Liberal whites are emigrating from the African countries they call home. This can only mean further declineby RW Johnson / June 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills. The equator runs across these highlands,” Karen Blixen begins Out of Africa. “The Mountain of Ngong stretches in a long ridge from north to south, and is crowned with four noble peaks.” For Karen?and other whites who came to live here?the key was the altitude of 6,000 feet and the cool air. “Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke in the morning and thought: here I am, where I ought to be.”
As I write these lines, I too look out at those four peaks of Ngong for I am on the outer fringe of Nairobi, in Karen (named after Ms Blixen) on the next property to hers; indeed, I visited her house today. It is well preserved, thanks largely to the Danish government, which bought the property and gave it to the people of Kenya at independence, and its beautiful grounds?a 6,000-acre coffee plantation in her day?have the cricket pitch smell of new-mown grass. It’s a lovely place; her furniture still as it was, photos of the smiling, attractive Karen and her numerous (and equally smiling) black staff. But it’s as well to remember that despite her confident statement, “Here I am, where I ought to be,” Karen Blixen left Africa in 1931 and in her remaining 31 years never set foot on the continent again. It seems slightly odd to be celebrating her book and her life as a key piece of Africana. A nearby shop prominently displays a picture of Meryl Streep during the filming of “Out of Africa”. It is as if Karen Blixen’s real achievement was that, long after her death, Robert Redford and Ms Streep were in a film about her.
As you drive around Karen, the name boards at the gates tell their own story?Harney, Griffiths, Koch, Bulloch, Mbwa Kali, Pelizzioli, Dobie, Fryer, Ballantyne Evans, Cross?but the houses are invisible, for the properties here all have several acres and long drives, populated with tall trees and thick multi-coloured bushes. To motor up the drive of the house I’m staying in is like entering heaven; as you turn off the road everywhere ahead is blue, purple, red and orange flowers, great waving bamboos, and the almost narcotic odour of the bushes overwhelms you.