I had a farm in Africa

out-of-africa

image source : From Isi, WordPress.com

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got up high, near the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

The geographical position and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt, like the colours of pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave the tall solitary tress a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like full-rigges ships with their sails furled, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great plains the crooked bare old thorn-trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog-myrtles; in some places the scent was so strong that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found on the plains or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs – only just in the beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy-scented lilies sprang out on the plains. The views were immensely wide. Everything you saw made for greatness and freedom and unequalled nobility.

The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, whiteness, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills in the woods a fresh deep blue. In the middle of the day, the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana. Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought : Here I am, where I ought to be”.

Out of Afica, incipit, Karen Blixen 1937.

Planting trees in Ngong hills

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 DSCF4640hills – 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.

DSCF4643It 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!

DSCF4648I 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. Continue reading

Iguana – Karen Blixen Out of Africa

Out of Africa, by Karen Blixen

Salamander

Salamander

Once I killed an iguana. I was rejoicing in advance, thinking of everything I could do with its skin. I then saw something I will never forget.

As I walked through the twenty steps that separated it from me, I saw it wither before my eyes as if all it’s shine expired in a long breath, and when I got to touch it it was just a lump of cement, grey and dull.

It is the blood that runs under its skin that gives this magnificent shine. Once the flamme has been put out, and the soul has flown away it does no longer exist: it becomes a lump of sand”.

***

Xsalamandra

Salamander

“J’ai  tué une fois un iguane, je me réjouissais à l’avance de tout ce que je pourrais faire de sa peau, et je fus témoin d’un phénomène que je n’ai jamais oublié.

Pendant que je franchissais les quelques vingt mètres qui le séparaient de moi, je le vis se faner sous mes yeux, comme si tout son éclat s’exhalait en un long soupir, et lorsque je pus le toucher, ce n’était plus d’un bloc de ciment, gris mat.

C’est le sang qui court sous la peau de la bête qui lui donne son merveilleux éclat.

Lorsque la flamme s’est éteinte et l’âme envolée, l’iguane n’existe pas plus qu’un tas de sable”.

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Maasai Mara

Single male elephant in the Savannah

Single male elephant in the Savannah

Safari is a kiswahili word meaning ” to go”, to go on a trip.

Meryl Streep/ Karen Blixen: Did you think you would stay for the night?

Robert Redford/ Denis Finch-Hatton: I can’t I’ve booked a safari. I’m going to the Mara.

Out of Africa. Click here to read an article about Karen Blixen and her home in Nairobi

The largest wildlife reserve of Kenya

Wildebeest feeding

Wildebeest feeding

Maasai Mara is known as the largest wildlife reserve in Kenya. It’s named after the river Mara which is shared with Tanzania, and famous for being crossed in June and October by the wildebeest which migrate South to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Reserve.  It’s very risky….many of them are killed by the crocodiles.

In Tanzania, the name of the territory is Serengeti. The reserve is shared by both countries, Tanzania having the largest portion of it. It is 25000 km2 out of which  1800 km2 are located in the Kenyan territory. It’s at 1600 m altitude, which means that it’s not as hot as we could expect.

Sausage tree

Sausage tree

In Maasai Mara, the mountains are purple, the sky is deep blue, the grass of the savannah is the same colour as the lions fur and on the trees, sausages grow. They are used by the Maasais to make beer (check this article regarding how they make beer out of the fruit of the sausage tree). Continue reading

The Rift Valley

Kenya Great Rift valley (8)In Kenya there is an area South of Nairobi called the Rift Valley. The earth cracked and as a result of that it created a depression that is now a 6000km geographic trench which starts in Lebanon and goes all the way down to Mozambique. Africa has thus been separated into two plates: the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.

In the Rift Valley, the mountains are purple, the sky is strong blue, the well-shaped clouds always hang on the horizon, never just above your head, and the the bark of the trees is golden, the earth is at times of a vivid orange colour, so strong it can hurt your eyes.

