‘I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” wrote Danish author Karen Blixen in her most famous book “Out of Africa,” her account of her love affair with Africa and its people. Blixen lived in Kenya, not far from Nairobi, from 1917 until 1931, running a coffee plantation that her family had funded. “It seems like a dream to be here,” she wrote her mother. “Here I am where I ought to be.”
Just a year ago, Idyllwild residents Mary Zimmerman and Jeanne Buchanan visited Blixen’s home, now a museum, and sat on her front porch. They too felt a deep resonance with the land, its wildlife and culture of its Rift Valley tribesmen, just as Blixen had. Said Buchanan of the two-week safari she and Zimmerman took with their spouses in October 2011, “It’s the only place I’ve ever gone, the longer I’ve been away from it the more I want to go back.”
Zimmerman and Buchanan will discuss what they found so compelling about their time in the area that paleontologists believe is the birthplace of man. “Our first impression of Africa was chaos and diesel fuel,” said Zimmerman speaking of Nairobi, Kenya’s sprawling capital of three million. But once in the Rift Valley’s five national parks and reserves, amidst the game and rural villages, they recalled how Africa began to capture their imagination and affection.
The women saw and will discuss how rural and tribal lifestyles are so different from the cacophony and combustibility of Nairobi, noting that Kenya is a country of contradictions — old ways of life being threatened and changed by what might be called progress or could be called a time of loss.
“For instance,” said Zimmerman, “bringing in water and wells to villages is life-changing. A once nomadic people now stay where the water source is. And protecting game, as it now is, has changed the life of men especially.” They wondered if the tribes and villagers were better as a result of encroaching modernization.
The women photographed extensively the game they saw and will share those photos at their Thursday, Dec. 20 presentation as part of the Idyllwild Community Recreation Council’s popular Speaker Series.
Among the sights they said they’d never forget was the annual great migration of wildebeests and zebras. Called one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world, the Great Migration features over two million herbivores crossing the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem — one-and-a-half million wildebeests leading about 200,000 zebras and 500,000 Thomson’s gazelles.
Also, and they have a picture of this, they saw a mother giraffe who had just given birth to her baby. They were grazing when photographed and the umbilical cord was still attached between mother and child. “Our guide, Aaron Shaha of Tropical Woods Adventures, a Masai tribesman with a degree in wild life management, knew where the animals were going to be and what they would be doing,” Zimmerman recalled. “What I came away with was such a great respect for Kenya and how much those who live there love their country.”
“Tales of an African Safari” takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, at Creekstone Inn. A wine and cheese reception precedes the event at 5:30 p.m. Both are free to the public.