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Land of A Thousand Hills

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On July 9, 1949, my husband Kenneth and I sailed out of Brooklyn Harbor on a cargo ship bound for the west coast of Africa. We were leaving behind friends and family and seven years of unfulfilled married life in search of adventure and happiness in the land Kenneth dearly loved. We would find enough adventure to last several lifetimes, but the happiness and fulfillment I yearned for would continue to elude me for many years to come.

    Little in my life to that point had prepared me for the rigors and hardships I would encounter in this strange and faraway land. I was born in South Orange, New Jersey, in 1912—the eldest of three children. My brother William is four years younger than I, and my sister Dorothy is six years younger. Although we are dear friends now, while we were growing up our age differences prevented any true intimacy in our sibling relationships and left me with a deep sense of isolation and insecurity. We led a very sheltered life, even for those times, but it was a happy childhood, and our home was the gathering place for an endless stream of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends.

    My father, William Gurden Halsey, was a bond trader in New York. He was a man of uncompromising integrity and courtliness, a leader in the church and community, and a natural-born charmer with a gift for making everyone feel special. As children, we were endlessly captivated by his magic tricks and fanciful tales of make-believe. He was always very dignified and proper in demeanor, and he seldom left the house without his straw boater and a fresh pansy in his lapel. Above all, he was a devoted family man, and I believe that his happiest moments were spent indulging those he loved, particularly my mother. My mother, by contrast, was the pragmatist of the family. It was left to her to bring us all back down to earth when necessary—at times a bit too abruptly for my liking.

    My mother was born Rosamond Howard, and until the day she died at the age of ninety-four, it was her affection and approbation which I desperately sought and which I never felt were received in full measure. Her father, Neil Howard, came from a family of southern aristocrats. They lived in Atlanta until Sherman's army swept through the South, leaving the city and my great-grandparents' home in smoldering ruins. The family retreated to their plantation near Macon, Georgia to a life of poverty. Neil Howard married my grandmother, Julia Hamilton Otis, in 1882, and they produced seven daughters—two of whom died in infancy. My mother was the eldest of the surviving children. In time, my grandfather moved his family to New Jersey, where he became quite successful in real estate. Mother was born in Atlanta and was very proud of her southern roots. Throughout her life, whenever she was asked where she was born, she always responded in a southern accent, though she had lived in New Jersey since she was two years old.

    I came from a life of some privilege. We lived in a substantial house on Turrell Avenue in South Orange, with a live-in maid and an English gardener. It was a life of boarding schools, country clubs, and debutante balls—an endless labyrinth of proprieties and prohibitions. But it was certainly a comfortable existence and one that provided every expectation of being able to fulfill my dreams. The problem was that I couldn't seem to define those dreams, and throughout my childhood and as a young adult, I continually strayed from the conventional path I was expected to follow.

    Our lives took an unexpected and dramatic turn when I was seventeen years old. My father lost most of his money in the stock market crash of 1929, and the rest trickled away in the years that followed. Our financial downturn left a deep and lasting impact on our family. My father was devastated and felt obligated to reimburse many of his investors to the extent he was able from his own dwindling resources. My mother accepted our reversal of fortune with a remarkable degree of stoicism. Outwardly she maintained a brave and cheerful front, while secretly she sold pieces of silver and family heirlooms to pay the grocers and the laundry bills. Although it was primarily my mother's strength and good humor that kept us all going, even she had her limits. In 1934, we were forced to sell the house on Turrell Avenue, and she never quite recovered. When we traded in the Packard convertible for a Buick, she made up her mind never to drive an automobile again. And for many years, she never did.

    My brother and sister were still quite young at the time and seemed to adapt to the change in our circumstances more readily, but those years instilled in me a deep-seated fear of poverty that has remained with me all my life.

    Our financial misfortunes eliminated any possibility of my attending college, but I was determined to pursue a career in the field of art. I was accepted at the Traphagen School of Fashion Design in New York City and ultimately won a scholarship for "life drawing." After two years I was apprenticed at an artists' studio which specialized in fashion illustration and store window displays. My salary was ten dollars a month! I eventually left the studio and went into business for myself, doing fashion illustrations for New York department stores. I was finally on my own, but just barely self-sufficient.

    I moved into a studio apartment at 35th Street and Madison Avenue in a building owned by Junius Morgan, son of J. P. Morgan. The Morgan residence was on 36th Street, and not wanting unsightly high-rise buildings in their backyard, they had bought up most of the brownstones in the block below. The house I lived in was rented to a woman who in turn sublet rooms to musicians and artists. I could look out my window into the Morgans' courtyard and watch afternoon tea being served from an elegant silver service. In the autumn, rows of pheasant, fresh from the hunt in the country, were hung on a clothesline to cure. The Morgans' two young sons, accompanied by their nanny and wearing little white gloves, rode their tricycles round and round the courtyard for hours, their squeaky wheels driving me to distraction.

