Others do their best to take their names down.

The Splendide turns out to be a hovel. The Grand is anything but. The Sea View looks over a highway. Only the Terminus can be counted on to be atop, across from or adjacent to a busy and more likely than not, grimy train station.

A Ph.D. thesis could be written about the meaning of hotel names.

What, then, to make of someplace called The Pride?

Not that our choices in Bondo Town were extensive. We had only a few hotels to select from. Bondo Town is lovely, in a remote, unpolished sort of way. Livestock graze along the main road, and skinny dogs patrol in search of food scraps. With such constant foot traffic along its dirt banks, the two-lane road feels rather like a pedestrian highway.  Passengers and drivers alike shun helmets on the pay-what-you-wish motorcycle taxis known as piki-pikis that roar by. Seven hours from Nairobi, close to the shores of Lake Victoria, this is not an African town that sports Starbucks, McDonald’s or any other encroaching Western-isms. In fact the only thing western about Bondo Town is its location in the western part of Kenya

No one, in short, would accuse Bondo Town of being a tourist destination.

Indeed, as we stumbled into Bondo Town after two days and approximately 14,000 air miles of travel from Boston, the bus driver who ferried us from the Kisumu airport missed the Pride the first time around.

But once inside the stately gates and past the Tara-like columns, we discovered a pristine oasis of serenity and superior service.

The Pride opened only a few months before our crew of eight Boston University students, three faculty members and a two-person tech team descended, more or less en masse. We were immediately greeted warmly by our 10 Kenyan students and two additional faculty members who also made themselves right at home even though they weren’t even staying at The Pride. Basically, our occasionally boisterous bunch took over.

In anticipation of our arrival, the staff at The Pride had held practice drills to make sure any new-hotel kinks were ironed out. The preparation paid off. The place was spotless, and suffused with a remarkable sense of friendliness. Imagine a hotel where the staff seemed so happy to see the guests each morning that those sentiments may actually have been genuine. The “key ladies” who presided over the front desk asked about our well-being and our plans for each day as if they truly cared—possibly (imagine this, oh cynical American readers) because they did. Their smiles were broad and constant, even when we pestered them for access to our equipment room at many strange hours of the day and night.

The relaxed, yet rigorous hospitality made for a kind of family atmosphere at The Pride. Between workers and guests, there was no “us-and-them” feeling. We interacted with mutual respect, never distance or deference. Employees put their feet up on the garden patio at the end of the day while the Pamoja pack quaffed frosty beers and toiled over laptops.

The Pride offers 53 spotless guest rooms. Many open onto a courtyard garden that explodes with lush tropical blooms. At night, large bats swoop down from the eaves, feasting on mosquitos and startling (but not touching) guests still prowling the courtyard after midnight. Sitting discreetly at the end of the courtyard every night was an off-duty soldier armed with a crossbow, guarding us from human or creature intruders.

A key litmus test of hotel quality is workable showers with adequate hot water. By this measure, the Pride scored high. The bed was comfy and welcoming, with a direct view of the wall-mounted TV. The delicate mosquito nets added a graceful touch while also offering some security against marauding insects. The rooms are not air-conditioned and the windows are unscreened. Thus, an open window seems like an open invitation to those very same mosquitoes, the ones that scream “malaria” along with their annoying buzz. But the mosquito nets are new and complete and the bats are doing vector control, leading some of the brave (or foolhardy) among us to sleep with windows wide open, welcoming the Lake Victoria breeze and the orchestral cacophony of insects and other creatures singing loudly in the fields behind.

As our multinational entourage more or less took over the hotel, the staff could not possibly have been more accommodating. Breakfasts were extensive, with steaming pots of Masala tea and fresh-brewed coffee. I think we all became slightly addicted to the chapattis—Kenyan/Indian flatbread—served at each meal. The chef at the Pride even invited one member of our group into the kitchen to learn how to bake them and taught her to cook ugali, a cornmeal dish that is an East African staple.

Some of our favorite Pride moments and memories:

About one week into our stay, we pulled out the BU T-shirts we had brought for the Kenyan students and took group pictures. Luckily we had brought extras because the hotel staff, from Anne the owner to the wait staff, the security guards, and the bow-wielding soldier all wanted one. They put them on immediately and wore them for the rest of the night

Then there was the night we pulled out our stash of U.S. supplies and made ‘smores. Graham crackers, marshmallows and squares of Hershey’s chocolate—all melted together, of course—proved to be such a hit that the staff lined up and some came back two or three times for more helpings of that ridiculous gooey treat. We toasted the marshmallows and built the little graham-cracker and chocolate sandwiches, and they scarfed them down, sometimes grimacing at the sweetness but mainly smiling and laughing.

But mostly there were the conversations about American and Kenyan politics with Dulles (one of the managers, named, yes, after the Washington, D.C., airport), and parachute journalism with Martin the former AP reporter. And laughing with Matthews, Yvonne, and others as they teased Jen about her morning “cocktail” of Cadbury drinking chocolate and Nescafe. Anne befriended Carolyne, the Pride staffer who escorted her into town to buy CDs of Kenyan music. On the last night at the Pride, Carolyne arrived at Anne’s room carrying a photo of herself so as not to be forgotten, along with a pair of earrings for Anne and hairy cowhide sandals to bring home to her normally Brooks-Brothers-clad husband.

We can all still smile at the image, on our second morning as we were walking the half-mile to the JOOUST campus, of BU student Jim Dandee whizzing past us on the back of a piki-piki. With his golden mane streaming behind him and his huge bag of camera equipment clutched to his chest, Jim was sharing the ride with one of the waitresses (and of course the driver) as though they were long-time friends.

And we will treasure the vignette moments of spotting U.S. and Kenyan Pamoja students huddled together over drinks on the veranda outside The Pride’s bar, intently discussing their aspirations, their common and disparate challenges—and of course, their love lives.

That hotel-name doctoral thesis has yet to be written. Maybe one of us should get right on it. We could start by writing about the hotel that did right by its name, The Pride.