Today was my first time visiting a country club. I’ve always heard about such spaces and they never really entered my imagination. Places where rich people hang out and play golf and network. My friend’s mom is a member of the Karen Country Club so we had lunch with her after her round of Sunday golf with her golf buddies. I’m sure many people have written about country clubs and the narrative is that of privilege, networking and middle-classness at its best.
I spent most of the time at lunch people-watching. Families and friends were gathered around tables waiting for lunch and drinks to be served. There was a mixture of black and white families being served by black waiters. I was told that the white community in Kenya is referred to as the KC, “Kenyan Cowboys”. There were a few tables of KC families and the rest were what one might call the African elite. My favourite table was a family that took up three tables. Each table represented the three generations that exist in the family: the grandparents, the parents and their children. There was a mixture of American and British accents amongst the children and inflections of an “African accent” amongst the parents (I decided to assume that the family was Kenyan). There was a flurry of hugs and introductions as each part of the clan arrived with their entourage of children (the young daughters in fabulous dresses and straight relaxed hair). The laughter from the parent’s table led me to assume that this might have been some kind of reunion. The children were paraded around as they greeted the elders. It was too tempting not to watch the flurry of excitement and awkward introductions and respectability that was expected from everyone in the clan.
After lunch we moved on to two touristy things to tick off our list: The giraffe centre and the Karen Blixen Museum. It was tourist rush hour at the Giraffe centre and we waited a while for the opportunity to feed a giraffe. While waiting, we chatted to a young man who worked at the centre. When I said I was from the South Africa he responded that he had aspirations of studying at the University of Cape Town. I mentioned that that I lived in Cape Town and he made a subtle hint that I could be his contact in Cape Town. I thought he said this to make conversation but in retrospect I wonder if he was serious. I did not affirm his enthusiasm. Even when we left the centre with a hearty goodbye after I fed the giraffes, we didn’t exchange contact details.
Our last stop in the suburb of Karen was the Karen Blixen Museum. I knew nothing about Karen Blixen until I saw the link related to “Things to do when visiting Nairobi”. A movie was made about her, Out of Africa, that I haven’t watched. We arrived at the small museum which is where Karen Blixen lived while in Kenya. We were introduced to our guide who told us the story of a women who attempted to change the settler narrative in Kenya. Our guide spoke fluently but cautiously telling us the tale of a wealthy Dutch women who used the pseudonym Isak Dinesen for her writing who lived in 19th century Kenya. The guide's sentences sounded like sentences from a history textbook. She was careful in making sure that the story must unravel chronologically and make sure she didn’t leave anything out. She might have an interest in history, she might not but her knowledge of Kenyan history brings in an income. When we left the museum my friend commented on how the rote-learning that is emphasised in the Kenyan education system has allowed her to perform as a museum guide. Beyond that I wonder what other options she could pursue if she wanted to leave the museum and work elsewhere.
|Karen Blixen's house|
|Tools used on the Blixen farm...we're told|
|One of the oldest tres in the garden...I'm gullible|
|No, it's not a pet elephant|
The familiarity of being here still won’t go away and I’ve decided that it is a result of reading novels about African lives such as Nervous Condition, Zenzele, Half of a yellow son and Americanah (that I’m reading at the moment). Stories that capture the anxieties and complexities of what it means to live on the continent. These stories and my experience of Kenya so far have given me time to think about what it means being a modern African family in a developing country. Fifty years after independence and Kenya still bears the burden of a colonial legacy. And Kenya isn't the exception but the rule. The pervading narrative begs the question, how does one live in this place that is potentially familiar but also deeply stratified along class lines? Conversations with my friend have largely been about this issue as she moved back to Kenya recently after studying in South Africa and identifying with South Africa as home.
The tensions of being in privileged spaces while being aware of the other narrative of poverty in places like Kenya and South Africa and across Africa make living uneasy. When I landed at the airport on Friday I noticed a long queue of people waiting at a door. They looked as though they had been there for hours. Later I learned that South Sudanese citizens where being flown into Kenya after the turmoil erupted in South Sudan. Thoughs who were on my flight noticed this queue and became anxious that we would have to join that line to sort out our entry into the country. But as tourists who were in Kenya thanks to more fortuitous circumstances ended up in a different queue that allowed us to be deemed as respectable African citizens who were being received into Kenya not because of a war but because we were holiday makers, tourist who made the choice to be here.