“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills” .
This is the first sentence of Karen Blixen’s book, Out of Africa, who had published her book under a man’s name, Isak Dinesen, because at that time women writers were not taken seriously.
Today it was the soldier environmental program day, and so we all went to the Ngong hills – ngong means knackles in maasai- to plant 2500 trees. I was looking forward to this, so I even came back a day ealier from my holidays. Everyone is so exceptionally nice at my working place, it is such a pleasure!
When we arrived the hills could not be seen at all. The mist was so thick that we could not see beyond 20 meters. It was poetic and mysterious. In fact it could have been any landscape in Europe, and more precisely an Irish landscape.
It started raining. But I had brought the kind of shower cap Kenyan ladies wear to protect their weaver ( the fake hair they use as African people’s hair doesn’t grow) that I had bought to a street vendor before stepping into a bus. I had no intention of buying it and didn’t even have the change for it, but he insited and finally ” support sister, support, we are hungry…”. This is how I ended up having this rather ridiculous cap. I can’t say it was the sexiest look ever but it was certainly the most appropriate. The girls laughed a lot – at me, that is-, but they they had long nails and high heels and they were wearing the sexy clothes. To make things worst on my side, I had also taken pinky kitchen gloves not even knowing that we would use our bare hands to plant as there were no shovels. ” We Africans use our hands they said“. When it started raining, I continued planting and the other Miss Nairobi girls all run to the umbrellas: Kenyan ladies take good care of their looks!
I planted 125 trees and I think it was the female record. Not that I was special, it’s just that I concentrated only on the planting rather than the carrying ; I worked alone at first and in a team later it was real fun. I have never laughed as much as today ever since I arrived in Kenya, and I can say I haven’t laughed like this in a very long time.
There was a lady there who spent most of the time under the umbrella, but I saw her plant a tree or two. She was dressed in a rather simple way. I got tired eventually but the main thing is that in my excitement, I had totally forgotten to take breakfast, and run out of home at 6 AM, and I was the first to arrive to Karen from where we were all driven to Ngong hills. It had been a long ride too. At 1PM, I was feeling the hypoglycemia and I went and talked to the lady. By then the hills had uncovered their beauty as the sun was shining we could see ahead and below. ” This is so beautiful…!“. We talked a bit and then I mentioned I was not feeling too well because in my excitement I had forgotten to eat.
The lady called me. She said “there have this“. She gave me a glass of milk which was for herself. She said: “drink up to here”. She indicated half way through the mug. I started feeling better quite quickly after this. I felt really moved by her behaviour. I thanked her over and over: she had given me her mug! I asked her name. “I am Colonel K. my name is Betty ” she replied. “Waoo! if you are a colonel I will call you colonel because it is the first time I meet a lady colonel, I didn’t even know female full-colonels existed. I feel so proud of you!” She laughed and said that indeed she was the highest ranked in Kenya, and that she had been in the same class as the General, who was our director at IPSTC. She said that indeed they don’t give such ranks to women, and I told her that I would be really happy if she did become a general one day. She said it was impossible and I told her not to say that because it’s already quite impossible to be a woman Colonel in Kenya and anywhere….She laughed, and said I was right, that nothing is impossible. I was fascinated: she was a colonel and the only person I had met in a long time to hand me out her own mug to drink from…. I repeated ” Congatulations“. I felt so proud of her!
Here we were on Ngong Hills, a place so full of another exceptional woman, Karen Blixen… a woman so exceptional, that after she left the place where she had lived would be named after her and therefore our working place was located in the district called Karen. Colonel K. told me that indeed, God could do miracles and as she said this there was some special strength in her. She said it the way I would say it, the way only people who have experienced miracles in their own life can talk. She seemed full of some special aura.
She was very friendly and simple and uncomplicated. She said she had seen me several times and that she had walked in the library once while I was teaching, but that she was wearing her uniform that day. She later told me that she had requested the milk especially for me as I had told her I was feeling hypogylcemic.
I had been planting trees with two majors: a Canadian one – the funniest person in Kenya who mentioned there was a modern invention called “shovel” which could be used in such circumstances – and a very nice Kenyan one. The Canadian one had been looking for his boss, he had said that his boss couldn’t do much as far as planting was concerned because she only had one lung. Can people live having only one lung? how can that feel I thought. This was really some kind of miraculous thing…
The boss the Canadian major had been looking for was precisely the lady colonel I had been talking to and this simple and warm-harted lady was living on only one lung.