Thursday, November 7, 2013

That gracious place named Karen

I’m not a city gal so living in densely populated Nairobi was stressful. Crime, grime, exhaust fumes, burning trash, and noise were among the biggest culprits. 

During our first four years in Kenya, when city life got too intense, sometimes Dave and I would escape for a couple of hours on a weekend afternoon. One of our favorite getaways was a borough named Karen located a short drive from the city.

Arriving in Karen felt like stepping onto a different continent. European settlers established the town about a hundred years ago. A few aging shops lined one short, curved lane—the kind you’d expect to be cobbled—giving it the feel of an antiquated European village.

Our colleagues and friends, Marvin and Joyce, introduced us to Karen and a restaurant there, The Horseman—a round, open-air place with a thatched roof. (After a fire at the restaurant, they put up safer roofing materials, as you can see in this photo.)

Our dear Englishman friend, John, outside The Horseman.

Meals at the Horseman included a salad bar that we could eat because, unlike many restaurants, they soaked their vegetables in chemicals to kill amoebas and bacteria.

The menu included a choice of gazelle, zebra, or eland, grilled while we watched, smothered in our choice of sauces. We especially enjoyed their thick, creamy mushroom sauce. Such delightful meals cost the equivalent of about four dollars back then.

Dining at The Horseman and other African restaurants was a drawn-out affair. When we first arrived in Kenya, we were accustomed to fast food restaurants and quick service so we felt irritated with how long it took waiters to bring our meals.

Soon, though, we learned to appreciate the African way. In American restaurants, waiters hurry us through a meal, eager to shoo us out the door so someone else can use our table. Dining in Kenya, on the other hand, takes all evening, and their way encouraged us to slow down and enjoy both the food and ourselves.

As appealing as the village and The Horseman were, the vast countryside surrounding the town always drew me.

Little did I know back then, during our first four years in Africa, that one day Dave and I would live in that gracious place 
named Karen—
a place of unpretentious, worn estates, 
a place of long lanes and shade trees 
and rolling, park-like lawns; 
a place of horse pastures and tall groomed hedges 
and manicured English-style gardens teeming with flowers. 

Karen was a place of open skies 
and clean air 
and a life still enough to hear birdsong 
and the faint rustle of the breeze 
stirring sun-baked grasses. 

(from Chapter 13, Grandma's Letters from Africa

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  1. It looks so beautiful in your photos. I think I only went to Karen once. I do so enjoy the the estate type places in Kenya. Too bad not everyone can partake of their beauty and grace.

  2. I agree, Penny. Too bad not everyone can enjoy such a peaceful, gracious place. I often ask myself, "Why me? Why should I be so blessed? What about those dear people who must live in the city?" I have found no easy answers. But I also know we did not live in luxury in Karen. It was a quirky, very old house, and it was perfectly located across the road from the school where my husband and I worked. It seemed to be a gift from God then, and I still think so today. Perhaps one way to avoid living for "self" is to be generous in sharing with others. We tried to do that, and still do. Life just seems to have questions without answers sometimes.

    Thanks for stopping by, Penny. :)


    1. I can imagine what you mean by "quirky, very old house". I know even the new houses in Kenya can be quirky or so it would seem to us North Americans who are used to running waters, flush toilets and electricity at all hours of the day and night. I'm sure God blessed you with the beautiful country setting but I know that things were not as they are in the USA for you. It is so good too that you were able to be generous in sharing your blessing with others.

      Hugs and blessings. P