01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Our 1930s Nairobi house 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Our 1930s Nairobi house


It's one of those things that is totally fascinating for me, but probably pretty uninteresting to anyone else. A bit like waxing lyrical on the developmental stages your child has reached. Anyway - I will try not to bore you to much -BUT last week I had a very exciting visitor.

It all started when a tour representative visited our house in a red saloon car totally out of the blue. He was brandishing an email from a client with an old photograph of our house pictured on it. He said that he had 2 lady clients visiting from Canada (mother and daughter) who would very much like to see our house. They were visiting the Mara, Mombasa etc. as well but had asked their tour operator if he wouldn't mind awfully locating the old house of their mother/grandmother and the grave of the grandparents in Langata Cemetery (a needle in a haystack I dare say - but he did find it!).

I was delighted for a couple of reasons. 1) We didn't know when the house was built and I knew that the previous owners (turns out that there have only been 3 including us) made quite a few changes to the house. 2) Now that we are toying with the idea of making our own changes, I have been wondering for some time about the original layout.

The safari clients duly came the following Friday and I walked around the house with the mother who is in her seventies and whose, I discovered, parents had actually built the house - we worked out it was finished in 1937. I know that this is not old by UK standards - but thrilling for me. I always said that living in Kenya was not unlike 1930s UK living, except for computers and tvs we do, in many respects, live in a time warp here.

The odd bits that had changed around the house fazed her on occasion, but other areas brought memories flooding back. The arched veranda has now been glazed in and forms part of the central house. In her day they used to sit there and birds would fly in over their heads, nesting in the eves. They had curry lunches there too. She asked me if we still had all the lovely old fruit trees that her mother planted and I had to sadly admit that I'd never known any. She also asked about the lovely formal rose garden but I suspect that the guest wing was plonked on top of this. She told me that the drive was in a different place then - which made better sense to me than where it is now - and the kitchen used to be bigger - with a central island and a walk in larder/pantry, which sounded very contemporary. The one we have now is dark and downright poky (I eventually worked out that some of the kitchen space was sacrificed to make room for a downstairs loo.)

The tour operator brought lunch with him; samosas, cheese and biscuits and wine - we had a jolly time chatting more over lunch but had to rush as we had spent too long looking around the house and garden and the guests had a plane to catch to the coast. The older lady said that four years after her father completed the house, he was killed in the 2ND world war in East Africa while accompanying the Kings African Rifles (he was strictly speaking a mechanic, not a soldier).

All her stories were completely fascinating. She told me how her mother was in the East African Women's league. How the area around our house was all farm land then. She said that the cupboard doors in our rooms are all mahogany (owch, I painted them!! thought they were too dark), how her mother slept in our room and she slept in our middle daughter's room - and when she got married in St Francis church and had the reception on the lawn, she ran upstairs to the bedroom and threw the bouquet out of her bedroom window. There were no bars on the windows then and the little office where I type this apparently used to be called the 'attic room' - they fitted a little single bed in here - though with all my rubbish it's hard to swing a cat.

After marrying she lived with her husband in a house in the next door plot for some time before emigrating to Canada. Sadly the house next door was pulled down around 6 months ago to make room for a new town house development (noisy building work has been going on for ages). She said that she didn't mind this too much, as all her memories were bound up around our house - the place where she grew up, so seeing this was more important for her.

I feel very lucky to have had such an interesting visitor, and for living here in such a lovely, happy house.

'My father used all the best materials, the best architect. This house will go on forever' she said, the trace of a tear in her eye.
I certainly hope so.

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