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Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Member of the Club, Part II. The Insurgency.

Jaden enjoying a Friday evening at the Yacht Club

Well it is now official. On December 5th, in front of friends, my sponsor, and God, I became an official member of the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club.

Since I wrote you last about my post-Sea Cliff fire depression, the kids and I have been enjoying the benefits of temporary membership – meaning that we could enjoy the place without the guilt and scorn of certain friends (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are) since we weren’t yet “official members”. We’ve been using the beach, playing in the playground, and enjoying the best pizza in Dar washed down with a beer on water’s edge as the sun sets across the bay.

Almost every Friday in the early evening we’ve been gathering with friends, the other “outsiders” who don’t quite fit the traditional Yacht Club membership profile. We are single parents, crunchy-granola types, people of color, Jewish, lesbians, and oftentimes not nearly as pretty as the other members on the bar patio. Most of us don’t sail. We are there for the beach and now for the company of each other. We have a lot of fun, drinking and eating the Friday-night barbeque, with our kids swarming all around us. Each of us fights the nagging guilt of being members of the Club. But when you look out over the sea, and the breeze actually causes tingly goose pimples at a time when Dar es Salaam is so hot you feel like a lit wax candle, all the guilt is assuaged and we manage to just enjoy.

Temporary membership was great and mostly guilt-free, but then the inevitable letter inviting me to the official membership induction ceremony arrived. I was directed to the bank where I was to deposit $1000 in cash in the Yacht Club’s account for the privilege of membership. I was ordered to get a sponsor and a spare to state on the membership form that should I default on my debts to the club that they would be financially responsible. Then I was forced to spend one of my precious Friday evenings walking around the bar patio trying to locate three committee members to sign on the form that they had “met” me. (Well… if “meeting” me involves someone not even asking my name but drunkenly grabbing the form and signing it in the wrong place… well, ok.)

So, on the 5th I showed up at the Yacht Club, as ordered, with my main sponsor in tow. To my happy surprise a lot of my friends were joining at the same time. After about an hour in the bar we were directed to a space where the meeting “officially” began. One-by-one the committee members stood and told us about all the ways in which we could get fined. The boat master told us that if we need to be rescued he will fine us; the beach master told us that if we drive down to the beach he will fine us; and the dive master told us that if we do unauthorized dives and he finds out about it he will fine us. It was like Catholic reform school without the habits. Warm and fuzzy.

When it came time to give out the official membership cards I expected there to be some sort of formal ceremony. Why else would they insist that you bring your sponsor and go through so much pomp and circumstance?

I expected something like this:

Quatermaster: Please rise, Hally Mahler.

Hally: (rises)

Quartermaster: Who brings this woman forth for membership into our revered institution, the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club?

Sponsor: (stands) I do.

Quartermaster: And do you attest, under oath, that Ms. Mahler is Yacht Club-worthy? Will she uphold the laws and obligations of Yacht Club membership?

Sponsor: I believe she will, sir.

Quatermaster: (turning towards Hally) Ms. Mahler, do you accept all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of membership to the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club? Will you do your part in maintaining the premises and keeping out the riff raff?

Hally: I will sir. Sort of. Sir, before I become a member, I’d just like to put in a plug for more diversity at the Club. You see, sir, I think the club would have a much better image in this day and age if we actively recruited a variety of…

Quatermaster: (outraged) Silence! (pause) Do you accept all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of membership to the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club?

Hally: (meekly) Yes…

Quatermaster: Ms Mahler, you are one of us now. Congratulations.

Hally (sounding resigned) Yes sir. Thank you sir.

In reality, they called my name, I went up the head table, and they gave me my new card, which is now “permanent member” white, instead of “temporary member” green. And I have no idea why I was required to bring my sponsor. Perhaps it was so the bar could make a little bit of extra money that night?

Now that Jaden, Rowan and I are officially members I’ve been taking a bit more flak, but I’ve also finally read the rules. No one can be denied membership with a proper sponsor, and people born in Tanzania can become members at half price. Every time I meet someone who would normally not fit into the Yacht Club mold I give them a hard sell to try to convince them to join. The more of us misfits that join, the more enjoyable the club will be.

This is my mission (I choose to accept it). It will be a peaceful revolution. Change from within. I’ve decided that what the Yacht Club needs for me to feel more comfortable is more people like me, more diveristy, and I will do my part in recruiting it. I could stand outside, refuse to join, be deprived of the beauty and amenities that it offers, and complain loudly. But instead I’m calling up all the Tanzanian-born, black, Jewish, ex-Peace Corps, outsider, lesbians I know and giving them the sales pitch. Come join the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club. You will be welcomed here.

(Editors Note: In defense of the Yacht Club, I just want to say that although the place is pretty homogenous in terms of its membership, I’ve never actually encountered any outright elitism or racism among the staff, officers or members. It is rather the reputation of the place that spurs me on to write these posts. I assume that you will take this post with the humor with which it was conceived.)


Blogger susanne said...

I'm totally in on the mission "Change from within!" - the next thing they know, there'll be kids crawling all over Quater Deck ;-)

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a kid who definately was never allowed to set foot on the quarter-deck...i dont hink any other kids should be either...thats what makes the place so cool. The parent wont bring their families unless they can have their time...a fact that I have only recently understood after having my own...long live the DYC!!!

11:28 AM  
Anonymous jenny said...

Its a great shame that the DYC is still racist- I was a member in 1971 due to my African father threatening to take the club to court because they refused him membership. He only wanted membership to meet europeans to do business and so us kids could play on the beach. As an adult many years later after the death of my father I visited to remember my childhood to be horrified to witness a white south african woman shouting abuse at the tanzanian boat boys. Never went there again- reading this post shows how little has changed. You are in Africa for Gods sake!!

11:21 PM  

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