I lived in Kenya from 1975 to 1978 and worked as a deputy editor for an African magazine called Viva. I was often asked to write articles about various African people and had an opportunity to travel far and wide. I did actually climb Mt. Kenya and make it to the top, but as in all novels, the facts of my stay in Kenya formed only the barest skeleton on which to hang a story. I did have a lovely cottage in Karen, went to a Masai ceremony similar to the one described in the book, and often traveled to African family shambas for meals. I knew the expatriate community reasonably well. None of the characters in the book is based on anyone I ever knew – particularly Margaret. I have not been back to Kenya since 1978. In the beginning, I had very young children and a trip was out of the question. Later, I began to discover that the country was seldom a very safe place to visit. I remember that several years ago, I got out a Fodor’s to read about present-day Kenya: I believe the first sentence was: “Of all the countries we have ever reported on, Kenya is the most lawless.” The situation is somewhat better today, but there is still a great deal of unrest. That said, I would love to return to the country of Luo and Kikuyu, of the tea plantations that shimmered in the distance, and of the island of Lamu, an exquisite, almost mystical, place of dreams. I still remember the colors vividly, and I have fond feelings for the wonderful people I met there. In 1978, I returned to this country just a couple of months before Jomo Kenyatta died – thus ending the period of greatest stability in a country that was once thought to be the safest in Africa.
As for climbing Mt. Kenya, it was the most arduous physical endeavor of my entire life. Though the cast of characters was unlike those I have in the novel, the physical attributes of the mountain are described as I best remember them. The scree and the glacier were brutal, and I reached the top in a blizzard. I couldn’t see a thing except tiny bits of white coming at me. I’m told that the glacier can no longer be safely crossed, and that in a very few years, there will be no ice at all on the mountain. Climate change.
A Change in Altitude is about Kenya, but it is also about a marriage and what can happen to that marriage as a result of a single catastrophic moment. It’s a theme I often explore. I hope you enjoy the book. Anita