From Chapter1: PARADISE


Front view of the house
(Click to enlarge)

Some of the first British settlers, who arrived in Kenya around 1900, had built their initial shelter in the same way as the Africans who assisted them: round huts constructed with wattle and daub and covered with grass-thatched roofs. Most built a 'proper' square house later on, but a few people replaced the mud walls of the rondavels with stones and roofed it with iron sheets. A few of those original structures still exist and this house was one of them.

It was virtually a ruin. The building stones were cut from the solid volcanic rock that had been quarried farther downhill, but no one had bothered to make a foundation in the deep red soil it stood on, and it was only just holding up.

The powerful roots of the trees invited themselves, unhampered, inside the house. They broke up the cement floors, so that the doors scraped over the cracks and could not close. They fractured the walls, which here and there were so badly broken that we could freely look outside. The windows hung on broken hinges. Goats walked through what looked like the sitting room and a chicken perched on a wheel rim that was lying in front of the fireplace. The smoke of a smoldering heap of old leather poisoned the air outside.

The main house consisted of six rondavels, connected by mysterious narrow corridors, some dark, and some with windows.

Behind the kitchen was a guesthouse. It had the cutest little double-storied tower that was crowned with a peaked iron roof and weather vane.

The kitchen itself was small, dark, and shabby. It was all of fifty square feet, with one tiny window high up in the wall. The old sink was the last resting place of two big dried fish. Everything was filthy.

For two years, twenty basket weavers had lived and worked in the house, and the smoldering leather outside was the leftover material for the handles of the kiondo's, these very popular shopping bags. Later on, we learned from the owner that their employer had never paid him the rent, and the workers probably had hardly ever received their wages, either. Smashed windows and holes poked in the ceilings were witness to drunken destruction and probably anger, as well.

The garden surrounding the house, wild and overgrown, had surrendered to ungainly weeds. An immense bamboo bush worked hard to gobble up the dining room.


Layout of the house (Click to enlarge)

Next to the house was a borehole. It was functioning, but the water storage tanks on the roof of one of the outbuildings were full of holes. The water poured out as fast as it came in and all the taps were dry. From the doorway of a dilapidated room underneath the tanks, a melancholy goat stared at us with a questioning look in his eyes.

The atmosphere inside the house was gloomy and dark. There were many windows, but they were small and low. From above, they were half covered by the edges of the overhanging iron roofs, and the garden struggled enter inside from below. The roofs were obviously leaking, for in some of the rooms the ceilings sagged down so low in the center that we could hardly walk upright.

The conical roofs were a marvel. They were made of iron sheets, fixed with rusty nails on a patchwork of twigs and branches that had been woven together in any old way. They looked like pointed hats, put askance on a bunch of gnomes gathered in a meeting, and the soft reddish brown of the flaking paint made the whole structure merge with the color of the soil. It was magic. On top of the hill, as a cluster of organically grown mushrooms, the place blended in with nature around it. And it radiated with a soft inner light.

When we walked out of the gate again, Pieter and I looked into each other's eyes and exchanged a flash of intense excitement. We had found the material of fairy tales!