    New York at that time was teeming with eligible young men. I had my fair share of dates, but as often happens, those I took an interest in did not seem particularly interested in me, and vice versa. On Sunday afternoons, my sister Dorothy and I would go off to art exhibits or polo matches on what we called "husband hunting" excursions, but the results were typically disappointing.

    While attending a class at the Art Students League, I met Dr. Charles Lowell Putnam, a surgeon whose son Patrick lived among the Bambutti pygmies in the Ituri Forest in the Belgian Congo. Dr. Putnam had retired at the age of seventy to pursue his lifelong interest in drawing. At the same time, I developed an interest in a talented artist named Robert Hale, and he and Dr. Putnam and I became great friends.

    One evening in the fall of 1941, Dr. Putnam suggested that I accompany him to a showing of films on Africa by the famous African hunter and explorer Kenneth Carr. By the time I met Kenneth, he had lived in Africa for twenty-eight years, most of that time in Uganda. Over the years, he had explored most of the African continent and had worked as a tattoo artist, a coffee planter, and a miner of silver and tungsten. He had become world renowned as a big game hunter and was a member of the New York Explorers Club. Moreover, he was an accomplished filmmaker and photographer.

    Kenneth was born and raised in England. Throughout his teenage years he had been a very serious musician, and hours of daily practice on the cello left him pale and delicate. This was not the son his father, an enthusiastic hunter and sportsman, had dreamed of. As a result, on his twenty-first birthday, Kenneth's father bought him a ticket on a Union Castle boat bound for Cape Town—in an effort to "toughen him up a bit." Kenneth spent several years exploring South Africa and Kenya in search of adventure and opportunity. In 1912, he bought a tract of land in the Masaka district of Uganda, where he built a house and planted coffee. He joined the British colonial army during World War I, and was engaged in minor skirmishes with the Germans along the southwestern Uganda frontier.

    It was fifteen years before Kenneth returned to England, by which time his father was dead. He had become the hunter his father would have wished—a hunter of lions and elephants, rather than the deer and birds of England. He was so highly regarded that he was chosen as the guide for the great expedition in 1921 of Prince William of Sweden, who had come to Africa to collect specimens for the Stockholm Museum. Prince William's expedition killed scores of animals, among them fourteen of the now endangered mountain gorillas, which are still on display at the Stockholm Museum. At that time, gorillas were considered to be carnivorous, man-eating creatures and fair game for hunters and poachers. We now know, of course, that they are vegetarians and nonaggressive and are among the world's most endangered species.

    Kenneth had come to the United States as a tourist in 1939. He had made a series of extraordinary color films of Africa taken during a year-long safari from Uganda to the African west coast. Since he was well over military age when Great Britain entered World War II, the British Consulate in New York requested that he remain in America to show his films, with the proceeds benefiting Bundles for Britain. These were virtually the first color films of Africa to be shown in the United States. He had filmed the 1938 eruption of Nyamulagira volcano, the Bambutti pygmies, the Mangbetu (a tribe that binds its women's heads to elongate them and make them more beautiful), the "duck-billed" women of the Congolese Babira tribe, and Nigerian horsemen wearing medieval-style armor. Through the showing of his films, Kenneth became quite a celebrity.

    That evening at the Art Students League, Dr. Putnam's son Patrick, who was home on leave, introduced me to Kenneth. I was instantly captivated by this handsome, worldly man. Tall, slender, and permanently suntanned, with dark hair and brilliant blue eyes, Kenneth led an adventurous life—one in stark contrast to the lives of the young lawyers and stockbrokers that made up my circle of friends. I was deeply drawn to Kenneth, but even more so to the exotic images on the screen.

    A few weeks later, Bob Hale and I were invited to be the houseguests of Dr. Putnam at his home in Bedford Village, New York. As we rode up together on the train, Bob began to tease me by saying that all the guests at the Putnams' party would be stuffy intellectuals with whom I would have nothing in common. I was painfully shy at the time and began to wish with all my heart that I had never accepted the invitation in the first place. Then, in an effort to reassure me, Bob said, "There will be one person there who is almost as shy as you are." I was strangely excited to learn that the person he referred to was the handsome British explorer Kenneth Carr.

    Kenneth was a quiet and reserved man. Nevertheless, his charming British wit and riveting tales of explorations in the wilds of Africa attracted the attention of everyone he met. Whenever possible, the two of us would slip away quietly and go for long walks together in the countryside. We talked for hours about his adventurous life and my somewhat vague and unfulfilled aspirations. I felt I had found a true friend in Kenneth, and possibly a great deal more.

