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Shoot Not the Iguana

Charlotte discovers that despite the divide between a colonial coffee-growing settler and a Gen Z digital marketer, many of Out of Africa's sentiments and lessons still ring true
Above: Karen Blixen’s “iguana” is actually the agama lizard found near Angama (no relation)

The night before my final interview with Nicky Fitzgerald, I watched Meryl Streep gracefully stride across the surroundings of Angama Mara in Out of Africa (32 years before the lodge was built). After reading some of the blogs from Angama’s archive, I knew it would be important, essential even, to know the story as it plays a discreet but delightful role in our guests’ stay. But this post is not about the film, it’s about the book, which I stole from Nicky’s library.

The cover and some of my favourite pages from Nicky's copy of Out Of Africa

Okay, that’s not entirely true. She willingly lent me her beautiful copy, but I doubt she expected me to take over six months to read it. The truth is, it’s not an easy read. It’s a wonderful read, but it’s not easy to digest, and this is coming from an avid (bordering on incurably addicted) reader.
Nevertheless, in small chunks, I read and loved the book. Despite the many divides, such as time, global zeitgeist, and age, I found it almost too easy to put myself in Ms Blixen’s boots. She so eloquently captures (in her second language, it should be noted) many of the feelings and experiences I have had while living and travelling in Africa, and more specifically to the Mara.
Nicky requested a book review, and after all the months I’ve had the book, I should probably do what is expected of me, but with a 600-word limit, the English major in me said, “not a chance”. Instead, I will share some of my favourite passages. When I read a beautiful book like this, my bookmark is always a blank piece of paper with a pen always at hand to write down some of the passages and phrases that speak to me most. I hope you enjoy some of the lovely quotes and the accompanying photos of Kenya that I have chosen for you.

A dashing tree agama in his blue finery Photo: Robert Sayialel

“In the reserve I have sometimes come upon the iguanas, the big lizard, as they were sunning themselves upon a flat stone in a river-bed. They are not pretty in shape, but nothing can be imagined more beautiful than their colouring. They shine like a heap of precious stones or like a pane cut out of an old church window. When, as you approach, they swish away, there is a flash of azure, green, and purple over the stones; the colour seems to be standing behind them in the air, like a comet’s luminous tail.
Once I shot an iguana. I thought that I should be able to make some pretty things from his skin. A strange thing happened then, that I have never afterwards forgotten, as I went up to him, where he was lying dead upon his stone and actually while I was walking the few steps, he faded and grew pale; all colour died out of him… it was the live impetuous blood pulsating within the animal which had radiated out all that glow and splendor. Now that the flame was put out, and the soul had flown, the iguana was as dead as a sandbag…
In a foreign country and with foreign species of life one should take measures to find out whether things will be keeping their value when dead. To the settlers of East Africa I give the advice: ‘For the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the iguana’”.

*If you would like to read more about Atticus the agama found near Angama, click here. This is what we imagine Karen Blixen was referring to when she said "iguana".

Mount Kilimanjaro blushing in the morning light Photo: Jeremy Goss

“Suddenly, gently, the summits of the hill caught the first sunlight and blushed. And slowly, as the earth leaned towards the sun, the grassy slopes at the foot of the mountain turned a delicate gold”.

Fred, one of our Maasai guides, stands tall and proud looking out over the Mara Photo: GritMedia

“A Masai warrior is a fine sight… daring, and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature, and to an immanent ideal. Their style is not an assumed manner, nor an imitation of a foreign perfection; it has grown from the inside, and is an expression of the race and its history, and their weapons and finery are as much part of their being as are a stag’s antlers”

“The language is short of words for the experiences of flying, and will have to invent new words with time. When you have flown over the Rift Valley… you have travelled far and have been to the lands on the other side of the moon. You may at times fly low enough to see the animals on the plains and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them”.

The Mara River and its surrounding forest Photo: Adam Bannister

“An African forest is a mysterious region. You ride into the depths of an old tapestry, in places faded and in others darkened with age, but marvellously rich in green shades. You cannot see the sky at all in there, but the sunlight plays in many strange ways, falling through the foliage”.

Maasai warriors dance at sunset at Angama Mara's boma Photo: Adam Bannister

“the umbilical cord of nature has, with them, not been quite cut through. They held their Ngomas only during the time of the full moon. When the moon did her best they did theirs. With the landscape bathing and swimming in gentle powerful light from the sky, to the great illumination over Africa they added their little red-hot glow”.

A flock of cattle egrets glide through the morning sky Photo: Adam Bannister

“My heart was as light as if I had been flying it, up there, on a string, as you fly a kite”.

The sunsets over the Oloololo Escarpment Photo: Adam Bannister

“When in Africa in March the long rains begin after four months of hot, dry weather, the richness of growth and the freshness and fragrance everywhere are overwhelming”.

Notes from the Editor:

Many, many beautiful quotes and passages were chosen for this blog but left out due to this blog's philosophy of being short and sweet. If you have time, this book should be on everybody’s ‘must-read’ list. 

PS – Nicky has not read this book…

Filed under: Inside Angama

Tagged with:

Amboseli , Maasai Mara , Out of Africa , Photography

About: Charlotte Ross Stewart

Charlotte may be the youngest member of the team, but she is a storyteller wise beyond her years. Tasked with sharing the stories that flow out of Angama on social media, blogs and beyond, her love of people, literature and nature make this the perfect role for her.

Browse all articles by Charlotte Ross Stewart Meet the angama team

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