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Some damage to our roads post rains - being worked on daily. Small cars are making it, albeit slowly. Call or WhatsApp 011 0001499 for latest updates. Some damage to our roads post rains - being worked on daily. Small cars are making it, albeit slowly. Call or WhatsApp 011 0001499 for latest updates.

Nani's story

Germany 1945

"I loved my mother so much. She was my greatest inspiration. She was a brilliant artist and an elegant lady, with pale blue seaman’s eyes – she could spot a seagull at five kilometers. There was hardly anything she couldn’t do or draw. She was wonderful with gardens, with the greenest fingers l've ever known.


Riccarda and bulldog c 1950

“When she came to visit me in Africa, she wasn’t interested in lions or leopards or any of the big game. She always saw the little things. She would see a patch of grass and say, ‘Can you believe it? It’s got thorns. That was Africa for her.


“She was also great with animals. She wasn’t pretty, but she had a difference about her that drove men crazy when she was young. She never told me that; I heard it from other people. She had dark hair in a boy’s cut and she was skinny. She was very intellectual and quite a mystic; a quiet person, she could listen iincredibly well. When she spoke it was with a deep voice. From the time I can remember she was always clacking away, either on a piano or a typewriter. She was a wonderful pianist and sang Schubert.

Riccarda used to hold exhibitions under the pseudonym Ralph Gregor as a way of circumventing the sexism inherent to the art world.

“View through a window with flowers, lace curtains & dried peppers” by Riccarda c.1945

“All my mother’s artwork burned in the war, along with the gorgeous city of Kœnigsberg, which was fire-bombed and wiped off the map. I know how fantastic my mother’s art was from what people have told me and from seeing her later work.

In fact, Nani's matriarchal line is filled with artists. Her grandmother, Gertrude Pfeiffer - the first female student at Koeningsberg's famed art academy - painted commissions, vast landscape murals, for the German Geographical Society, and also illustrated children's books. Nani's grandfather specialized in portraits and decorative painting, as well as gilding in churches, and her uncle Hans - Riccarda's brother - was a sculptor.

Hans and Hans c. 1990

When Nani was two years old, the Red Army invaded Germany, and she and her mother fled from Kœnigsberg, which was already in rubble.

“We left with my godmother, who was a fat diabetic woman and barely made it onto the cargo train that we stowed away on. We ran and scrambled into the carriage and hid ourselves under some hay. I could hear the raucous laughter of drunken Russian soldiers in the carriage next to ours. They later came into our carriage, and my mother gave me a muslin bag of black tea to suck on so that I would keep quiet.

They got off the train at Usedom Peninsula on the Baltic Sea, the home of an artists' commune where Nani's mother and godmother had many friends. There they saw out the rest of the war, poverty-stricken, hardly a bite to eat, with Riccarda ill.

“We lived in a tiny cottage situated on the top of a small rise. The only thing my mother had brought with her was her husband’s dental equipment, a fur coat and our papers. It was a small community, all artists, and nobody had paid work. Also, my mother was suffering from tuberculosis at this time and was quite sick. I remember that my friends would come to play and ask for food, but we had nothing - so my mother would tell them to drink water out of a bucket near the door. We lived off of potato skins that we collected from a neighboring farmer, and skimmed milk. I developed painful haemorrhoids.

“l remember the first banana l ever ate. lt was given to me by an American soldier who laughed at me because I didn’t know that I had to peel it.

“My mother’s dentist husband returned after the war. I remember seeing him walking towards the house. 'There's a soldier coming’, l told my mother. She then introduced me to my father. My heart was beating fast and I experienced thiswonderful feeling of joy at meeting my father. But the war had torn everything apart and my parents divorced.

From the Achalm to England

Ricca, Riccarda, HAP, a Yugoslav friend and Nani c. 1958

Soon after the war's end, the new West German Ministry of Culture converted a monastery named Kloster Bernstein to an art school and invited Hans Pfeiffer to be one of the first instructors.

Lengai with Uncle Hans c. 1995

Hans asked his sister Riccarda to come teach at the school, located in the French-occupied zone, in Swabia's Black Forest. In turn, Riccarda invited a third teacher - a young rebellious woodcut artist named HAP Grieshaber. Together, the three kicked off an artists' renaissance. Riccarda and HAP fell in love, and he adopted Nani.