    I was thrilled when he invited me to dinner in the city the following week. We saw each other often after that, and my attraction to him grew stronger with each passing day. When I brought him home to meet my family, he presented me with an exotic-looking pin made from an actual lion's claw that had been laminated in gold. It was clear that Kenneth was considerably older than I, but I found him to be more attractive and more exciting than any man I had ever known. We became engaged a few months later and were married in May of 1942. Looking back, I can see that I was wildly in love and had my head in the clouds, and I saw only what I wanted to see. It wasn't until after we were married that I discovered exactly how much older and how painfully inhibited Kenneth really was.

    It was always expected that I would marry "well." I suppose that meant a successful husband and a house and family in the suburbs. I am certain that Kenneth was not what my family had envisioned for me. Although they were very fond of him, they were concerned that the age difference was too great and that I was entirely unprepared for the sort of life marriage to Kenneth would bring. But I was determined to marry him, and I was certain that I would make him happy and that our marriage would last forever.

    My grandmother lived to see me married. I remember what she said to Kenneth the first time they met. She put her hand on his arm and said, "Oh, when I think of what those beautiful, blue eyes have seen!" I wanted to see everything that Kenneth had seen.

    We lived together in my tiny apartment, subsisting mostly on my meager earnings and occasional assistance from my family. It was a shock for me to learn that Kenneth was practically penniless. When he had been asked to show his films in America, it was with the understanding that it would be at his own expense—his contribution to the war effort. Prior to our marriage, he was not permitted to work in the United States, since he had entered the country on a tourist visa. What little money he had disappeared quickly, and he was ultimately forced to pawn his cherished movie projector. It wasn't until after Pearl Harbor that "friendly aliens" with tourist visas, such as Kenneth, were legally allowed to work in the United States.

    I continued to work as a fashion illustrator, specializing in ladies' clothing, hats, and accessories for major department stores. Kenneth did what he could to contribute by offering to pose for me. I still smile at the image of this tall, rugged, athletic, and very proper Brit standing in the middle of our crowded apartment sporting an elegant ladies' hat and smoking his pipe.

    Once the United States entered the war, Kenneth was recommended for a post in Washington with the Board of Economic Warfare and we moved to Alexandria, Virginia. While the war raged on in North Africa, government and military officials feared that fighting would spread to Central Africa, and it was Kenneth's role to provide information and expertise on the region. For a time, he was quite content to sit in an office and talk endlessly about his favorite subject. After less than a year, it became apparent that the war would not reach Central Africa, and Kenneth's advice was no longer required. His knowledge of mining landed him a position as a field engineer for mica production with the U.S. Metals Reserve Project in western North Carolina, and we moved to Spruce Pine where we lived for three years. Eventually, we bought a little house of our own in Skyland, near Ashville.

    Never in my adult life have I experienced the luxury of financial security, and those early years of marriage to Kenneth were no exception. We struggled constantly to make ends meet. There were adjustment problems as well. Kenneth had been a bachelor for a very long time, and he was accustomed to long safaris and a completely independent existence. Marriage must have been uncharted territory for him.

    He once said to me, "Rosy, the trouble with marriage is that you lose all privacy!" This, he said in the British pronunciation. When I replied, "If it was privacy that you wanted, why did you get married?" he didn't respond.

    I began to wonder why Kenneth did marry me. I was an innocent bride in every sense of the word and had wildly romantic notions of how married life was supposed to be. Kenneth, for all his worldliness and maturity, was as inexperienced as I when we married, and the physical act of love seemed to bring him more embarrassment than pleasure. My upbringing had in no way prepared me for this sort of dilemma, and I was far too modest and naive to even consider discussing such a delicate topic with Kenneth or anyone else. I concluded that it must be my own inadequacies that were to blame.

    Although I had long since outgrown my shyness, Kenneth never did. His reserved nature, along with the differences in our ages and the lack of passion in our marriage, left me feeling both lonely and disillusioned. And then, I longed for children. But it just didn't happen.

    Despite all of my high hopes and fierce determination, by 1949 our marriage was deteriorating and neither one of us was very happy. Unwilling to give up on the prospect of a happy future together, we decided that the solution was to move to Africa.

    A friend from North Carolina said to me, "To follow a man to Africa, he must be pure gold." I wasn't entirely convinced of that, but I did feel certain that in the land Kenneth loved so much we would both discover the happiness and passion that had eluded us for so long. I did not realize at the time how completely dependent upon each other we would be for companionship and fulfillment in this strange new land.

Land of A Thousand Hills
by by Jane Haddem

  • hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0670887803
  • ISBN-13: 9780670887804