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Notes on the Geography of Kenya: Blixen and the Ngong Hills : Photo 1

world pictures Kenya: Blixen and the Ngong Hills

Just shy of ten miles southwest of downtown Nairobi, in the district now known as Karen, the traffic drops off and the house comes into view. Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen was her pen name) struggled here--and in the Great Depression finally failed--to run a 600-acre coffee plantation. Her biographer, Judith Thurman, explains her failure by quoting a later owner of the property who said that Blixen's failure arose from her "stubborn devotion to the Africans. No one made a success of coffee in Karen at six thousand feet. The soil increased in acidity with the altitude, and it was hopeless. But it would have made an ideal mixed farm--she could have well grown maize on a commercial scale and bred cattle at the same time; it was ideal for cattle. But to do that profitably she would have had to take back her squatters' land, and she wouldn't touch it. Her servants had the run of her place just because they were her servants, and she couldn't bear to interfere with them. Instead, she ran the coffee at a dead loss, and the Africans made the profit. There were three thousand head of squatter cattle on the farm when I took it over." Square that with the imputation of racism. (Judith Thurman, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, 1995, pp. 177-8.)

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