Kenya Great Rift valley (1)Here, yes, indeed, it is true the clouds look like the ones we drew when we were children, cotton clouds or like the skins of the sheep that are sold along the way. It’s the place to see the world through the eyes of a child and here indeed we can understand why artists portray things in ways that would otherwise seem naive to us, because here we can see by them ourselves through the eyes of artists or children. If we want to understand art, we need to come this natural temple.

Kenya Great Rift valley (71)

As Karen Blixen had stated, here the trees, the golden trees, grow horizontally. Continue reading

Karen Blixen

This post is dedicated to the lady who let me in at a Resident Fee even though I had no proof of it.

“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

Last weekend I went to Karen Blixen’s home. It’s located in Nairobi in an area called Karen… Guess why!

Karen Blixen's home today a museum

Her book Out of Africa is truly  beautiful and funny. You learn a lot by reading it recommend it: even if you’ve loved the movie with Streep and Redford, you’ll still think the book is really wonderful and way deeper.

I had imagined her house much bigger: it’s a cozy bungalow with mahogony wood inside the stone walls to moderate the temperatures. I was surprised to see some of the paintings she had done of her squatters: that’s the name given to the people who lived in her farm. As talented for painting as she was for writing.

From her place you could see the Ngong Hills which means knuckles named thus because of their shape.

The place is located 16 km southwest of Nairobi : at that time it took two hours to reach! The Prince of Wales came to dine at her table and you can still see the menu. In her book, Blixen describes her Chef Kimante as exceptional, unlike the way he is portrayed in the movie, and he would never forget the recipes and named them according to the context in which they had been taught to him “ Thousand night stars fish” for example.

She always used to wear two hats because she was afraid her brain would melt due to the sun…

Initially it had been decided that her husband and her would have a cattle farm, but her husband Baron Blixen changed his mind advised by the other “expats” and bought coffee plantations instead. In this particular area it was too high for it to grow properly. After divorcing, and losing her lover in a plane crash, she left Africa broke and desperate and focused on writing. She published her books under the name of Isak Dinesen.

For more info about the book click here

The weather in Nairobi

Nairobi after the monsoon rains

As I was packing I packed the same clothes as for Singapore: Nairobi is at the same latitude, but South of the equator, 80 km to be precise. Being so experienced, I knew excatly what to pack. ” Haha, this weather wouldn’t fool me”! I was expecting terrible heats and humidity and also a rainy season. When looking for a flat knowing about the high level of criminality I had wanted a flat with a pool. Thus I thought, after class I could have a lovely cool swim, and exercise within my building. I wanted a flat with A/C. The weather would be very much like that of Pune – an inland city of India at around 150 km from Mumbai : that’s to say terrible! In Pune I tried all the strategies I could think of in order to cool down: dressing with wet clothes etc…To me life there was an ordeal. I was really scared of the heat in Nairobi as my experiences on the equator had been by the sea. I had also brought my mosquito gear: mosquito net, repellants, and mosquito electrocutor I had brought back from India – my mosquito paradise.

When I arrived in my non A/C -non pool flat, I went straight to bed. To my great surprise the first morning I woke up with a runny nose! The second day it was the same, and I had to dress up warmly.

The students being naïve think that we the wasungus – the white people- can’t be cold. Then I told them that it had nothing to do with that, but more to do with our blood circulation.

After never being hot at home I thought that the buildings were built very in a  clever way, that this grey rock that made them seem unfinished was really efficient,  and that the walls were so thick that we couldn’t be hot. But a week later I noticed that it was actually cold outside in the open air too!

Finally when enquiring about the weather, I was told that Nairobi is located at 1700 meters above the sea level! The British had established the capital city here, because of the weather : the cooler temperatures meant hardly no mosquitos and no malaria!

What shall I do with all my summer clothes?

Of course I would have not been in such great trouble had I read the first page of Out of Africa first, where Blixen perfectly describes in one sentence the weather in Nairobi :

“The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt you had got up high, near to the sun, the the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold”.

Out of Africa, p. 13