Around the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya, a 92-year-old man named Japhlet Thambu has a tea farm. I had the opportunity to visit his farm with my friend and colleague, Laura Lee Huttenbach, who has written Mr. Thambu’s biography, forthcoming from Ohio University Press in Fall 2014. In the 1950s, Mr. Thambu (aka “the General”) led an uprising against British colonial rule that became known as the Mau Mau Rebellion. The fight eventually led to his country’s independence, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary while we were there on December 12th.
As Laura Lee conducted interviews, I documented the General’s home and surrounding areas for the book. The images I captured in Meru, Kenya did not conform to the portrayal of Africa I had seen in Western media. The stories I heard from Mr. Thambu and Laura Lee were equally unfamiliar. The landscape was lush, wet, and colorful. Every home offered us tea and food. People’s hospitality and hard work were just two of their greatest, yet most common, virtues. Through writing and photography about this place, Laura Lee and I hope to add another layer to the international dialogue surrounding Kenya and, by extension, Africa.
© Mary Beth Koeth