1. Ngare Ndare

My mother tells me I was conceived in a tent on the Equator in the evening of the 12th of December, 1947, on the farm named for having no name, Ngare Ndare, which nestles in the northern slopes of Mt. Kenya, between Timau and Meru. She and my father were still on their honeymoon--a camping safari combined with my father's work, which involved finding and drilling for water. There were reports on the farm of a marauding leopard with a taste for livestock, and the South African driller with his African drilling crew went out to shoot it. Instead they shot a dog.

        The owner of Ngare Ndare Farm was William Powys, whose younger brother, Llewelyn, had come out from England to join him in Kenya just before war broke in Europe in 1914. William then managed another farm, not far from Ngare Ndare, which grew two hundred acres of peas, potatoes, flax, and barley. Soon after his brother's arrival, William went off to join the other European settlers of the East African Mounted Rifles fighting on the German East African border, leaving Llewelyn, who suffered from tuberculosis, in charge. Llewelyn's impressions of Kenya in those days are recorded in his book, Black Laughter, published in New York in 1924. Black Laughter, which aims at an "intimate reproduction of the casual diurnal occurrences in an alien environment as they impinged in their realistic formlessness upon a receptive nature," contains stories which had first appeared in the New York Evening Post. The book was a success, and went through numerous reprintings during the 'twenties. Unlike his brother, Llewelyn hated this area where "for a mere whim, these stately, wicked, bearded cedar-trees might conspire with their long clawed parasitical creepers to obliterate one's handiwork and reassert their ancient dominion." This was what it was to live in a place where nature was on its ascendency. "Kill!" Llewelyn wrote, "Kill! Kill! Kill! That was what one had to do to keep in tune with the African rhythm, with that inexorable rhythm, the sublimest cadence of which is only to be heard when backbones are being snapped and throats cut."

        Forty years later, around the time of my birth, when these forests became the haunt of the gangs of young Kikuyu who called themselves the 'Land and Freedom Army' -- but who were known to the world as 'Mau Mau' -- hardly anyone privy to international news would have doubted the truth of Llewelyn Powys' words.