“My mother met Grieshaber, the love of her life. He had a huge moustache and a bulbous nose, so intense and full of ideas. He was a real, thorough artist-rebel, and people were just beginning to pay attention to him: 'Have you met Grieshaber? He's really something.'

HAP carving a wooden block to make his prints c. 1975

The Nazis had labeled HAP, who was always outspoken through his art and through his words, as one of the ‘decadent artists’ and imprisoned him in a labour camp during the war. They stomped on all his toes with hobnailed boots until they were crushed. He was just an artist who painted oddly and had married his school friend, a Jewish girl named Lena. Lena had sent him a telegram out of the blue while he was in the army. He had refused to be a fighting soldier, so they made him climb telegraph poles to fix wires. When he fell off a pole, he broke his collarbone and several ribs and was wrapped in a plaster cast, barely able to walk. But when he got the telegram, he rushed off to the train station to meet Lena. She was on her way to a concentration camp, and he pulled her off the train. Being in an army uniform, he was able to get her off the train, saying “This is my wife.” 


They immediately went around the corner and got married. Lena was a difficult person. She populated the house with dozens of cats, who peed on his artwork. In many ways she was a mad genius - she spoke eight languages fluently. When Riccarda arrived on the scene there was a long drawn-out divorce.

“While at Kloster Bernstein, Uncle Hansie gave me my best birthday ever. He led me into the dungeons of the monastery, the catacombs, where he had strewn pebbles and glass chips. He had prepared an exhilarating treasure hunt for me, which led me to a little box of jewels.

When Nani was 10 years old, she moved with her parents to the Achalm - the first hill on the Swabian Alps, just outside the town of Reutlingen - where HAP lived. On the Achalm was the ruin of a Medieval castle, built by a knight who controlled and taxed his subjects below. Riccarda built and painted a house and studio.

“My mother made the garden into a paradise. No visitor left without a bouquet of flowers. There were lots of animals. The first thing my mother did when we finally had enough money to buy food was to buy animals: a Chow Chow dog with a blue tongue, a donkey, a pony, rabbits, peacocks, two big Amazonian parrots. There was art and sculpture all over the place, and, reflecting everything, lots of garden mirror balls.


The Achalm c. 1960

In the winter, Nani skied down the slopes of the Achalm every day to the Rudolf Steiner School in Reutlingen, and everyday she carried the skis back up the slope when she went home. She constantly sketched, drew and printed, and - with HAP's help - made monsters in the garden out of gunny sacks, but she never planned on being an artist.

Letter from HAP to Nani 1965

"l thought being an artist would be dirty and messy. To me it meant always being in stinky paint and being poor. Plus l couldn't take always being identified as my father’s daughter. I really wanted to be a scientist, but it turned out that I was too impatient for science.

“I spent my childhood on the back of a pony. My parents bought me an Icelandic pony, Svena, who came from Reykjavik on a boat, then a train. When she arrived I hugged her for hours and loved her and stood in her beautifully constructed stable and fed her and hugged her some more until she bit me and I went running home to my mother: ‘My pony bit me, she doesn’t love me!’


Nani on Svena 1962

“My entire summer holidays from then on were spent on the back of the pony. I would go up the mountain with the ruined castle on top and there were big open glades where the skin of the earth had broken and there was just sand. The pony would go down backwards on its haunches and I would sit on it as the two of us would slide down. She was the color of my tanned legs, a fired bisque color, with long hair. ln winter, she would just stand in the snow, in drifts up to her eyeballs with only her whitish ears sticking out. She had a peculiar pace called ‘the tölt,’ it’s a very fast type of pace; and it feels like sitting on a sewing machine. Icelandic people trained their ponies to develop this gait, which ensured a smooth ride so that they could transport the sick and injured.

“I entered competitions riding other people’s horses and got lots of ribbons. Once I made a beautiful round of jumps and near the end I was thrown off and broke my collarbone. It hurt like hell, but I got back on the horse and finished the competition with one arm hanging down limply. When l finished the crowd gave me a big round of applause. I must have been about thirteen.

As a teen, Nani became a rebel - a trait that would remain with her. She made a pact with a friend to run away to Corsica. Without a single mark they boarded a train, but before they had gone ten kilometers, the friend said, ‘My parents expect me home for dinner.’

