A Trunk Out of Africa

Christine Almlund, a recent guest at Genesis, knows that an old trunk is a symbol of the traveller. Its wear and bruises are proof of the risks, hardships and discomforts endured by the true adventurer. This trunk is stamped with the names of Karen Dinesen (Blixen) and Denys Finch Hatten, whose stories as expats in colonial Kenya captured the imagination of my generation in the movie Out of Africa.

Christine examined this trunk just before it was sold this year for $2,600 Euros. Besides appraising art, antiques and photos for Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers, Christine lives a kilometer from Karen Blixen´s Danish home, now a museum. Within minutes of Christine´s arrival at Genesis we were talking about our favorite storyteller and the trunk. We both agreed the battered old relic was worth far more than $3000 dollars.

For us, it´s a connection with a woman we never met but whose stories changed our lives. We can imagine the trunk being swung onto a ship bound for Mombasa in 1914, heaved onto a coal-fired train to Nairobi and then bouncing on a ox-driven wagon to a remote farm "in the shadow of the Ngong Hills". Dinesen´s stories have appealed to our longing to escape domestication, to set out for freedom, challenge ourselves and experience our insignificance against bigger skies. In Dinesen´s case the experience was of colonial Africa when flocks of birds could still darken the sky and herds of antelope and elephants thundered across vast savannas. “The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.”

We imagine that in her final years in Denmark the trunk was filled with reminders of those she loved, lost and left in Africa: aging photos of safaris with royalty, of her kikuyu students, and letters, many letters. She wrote prolifically and deeply of her experiences and that, 7 decades later, is what still connects us to her. In the age of internet we need storytellers more than ever. “All sorrows can be borne,” she said, “if you put them into a story....To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern.” Karen Blixen´s courage inspired me to sell everything in Canada and start an Eco-lodge in Yucatan. And I didn´t even have to fight off lions!

If you saw the 1986 movie Out of Africa (7 Academy Awards), you may remember this famous passage.

"If I knew a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs 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 with my name in it, or the full moon throw a shadow over the drive that was like me? Will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?"

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