We had a wonderful day today! We hired a driver for most of the day and explored the western area outside of downtown Nairobi (a kind of “suburb”). First, we visited the Karen Blixen Museum, which is the house she lived in for most of the 16 or 17 years that she was in Kenya. For those who don’t know, Karen Blixen is a famous Danish author who moved to Kenya with her husband and owned a coffee plantation for many years before it went completely bankrupt. She stayed in Kenya long after they were divorced, and when she eventually returned to Denmark began writing (she was also a talented and educated artist). She was very kind to her servants and did a lot to help Kenyans, including portraying them in such a positive manner in the book she wrote after she left Kenya, Out of Africa. You may know this as the movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as well. There is a neighborhood called Karen, many roads, schools, and a hospital named after her. Her house was very cool with many original artifacts and some replicas used in the movie which was partly shot on the actual grounds (the cameras were too big for the house at the time and there was no electricity). We represented Denmark well and our guide said “This is Denmark in Kenya” when we went into her home. Kristoffer was pleased to immediately recognize the porcelain on the dining room table in the house; it is the same white china with blue flowers that his mother has!
After the museum, our driver took us to the Giraffe Centre. There are 3 types of giraffes in Kenya and at this place, 12 of the Rothschild breed live and are bred to increase their endangered population and to educate both tourists and local people. We learned that the reason this particular breed is endangered is because the giraffes are native to Western Kenya, near Uganda, and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had his police and soldiers use the giraffes as target practice, killing hundreds of them. Since the center opened in 1979, the population has increased from 120 giraffes to over 500.
Enough history – the giraffes were beautiful and so friendly! We got to feed them, hug them, and they even kissed us! Their tongues feel like sandpaper and are covered in saliva. The saliva, we were told, is antiseptic so that if the giraffe eats something that cuts it, its tongue will heal very quickly. They call it “the healing kiss.” Giraffes don’t have front incisors so there is no danger of being bitten, and giraffes are herbivores anyway. At the giraffe center they believe in eco-education; everyday they bring a bus of children from a hospital, orphanage, or slum to visit the center and see the wildlife. These are children who, while they live in Africa, may have never seen anything outside of their poor living conditions. We were able to donate a small amount of money to sponsor a child to come to the center and, while we were there, a bus of sick and disabled children from a hospital came to see the giraffes. It was an overwhelming sight to witness their joy!
We also walked a nature trail at the center. We were really in the African forest and it was beautiful. The trail stopped at a point where you can see a beautiful view of some nearby mountains. We were told that there was a rabid hyena somewhere beyond the trail so we could not go past the viewpoint. Just to be on the safe side, we carried a big rock and a big stick with us. Kristoffer had visions of pitching the rock, Jonathan Papelbon style, as a fastball “right down the middle” to “strike out” the hyena…as if in reality that would stop us from becoming its lunch!
On the last stop of our day, our driver took us to “City Park”, not far from where we live now. It is a park visited by mostly local people, as opposed to expatriates and tourists, so we were actually the only white people there which we have not experienced here yet. Because of the holiday today there were so many families and children enjoying their day in this beautiful park. The reason he brought us there is because a breed of small monkeys lives at this park and the monkeys openly interact with people. We were able to feed them grains of corn (maize); they sat on our shoulders and ate right out of our hands! We even saw some of them try to get into people’s shopping bags and purses. Their hands were soft like a baby’s hands and their fingers felt just like ours…these monkeys were so smart! When we tried to feed them peanuts they actually peeled the skin off before they would eat them! We were thrilled that he brought us to the park and walked around it with us because it is a place we would not have known to go on our own.
Today really felt like we were in Africa! We got nice sun and finally saw some of the amazing animals that live in Kenya. It was also our independence day in a way on this Kenyan holiday, and we hope to experience many more days like it while we live here.
LMW (with a little help from KW)