Nani was deemed uncontrollable; she was the only girl in a boys' gymnasium that had just turned co-ed, her boyfriend gave her a pistol, and she was arrested for driving without a license. After she turned fifteen, her parents shipped her off to Gilfillan, a girls' boarding school in Berkhamsted, England.

“It was a very strict school. My friends back home sent me tobacco and papers hidden in letters. I would sit in the bathroom trying to roll them, but it was very difficult. l had a truly miserable time, but learned lots of English. After that my parents sent me to a finishing school in Eastbourne on the coast of England. It was very expensive. I think my father had received an art prize that enabled him to send me to this school. I shared a room with a Persian princess who prayed all the time. Then my parents decided that l would go to university at Exeter, where I studied English literature.

Lorenz, Harvey & the Geese

After university, Nani returned to Germany and worked at the Max Planck Institute as a goose girl for the Nobel Prize laureate Konrad Lorenz on his behavioural study of Greylag Geese. Lorenz was researching bonding, social hierarchy, and imprinting.

Konrad Lorenz calling his geese on the moor of
Lake Essee in Bavaria with Nani and Anselm. 1967

He famously discovered that a young gosling will identify and bond with whatever they first see in their first two days of life.

Nani's flock of goslings shared her small rented room, ate with her and accompanied her everywhere - to the park, to Munich in her Spitfire, even to parties. As they grew, Nani taught them to fly by getting them to leap off a moving bicycle.

Nani and her Spitfire, 1963

“As part of our studies into the hierarchy of goose flocks, l was the alpha-goose girl. Using goose movements l had to attack the other goose mother and then chase her away. I would return to my goslings and let them know that we had won. Before long, my goslings were attacking the other flock and had become the alpha goslings. Even though they were smaller, they always won.

“In the middle of everything Konrad Lorenz would come running out of his office, tear off his clothes and submerge himself up to the neck in the slimy moor. While taking his mud bath he would lecture us. We could all hear his brain clicking away.

Nani considered a career as an animal behaviorist, but didn't have the concentration necessary to painstakingly sit for hours, observing patiently.

Instead, she married one - animal ethologist (behaviourist), Harvey Croze. 

Nani met Harvey when he arrived at the Max Planck Institute with Lorenz's colleague from Oxford, Niko Tinbergen. Harvey was one of Tinbergen's students, and for his doctoral thesis was researching the searching image of carrion crows. When he and Nani decided to wed, Harvey felt that he needed Lorenz's permission to take her back to England. So he knocked on the professor's door and was told he was in the middle of receiving his stomach medicine. Tthe professor had ulcers and would lie for five minutes on one side and then five minutes on the other so that the medicine could wash about in his stomach. Harvey walked in and Lorenz was lying on the sofa facing the wall.

To his back, Harvey said, "Professor, may I ask for the hand of one of your goose girls?" Lorenz replied, "Which one? The pretty one? I'll miss her, but okay." They shook hands and that was that. Six weeks after meeting each other, Nani and Harvey married.

Nani c. 1963

They moved to Oxford in 1966 and spent the summer at the research station on the dunes of Ravenglass.

Apart from feeding the students, Nani raised a batch of mergansers (diving ducks) while incubating her unborn son, Anselm, who when born was bestowed with three Nobel Prize winning godparents, Tinbergen, Lorenz and Heinrich Böll.

She had been so accustomed to raising and caring for animals that throughout her pregnancy she worried:

“What am I going to do with this child? It will be naked and ugly – no fur, no feathers. But when he was born he was wonderful.

"The merganser ducks refused to eat while I was in hospital after Anselm was born. So the students smuggled them into the ward, where l fed them fish and they hid under my bed. The doctor would come into the ward and sniff suspiciously, but he never found out.

Nani, Harvey and Anselm lived together in Oxford on a houseboat - the Platypus. It leaked badly and kept sinking so they bought a decommissioned 77-foot coal barge and converted it into a houseboat dubbed 'As the Crows Fly.'

