A Writer Writes: “Hemingway in Africa” by Geri Critchley (Senegal)

Hemingway in Africa

By Geri Critchley (Senegal 1971-72)

WHEN I EMBARKED on my travels to Africa, I had no intention of encountering Ernest Hemingway. However, while trying to get money out of a non-functioning ATM in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, I met a travel agent who offered to somehow use his agency as an ATM so I could pay a Mt Kilimanjaro guide.

In the middle of the transaction, abruptly changing focus, he told me that he had attended St Ursula’s boarding school nearby in Moshi Village with Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter Edwina, daughter of Hemingway’s son Patrick. He continued to tell me he is still in touch with Edwina who used to live in Florida but moved to Montana and that she has the rights to Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

Of course he now had my attention; I told him I was interested in learning more. He must have been surprised that someone was interested in Hemingway so he continued to tell me that he could find me a taxi driver who knows the outskirts of Moshi to bring me to the house where Hemingway stayed when he visited his granddaughter. Then he abruptly stood up from behind his desk to find an experienced taxi driver who would be able to find this house.

After giving many instructions and a map to the driver, the travel agent sent me off.

We drove 20 minutes out of the city of Moshi to a small unmarked dirt road at the end of which was this dilapidated house that had not been lived in for decades. Hemingway stayed here while visiting his granddaughter since St Ursula’s boarding school was nearby. (We also drove by the extensive Kibo coffee plantation that provides Starbucks with some of its coffee the driver told me.)

I can only surmise that some of Hemingway’s inspiration in writing The Snows of Kilimanjaro came while staying at this house visiting his granddaughter and of course while a ranger at MT Kilimanjaro.

I don’t know if many others know this connection to Hemingway since his adventures in Africa are not evident to the tourists. There was no mention of Hemingway when I was at MT Kilimanjaro, yet I have since discovered that Ernest Hemingway was a volunteer ranger in 1953 for at least six weeks at the Masai Game Preserve at the foot of MT Kilimanjaro – less than an hour away.

Ernest Hemingway’s second son, Patrick Hemingway (born 1928) is the first born to Hemingway’s second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. During his childhood, Patrick travelled frequently with his parents, and shortly after graduating from Harvard University in 1950, he and his wife Henrietta moved to East Africa where he lived for 25 years.

From late 1953 to early 1954, Ernest and his fourth wife Mary set out on a year plus adventure that included a long East Africa expedition, in part to visit his son Patrick and his wife. Ernest also felt he had lived too long at sea level and “wanted higher ground” once more, and Patrick lived 6,000 feet above sea level in the African highlands at Johns Crossing, Tanganyika.

Ernest wanted to relive his 1930s African experience and get back to this hill country of Africa where he had known what he called “pursuit AS happiness”. This pursuit brought more pain than happiness towards the end of his trip when Ernest Hemingway went in a small Cessna 180 plane to sightsee in the National Parks with his wife during which he was in two successive plane crashes and was actually reported dead. He sustained a severe head wound – untreated until he left Africa. He broke open his crashed plane’s window with his head when the doors wouldn’t open which may have been a factor in his depression in his last years before he committed suicide in 1961. Risk and adventure seemed to trump all other interests in his life (except writing).

Patrick Hemingway lived for much of his life in Tanganyika. Before moving to Africa, Patrick studied agriculture at his mother’s (Pauline Pfeiffer, Ernest’s second wife) plantation in Piggott, Arkansas. Patrick used his inheritance after her death to buy a 2,300-acre farm near Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. His life in East Africa was incredibly interesting. He ran a safari expedition company; served as a white hunter/professional big game hunter to wealthy patrons and as an honorary game warden in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. He started a safari business, Tanganyika Safari Business, near Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1955, Patrick ran it for over a decade. He gave it up in the early 1960s when his wife was ill.

In the 1960s, Patrick was appointed by the United Nations to the Wildlife Management College in Tanzania as a teacher of conservation and wildlife in Arusha which is near MT Kilimanjaro and Moshi, Tanzania. (I was told that Patrick started an environmental school nearby, but I do not know if it is true.)

After Ernest Hemingway’s eventful expedition to East Africa in the 1950s, he decided to pull together his recollections into a book like he had 20 years earlier when he returned from Africa and wrote Green Hills of Africa. He worked sporadically upon his return to Cuba in the early 1950s recollecting his adventure into a book which is a blend of fact and fiction: True at First Light. He never finished it. Patrick edited his father’s book and finally published it in 1999. The manuscript was in the John F. Kennedy Library Hemingway Archives, and Patrick edited the 800 pages down to half the size. Patrick had been present with his father during much of the expedition and was familiar with the events of Africa during that year which he describes in the “Foreword” to True at First Light. Patrick also visited his father often in Cuba and no doubt recollected with him about his African adventures.

Patrick Hemingway’s father Ernest died in 1961, and Patrick’s wife Henrietta died in 1963. When Patrick left Africa, he moved to Bozeman, Montana where he has lived since 1975. He oversees the management of Ernest Hemingway’s intellectual property, which includes projects in publishing, electronic media, and movies in the United States and worldwide.

When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Ernest Hemingway said in his signature “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

Ernest Hemingway has certainly touched immortality….. and more.

Dan Wemhoff, Colombia (1961-63) researched some of this background. Dan met Patrick Hemingway years ago.

Geri Critchley’s (Senegal 1971-72) thirty-plus-years career has included managing and supporting global and domestic NGOs in

Geri teaching at Best Hope Pre-School

Geri teaching at Best Hope Pre-School

partnership with many organizations including directing The Experiment in International Living (World Learning) in Washington, D.C. and Canada, organizing the Harris Wofford World Learning Global Service award event, and assisting with Special Olympics World Games, among many other NGO connectons.

She just spent several months teaching at Best Hope Pre-School in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, teaching conversational ESL at a Women’s Center: Feminin Pluriel in Rabat, Morocco, visiting NGOs in Nairobi, the Nyumbani AIDS orphanage, and the Director of the Africa Peace Service, as well as seeing friends in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her website is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/gericritchley

2 Comments

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  • Fascinating anecdotes and insights. The quote about the function of fiction by Hemingway is a gem. Thank you Geri (and Dan).

  • Geri,

    Good piece and so good to hear from and about you again. Lord, you also did put some good miles behind you recently!

    Tom

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