With the debate on a Kericho hotel that threw out a legislator and her husband for failure to produce a marriage certificate still raging, another investor in Voi is courting the controversy.
“Is she your wife?” This is the first question one is asked when you check in at Victory Guest House, a three-star hotel in Voi town. Your answer to this question will determine whether you will spend the night at the facility or you will be thrown out to seek accommodation elsewhere.
The owner Rose Rugendo says only married couples and single people are allowed to spend the night in the guest house. To ensure that the rule is strictly followed, a large plaque is hanged at the reception area with the rules clearly spelt out for all to see.
“Please note that only married couples and singles are allowed in the rooms,” reads part of the message.
The debate on hotels and lodges’ right to admission came to the fore last week after Laikipia Woman Rep Catherine Waruguru threatened to sue a Kericho hotel for turning her away for failing to produce a marriage certificate before they are allowed to spend the night there.
While the matter has generated intense debate with some people backing the hotel and others supporting the legislator, Rugendo says such backlash is not new to her. She has applied the rule for the past 17 years and does not intend to stop.
The two-storey guest house is known for its strict adherence to rules, almost puritan morality that has seen the owner receive a barrage of insults and ridicule from angry lodgers who are turned away at the dead of the night for failing to comply.
The proprietor, who is also a pastor shrugs off the insults saying she cannot compromise her religious beliefs to satisfy the whims of randy men.
“I made a promise to God while hawking bananas in Voi town that if he ever blessed me with a good business, I will use half of the money I get to spread His gospel. He gave me this,” she said pointing at the guest house.
Her story is a testimony that hard work and resilience pay. In 1984 while working at Castle Hotel in Mombasa, a gemstone-prospecting tourist expressed a wish to deal in the precious stones. Smelling a business opportunity, she left for Voi where she ended up living in squalor at one of the slums and had to hawk bananas and fruits to survive.
It was not until 1993 that a businessman she had prayed for gifted her with a small plot as a gratitude for her prayers.
She knew God had answered her prayers. She later built the two-storey building that became one of the most sought-after premise by business people because of its strategic location.
Despite making it big, Rugendo says she will never forgot her promise to God.
“I cannot use dirty money to do God’s work. Half of what I get here goes to evangelisation, building of churches and helping widows while the other half is for my children,” she said.
However, unlike the Kericho hotel, she doesn’t demand a marriage certificate. She holds a man’s answer to the marital query as the truth and says she is absolved of any blame if he tells lies. “If he lies that the woman he is accompanied with is his wife, it is over to him and his God,” she said.
But it is not just promiscuity and other “immoral acts” that suffer the brunt of Rugendo’s strict religious doctrines.
Businessmen and women operating in her building are not spared either. They are under strict instructions not to stock anything that offends her faith. Items such as condoms, cigarettes, wines and spirits, beer and miraa are forbidden. She says she is God’s ambassador and as such, her life, property and behaviour should all reflect what she believes in. “Such stuff cannot be stocked here. I have a duty to preserve life,” she said.
However, she says that her rules are not discriminatory but are meant to help save marriages and reduce spread of venereal diseases adding that some people she had turned away often come back to thank her for “bringing them back to their senses.”
Residents are divided over her strict rules. While some say some rules are not good for business, others support her saying that she is living her faith.
Anarose Mwashighadi, a trader in the town says Rugendo is not a hypocrite as she conducts her business the way she lives her life. She says while most saved people don’t care how their businesses are run, others are very careful to avoid sending a bad image. But Boniface Ngea, a boda boda rider, thinks otherwise.
“A business should not be operated like a church. Open-door policy is better to accommodate people from all walks of life,” he said adding: “It’s unfair to bar me from your premises yet I am paying. My money should be the key to admission”. – KNA