The Old Boys Club

I enjoyed the Bulawayo Club. It is, in fact, one of my fondest memories of Zimbabwe. The people – Brian, Joseph, Nyasha, Ngoshi, and the ladies in the office – were spectacularly nice, caring people.

The Bulawayo Club is, however pleasant, decidedly a remnant from colonial days. Memorabilia from those days of the British Empire are scattered throughout the building, and the building itself is the largest artifact.

The first floor consists primarily of areas where non-members can gather – the reception area, below, the courtyard, and the large bar.

That’s Ngoshi behind the bar. Below – Yes, these were a “thing” at one time, and this one is kept in the bar:

The second floor is made for the activities of the Club.

The Wakeford Room, below, is used for a meeting room and/or a small dining room. It opens onto the second floor terrace. While I was there, a couple of conferences came and went, organizations from Zimbabwe or Zambia. It is also the designated meeting room for the Club’s Board of Directors.

This is the lobby to what was once the Club’s ballroom. The portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have hung there since their visit in the 1950s. The ballroom is now mainly a large room for conference presentations and programs.

In the display case below the clock and portraits is a collection of the china and silver that was used for the royal visit. Note the now rarely-seen fish knife, on the right, between the dinner knife and soup spoon, for the fish course.

This lounge, also on the second floor, near the ballroom, is reserved for members. It is filled with club memorabilia depicting long-standing members, members of particular note, and the club’s sports teams (cricket and rugby.)

Also on the second floor is a quiet library with a fireplace and a portrait of Queen Victoria.

There is also a large formal dining room, suitable for grand banquets, on the second floor, where I usually ate dinner. The Club has set it up as a restaurant for guests. Amazingly, I forgot to take a photo of the dining room and the outside of the building, too.

The third floor is where the smoking lounge is located, furnished with sofas, club chairs, and a couple of desks. The French doors open onto the third floor terrace overlooking downtown Bulawayo. The terraces face east so as to escape the afternoon sun. On some days, I was the only guest, and I spent a couple of lovely mornings there, catching up on my email, blog, and journal entries.

The third floor landing also serves as a small sitting area, and a large suite opens to the side, reserved for important visitors.

I met Father Francis Day in the courtyard two days before I left. He was the only member of the Club that I met while I stayed there, and I was sorry that I couldn’t accept his invitation to visit his church on Friday, but I had to pass. I was leaving on Saturday and I needed to take care of getting ready to go, which included finding some cash.

Zimbabwe’s economy, weak for a long time, was getting ready to completely unravel. While I was there, the waiting lines for gasoline sprang up, almost overnight. There was a currency crisis – the government was running short of U.S. currency that they needed to buy the fuel from neighboring countries. Vendors and stores wanted U.S. dollars because they didn’t trust the Zimbabwean “bond,” the currency most Zimbabweans were paid. Stores had signs that said they would accept bond only from Zimbabwean citizens, and the persons using bond had to produce ID to prove they were citizens. Otherwise, the only acceptable currency was U.S. dollars. Bank ATMs were not giving out U.S. dollars, and not always bond, even. The U.S. dollars in circulation among street vendors and taxi drivers were filthy with overuse.

Brian, the manager, used some of my remaining U.S. cash to buy some “pula,” the currency of Botswana, on the street. We both knew that he would get a much better deal than if I tried. I would arrive in Francistown at night on the train – no airport ATM – and taxi drivers could not accept anything but pula for payment. No Botswanan could accept anything but pula, for that matter. “They are very jealous for their currency,” I was told. Once in Botswana, I would be able to get pula from the ATMs myself, which I used to buy U.S. currency and replenish my reserve.

The mild chaos outside stood in contrast to the calm and comforting atmosphere inside, which I guess is the reason I liked the Bulawayo Club so much. Maybe it’s the reason that men liked men’s clubs. Chaos ended at the gate. Inside its walls, life proceeded at a peaceful pace.

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