Dreams of Africa

I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Thus begins Isak Dinesen's classic .

I know now that I will never get to Africa. That journey would require a younger, stronger me. Perhaps it's all right that some things remain a dream.

My dream of Africa is, of course, Kenya. The Kenya of my childhood with her companion country Tanganyika. Magical names. The Serengeti. The Rift Valley. Olduvai Gorge.

The Maasai. I don't remember when I first read of them, but I do remember trying to rest on one leg the way they did. The warriors, of course. In my dreams, I am always a warrior.

The Mau Mau. A dear friend of mine, a Scot, lived there as a little girl. Her father was was with the British Colonial Service in the police force. She told me she remembers the Mau Mau uprising, and shots fired from the end of the garden. She hid under a table with her mother and sister. I was a little jealous.


I worked for a couple of wonderful years in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. If you go there today, you can still see the Maneaters of Tsavo, lurking in their diorama.

The Africa of my imagination is colored by and . But it was first informed by Osa Johnson in . I wrote a bit about the Johnson's earlier in these pages. There are too few of us who remember them now. So imagine my delight at finding my way to David Lansing's day by day journal of retracing the Johnson's journey to Lake Paradise. You can start here, in August 2010, and page your way forward through newer entries all the way to December.

I have been reading these entries a page or two at a time for a couple of weeks now and when I finished them yesterday, when I left Africa in company with David and found myself, inexplicably, in California, I experienced a similar feeling of disorientation, of displacement, of loss.

Karen Blixen knew that feeling. It's the feeling, actually, that any one of us who experience a love of place, most particularly of places we love to call home, has when we have to go. And when Karen and Osa and David write of Africa, I don't feel at all astonished that I am homesick for a place I've never been.

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

Karen Blixen, writing as Isak Dinesen, in Out of Africa.