So goes the opening line from Karen Blixen's memoir about her life in Kenya.
Made famous by Meryl Streep in the award winning movie "Out of Africa," Streep's Danish accent lingers in my head and reminds me of the racism that colonized East Africans were forced to endure. While Karen Blixen, might have been one the the "good ones," most Kenyans suffered the loss of their land and their culture under European oppression.
On December 12th, 1964 the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed to be an independent nation free of British colonial rule, and Jomo Kenyatta became the first president of the republic. Nearly fifty years later 67% of the Kenyan population voted to ratify a new constitution that redefined the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the government. The colony that once was, is no more... but its legacy continues to impact the populace today.
So, where does photography intersect with this geopolitical discourse?
The past most definitely influences the present, and the actions of today determine what happens in the future. Traveling across Kenya from the arid north to its southern border with Tanzania, the influence of colonial rule was ever-present. Plantations still dot fertile mountain slopes, and while some of these farms are now the property of indigenous Kenyan families, others remain in the hands of a people who visited and never left. In Tanzania, the lyrical tones and inflections of Swahili ripple through the air, while the "King's English" seems to prevail in Nairobi and across the distant Kenyan countryside.
The past has influenced the present, but it is not all bad. The European sensibility that embraces a natural landscape, is now an important part of the Kenyan psyche and culture. The Kenyan people recognize the importance and value of their wild resources, and they work to actively protect the landscape and participate the ecotourism that visitors travel so far to enjoy.
Located at an altitude of 1,884m is Lake Naivasha. This freshwater lake has a surface area of nearly 140km², and is an important aquatic ecosystem that supports a diverse array of avian and mammalian fauna. Over 400 species of birds have been reported in this Rift Valley Lake and it is a great place to enjoy a boat safari. Our captain piloted our questionably seaworthy skiff with ease as he maneuvered us near nests, fish eagles, and groups of hippopotami. Having the opportunity to see and photograph these unique species at eye level from the water was an unexpected treat.
Located at the southeast edge of Lake Naivasha is Crescent Island. More accurately described as a peninsula, Crescent Islands juts into the lake and offers photographers the opportunity to participate in a walking safari. This island is home to zebra, giraffe, bushbuck, impala, waterbuck, gnu and numerous other prey species. The island lacks predators, so it is easy to navigate within and among animals that are normally quite wary of us. As we walked in and among these exotic giants our guide explained that Meryl Streep and Robert Redford were here. You see, it turns out that Karen Blixen's life, made famous by the movie "Out of Africa," was filmed on Crescent Island. This little peninsula within a Rift Valley lake is now a game sanctuary, that serves to protect Kenya's wild heritage that its people fought to reclaim.
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