Every step Australian High Commissioner to Kenya Alison Chartres took at the Happy Valley Homes at the foothills of the Aberdares in Kipipiri seemed to have been dictated by the book she held in her hand. She did not buy it, nor did she write it. It was her father’s diary – “very personal memoirs” – titled The Kipipiri Ridges.
Her father, Michael Chartres, now 82, worked as assistant farm manager at the now 1, 400-acre land in the late 1950s. Those who live in the surrounding villages called it a dark valley; some elite referred to it as the “White Mischief Homes” because of its dark history.
Dark because the two Italians who owned the ranch years back used it as a brothel and a drinking den that attracted English and some not-so-English aristocrats in the 1920s and 1930s, who lived in the Happy Valley, now called the Wanjohi Valley. The neighbours lived in multiple maisonettes that were far apart. Depending on the owner, the maisonettes vary in design, size and placement.
The activities on the ranch are what purists would consider culturally and morally depraved. But Mr Chartres, who now lives in Australia, loved Kenya.
To keep the memories alive, he documented every detail of what intrigued him as he worked at the ranch.
It is what his daughter, now the high commissioner to Kenya, read as she tried to connect with history, over 60 years later.
She disapproves of the dark history of the White Valley Homes and appreciates the fact that the building that housed her father even before she was born still stands and is well maintained, just as her father wishes.
“I am happy that the building and the compound are neatly kept. My father is a strong environment conservationist. I spoke to him shortly before I left Nairobi for the farm, and his biggest desire and concern were if the environment and the building are well maintained. He will be very happy to hear this,” said Ms Chartres.
The main entrance to the 20-room farmhouse has a door with Queen Elizabeth’s Crown. The door is said to have been stolen from a church in England. It has a ‘British’ sloping roof, with stonewalls typical of the Boers.
“Narratives from my father about the place made me fall in love with Kenya and the farm. I came here to trace my roots. I feel I belong here. I am in love with the beautiful countryside and the environment,” said Ms Chartres, who was accompanied by husband Robert Sirotk.
She added that she could almost connect with everything her father did.
She said her father still holds the place close to his heart, and that is the reason he was interested and excited to know if it still exists.
“This was the first place my father got a job after graduating from Egerton Agricultural College and was very interested in gaining work experience. The farm was then owned by Italians. He has very fond memories of the place, these personal memoirs are very valuable and I treasure them just like he does,” said the High Commissioner.
The farmland is now wan but to aesthetes and curators the relics are reminders of the aristocratic era.
Just like Ms Chartres, the kin of the owners and employees of the farm and several others in Nyandarua visit to get a feel of what their kin felt, and to connect with antiquity.
Nyandarua (which means skin or a skin spread due to its near-flat landscape) is believed to have been God’s resting place.
The entire land, down the Aberdare Forest, was occupied by colonialists and settlers, most of them dairy and pyrethrum farmers. It was to later become the battlefield for Mau Mau fighters as it was rich in caves and provided an environment from where they could monitor the colonialists and white settlers’ movements down the ridges.
After independence, most of the arable land was taken by powerful people in Kenyatta and Moi regimes, while part of it was converted to a settlement scheme by Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta, who allocated the land to small-scale farmers.
According to Mzee Kiragu wa Theuri, 80, Kenyatta intended to settle the squatters, but chiefs and their assistants assigned to submit the list of beneficiaries listed village troublemakers and submitted the lists to the authorities.
But just like the dark history is full of secrets, the Kipipiri Happy Valley’s current owner is a guarded secret.
The owners have transformed it into a golf course. So guarded is the secret that the easiest way to have one unceremoniously ejected from the facility is an inquiry into the names of the investors.
And the mystery does not end with the investors, but everything that happens in the expansive land. The construction of new facilities designed by Koreans is done by various contractors, each doing a percentage of the job, which must be complete within the specified timeframes.
“The contractors come with specific instructions on what to do and must complete the work on time to clear from the site before the arrival of the next contractor,” said an employee.
Secrets aside, the High Commissioner was impressed by the beauty of the land, well-conserved environment and the upcoming developments and the fact that the house her father lived in between 1959 and 1961 still stands and is well preserved.
Just like the secrets the farmland holds, she preferred to keep the contents of the memoirs guarded.
Milka Wanjiru, a county executive member, said the Happy Valley Homes is part of the county’s heritage.