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Rivetting story of colonial Kenya,
This review is from: Olga in Kenya: Repressing the Irrepressible (Paperback)
Letters from London addressed to ‘Olga - Kenya’ in the 1930s would reach Olga Watkins before properly addressed letters posted at the same place and time. Such was the impact in the colony of this remarkable woman, who had gone out to help her new husband start an up-country farm in early 1914.
But this is much more than a ‘had a farm in Africa’ book. Olga was a woman of boundless energy and a compulsive setter of the world to rights. After losing her first husband tragically soon (in a skirmish with Germans on the Tanganyika border) she faced all the problems of developing the farm as a young widow in male dominated pioneer country. By taking a much closer interest in her labour force than was usual at the time and by intelligent allocation of responsibility she achieved results which amazed her neighbours. This led to a lifelong mission to improve the standards of African housing and education (especially of women) and to upgrade the status of women of all races. Subsequent marriage to a senior civil servant and election in 1941 to the Legislative Council placed her very much at the stress point of tensions between the colonial administration and the ‘settlers’.
Olga’s story is told by her daughter with a most attractive combination of scholarship, humorous anecdote, literary skill and love. Taking us through two world wars and the economically perilous years between, she successfully brings to life a wealth of unexpected or forgotten aspects of colonial life of the period. (The captain of the ship at Mombasa gives a party on board for all the children sailing for UK the following day. Imagine!)
The Kenya story is set against the background of family origins in Kent, Oxford and Austria, including Olga’s childhood in a Tyrolean castle bought as a ruin by her grandmother. Her skill on skis (in the sport’s infancy) leads her to her first husband, and her fluency in German to work for British Intelligence in Nairobi in her first desperate years of widowhood.
The well told tale of an attractive and adventurous woman. I couldn’t put it down.