When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music. Karen Blixen
If you have watched the Oscar Award winning film “Out of Africa”, which tells the tale of famous Danish Author Karen Blixen’s life on her coffee farm in Kenya, you will be interested to know that her former farm and residence, where she lived until 1931, is a museum in the suburb of Karen, in Nairobi, which is aptly named after her. The movie is an adaptation based on her book, which accounts her anecdotes and tales of her daily life on the coffee farm, her trips and emotional highs and lows.
I had bought the book “Out of Africa” from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to read on my flight back to London on my previous trip to Kenya and ever since I have been besotted with the idea of visiting the museum. I also recently watched the film, which only fuelled my excitement further.
Much to my delight, we managed to visit the museum on my recent trip to Kenya and it was really fascinating and it sparked the inspiration and desire to learn more about Kenya’s extensive and varied history. Having grown up in Kenya and being part of a historical tale myself, where my ancestors moved to Kenya from India, I am slowly enjoying piecing all the various parts of Kenya’s historical puzzle together.
As we drove into the grounds it was exactly how it looked in the film and at 200/- for resident rate, I encourage everyone who hasn’t been to visit! The grounds can also be hired for parties, picnics and events and is beautiful with lots of flowers, trees and a view of Ngong Hills.
It certainly made me realise that Kenya is not just beaches and safaris and does have some valuable and really interesting history. If you are interested in life in different decades, there is so much you can learn from visiting the various museums in Kenya, or the historical sites.
Much of the film was shot on the grounds of the property, which was restored by the Danish Government and subsequently opened to the public as a museum in 1986. I particularly loved watching the film (as well as reading the book) as it showed parts of Nairobi I am familiar with today such as the Muthaiga Country Club, which is close to where I live, and where the Baron was found to be drinking regularly.
In fact the suburb of Muthaiga, also known as the Beverly Hills of Nairobi, also features as a destination in one of my favourite books by John Le Carre – The Constant Gardener and mentions the British High Commissioner’s residence which is literally round the corner from my house and for which I have a funny tale for a different blog post.
There are parts of the story which do anger me a bit but then again it was life in an older era. For instance the obsession with ivory hunting. As a keen supporter of the conservation of elephants and rhinos, this did annoy me. I was also irritated with the way in which pre-marriage and before Karen Blixen moved to Kenya, she and the Baron had agreed to have a dairy farm and when she arrived he smugly told her that they were instead going to have a coffee farm.
In the gardens in front of the house lie various engines and machinery, which were used on the farm and illustrate the early settlor life in the 1900s in Kenya.
Towards the rear of the house is a massive coffee machine which was used for processing the coffee. I stood next to it so you could gauge just how massive it is!
Inside the house it’s like walking into a different era. The lantern which Karen used to hang in the corner of the Veranda to let her lover Denys Finch Hatton she was home still sways with the wind today.
Each room is a treasure trove of her belongings from the period and with such significance. I don’t want to reveal too much if you haven’t read the book or seen the film.
I even found a rebellious cat which made my visit that much more special.
My favourite part of the house was the dining room at the centre of the room, which was shown several time during the film, which is pictured below. I could almost visualise a dinner going on with candles lit and fancy dishes!
I also loved seeing the clock, the typewriter and the other memorabilia that has been preserved.
Karen and her husband the Baron’s marriage only lasted 8 years as he constantly cheated on her and she was left to run the coffee farm. Unfortunately, it did not fare too well and so she packed up and left for Denmark in 1931, where she then wrote the book. Sadly she also lost her lover Denys Finch Hatton in a plane crash.
If you are visiting Nairobi, I really recommend visiting the museum. Down the road from the museum is also a coffee shop which is also fabulous. Close by is also the Giraffe Centre and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage so you could combine all 4 in the same day.
If you haven’t read the book or watched the film add it to your list now! I am certainly inspired to visit more of Kenya’s historical sites and learn more about the various decades and the cultural influences that have shaped Kenya today as a result.
The Karen Blixen Museum can be found on Karen Road, Langata,Nairobi 00100, Kenya