The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
Most people have heard of Juja, the modern dwelling in the heart of an African wilderness, belonging to our own countryman, Mr. W. N. McMillan. If most people are as I was before I saw the place, they have considerable curiosity and no knowledge of what it is and how it looks.
We came to Juja at the end of a wide circle that had lasted three months, and was now bringing us back again toward our starting point. For five days we had been camped on top a high bluff at the junction of two rivers. When we moved we dropped down the bluff, crossed one river, and, after some searching, found our way up the other bluff. There we were on a vast plain bounded by mountains thirty miles away. A large white and unexpected sign told us we were on Juja Farm, and warned us that we should be careful of our fires in the long grass.
For an hour we plodded slowly along. Herds of zebra and hartebeeste drew aside before us, dark heavy wildebeeste-the gnu-stood in groups at a safe distance their heads low, looking exactly like our vanished bison; ghostlike bands of Thompson's gazelles glided away with their smooth regular motion. On the vast and treeless plains single small objects standing above the general uniformity took an exaggerated value; so that, before it emerged from the swirling heat mirage, a solitary tree might easily be mistaken for a group of buildings or a grove. Finally, however, we raised above the horizon a dark straight clump of trees. It danced in the mirage, and blurred and changed form, but it persisted. A strange patch of white kept appearing and disappearing again. This resolved itself into the side of a building. A spider-legged water tower appeared above the trees.
Gradually we drew up on these. A bit later we swung to the right around a close wire fence ten feet high, passed through a gate, and rode down a long slanting avenue of young trees. Between the trees were century plants and flowers, and a clipped border ran before them. The avenue ended before a low white bungalow, with shady verandas all about it, and vines. A formal flower garden lay immediately about it, and a very tall flag pole had been planted in front. A hundred feet away the garden dropped off steep to one of the deep river canyons.
Two white-robed Somalis appeared on the veranda to inform us that McMillan was off on safari. Our own boys approaching at this moment, we thereupon led them past the house, down another long avenue of trees and flowers, out into an open space with many buildings at its edges, past extensive stables, and through another gate to the open plains once more. Here we made camp. After lunch we went back to explore.
Juja is situated on the top of a high bluff overlooking a river. In all directions are tremendous grass plains. Donya Sabuk-the Mountain of Buffaloes-is the only landmark nearer than the dim mountains beyond the edge of the world, and that is a day's journey away. A rectangle of possibly forty acres has been enclosed on three sides by animal-proof wire fence. The fourth side is the edge of the bluff. Within this enclosure have been planted many trees, now of good size; a pretty garden with abundance of flowers, ornamental shrubs, a sundial, and lawns. In the river bottom land below the bluff is a very extensive vegetable and fruit garden, with cornfields, and experimental plantings of rubber, and the like. For the use of the people of Juja here are raised a great variety and abundance of vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Juja House, as has been said, stands back a hundred feet from a bend in the bluffs that permits a view straight up the river valley. It is surrounded by gardens and trees, and occupies all one end of the enclosed rectangle. Farther down and perched on the edge of a bluff, are several pretty little bungalows for the accommodation of the superintendent and his family, for the bachelors' mess, for the farm offices and dispensary, and for the dairy room, the ice-plant and the post-office and telegraph station. Back of and inland from this row on the edge of the cliff, and scattered widely in open space, are a large store stocked with everything on earth, the Somali quarters of low whitewashed buildings, the cattle corrals, the stables, wild animal cages, granaries, blacksmith and carpenter shops, wagon sheds and the like. Outside the enclosure, and a half mile away, are the conical grass huts that make up the native village. Below the cliff is a concrete dam, an electric light plant, a pumping plant and a few details of the sort.
Such is a relief map of Juja proper. Four miles away, and on another river, is Long Juja, a strictly utilitarian affair where grow ostriches, cattle, sheep, and various irrigated things in the bottom land. All the rest of the farm, or estate, or whatever one would call it, is open plain, with here and there a river bottom, or a trifle of brush cover. But never enough to constitute more than an isolated and lonesome patch.
Before leaving London we had received from McMillan earnest assurances that he kept open house, and that we must take advantage of his hospitality should we happen his way. Therefore when one of his white-robed Somalis approached us to inquire respectfully as to what we wanted for dinner, we yielded weakly to the temptation and told him. Then we marched us boldly to the house and took possession.
All around the house ran a veranda, shaded bamboo curtains and vines, furnished with the luxurious teakwood chairs of the tropics of which you can so extend the arms as to form two comfortable and elevated rests for your feet. Horns of various animals ornamented the walls. A megaphone and a huge terrestrial telescope on a tripod stood in one corner. Through the latter one could examine at favourable times the herds of game on the plains.
And inside-mind you, we were fresh from three months in the wilderness-we found rugs, pictures, wall paper, a pianola, many books, baths, beautiful white bedrooms with snowy mosquito curtains, electric lights, running water, and above all an atmosphere of homelike comfort. We fell into easy chairs, and seized books and magazines. The Somalis brought us trays with iced and fizzy drinks in thin glasses. When the time came we crossed the veranda in the rear to enter a spacious separate dining-room. The table was white with napery, glittering with silver and glass, bright with flowers. We ate leisurely of a well-served course dinner, ending with black coffee, shelled nuts, and candied fruit. Replete and satisfied we strolled back across the veranda to the main house. F. raised his hand.
"Hark!" he admonished us.
We held still. From the velvet darkness came the hurried petulant barking of zebra; three hyenas howled.