"We went down the Manchester canal system, leaving in January, 1967, during one of the coldest winters on record. We had the baby Anselm, Marmaduke the chicken, Emma the cat, a python and three carrion crow fledglings. We all stayed in a tent that we'd rigged on some floorboards and built up the barge and our living quarters as we traveled, stopping at hardware stores along the way and buying the things we needed. We knew nothing about how the canals systems worked and what to do, so we learned as we went, reading from our manual. 

After finally mooring the barge back near Iffley Lock in Oxford, they received a letter from Professor Tinbergen: 'Are you ready to go to the Serengeti to study elephants?' 

"We didn’t have to think twice. We packed our bags and left with nothing. Really just the clothes on our backs, and some books we thought were important.

Singing over the Serengeti

“I can't really remember what happened when I set foot in the Serengeti. I was so overcome. My son, my husband really ceased to exist. All I knew, all I experienced during that time was Africa. I was convinced – and still am – that I never should have been born in Europe. I should have been born in Africa.

“I’d always dreamed of Africa – maybe because of that one silly book I read as a child, ‘Monica goes to Madagascar’. Monica’s father is a scientist who studies butterflies and grubs, and Madagascar is full of liana vines and wildlife, and she has the most wonderful time of her life. That story stayed with me and l always knew that I’d go to Africa. When I met Harvey, I knew that we would go together: both of us really wanted to go and study the wonderful flora and fauna.

Nani and Harvey spent four years in the Serengeti, accumulating a hotchpotch of exotic pets, including a gnu, a zebra, a hyrax, serval cats, an abandoned young cheetah, a couple of Kori bustards, plus two more children: Katrineka and Lengai. Nani and Harvey were part of a flamboyant crowd of conservationists, including Mike & Annie Norton-Griffiths, Hans and Jane Kruuk, George Schäller and later, Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton.

The men would fly off in small planes to count herds of animals, and they wrote songs. One included the verse:

The women stay at home, 
Miss their men and moan,
Little children sob and cry,
Seeing their fathers flying by:
'Daddy - come home!'
I’ve got the
Serengeti Recce Flight
Computerised Data Sheet Blues!

Rock Hyraxes & Spitting Cobras

Nani and Harvey ended up with lots of pets. 

Nani with cheetah cub 1968

“Once people saw that I knew how to look after animals, they always brought them to me: orphaned animals, wounded ones. But in the beginning we had none.


“Everyone told us that we were not to have pets, that we were there to study animals not domesticate them.

“The first pet that l had came from the landing strip. Harvey and some of the other boys brought me this large wildebeest. It followed the plane up and down, up and down, and tried to suck the door handle of the plane. So we assumed that it needed a mother. I got an enormous bottle of milk ready and we had to hold down the wildebeest and its big horns and force it to drink.


“Finally we concluded that maybe it wasn’t a baby at all but a full-grown wildebeest, so we put it back into the wild. But I really needed a pet. I had no dogs, no cats, only children, until the hyrax, Pole-Pole, came into our lives.

“One of the Kennedy kids came to visit Serengeti, though I can’t remember which. He was staying with the Second Chief Park Warden, Miles Turner, who was very famous. The Kennedy kid was sitting on the verandah and this very young hyrax came running out from the kopjes. He threw his coat over the hyrax and caught it. Nobody was happy about it because they didn’t know what to do with it.

“So they brought it to me and I built a cage to put it in.

“lt seemed quite ferocious at first, so l kept it in the cage hanging from the ceiling. I really had no idea about this odd animal, and itsat there looking around, eating vegetables quietly. After a few days, the door had been left open, it jumped out, sat on my lap and put its head against my neck. It was perfectly tame, and became one of my best pets. We named her Pole-Pole.

“She followed me around everywhere, even to the loo. During this time, if you didn’t get off the toilet quickly enough, she would jump up beside you, hang her backside next to yours, and – plop plop plop – do her bit, shake herself and jump off.

“Hyraxes have an inefficient thermo-regulation system. I’ve always found it hard to believe that they are closely related to elephants, even after seeing their feet. They have beautiful feet with soft pads and little fingernails and they can shimmy up the rocks.

“They produce both urea and feces from the same aperture (they have only one outlet), and that’s why you can see white streaks on rocks. At night they all sleep in bunches together to stay warm and, as the sun warms them in the morning, they begin to spread themselves individually on the rocks. There they stare into the sun without blinking.

“After we left the Serengeti, Harvey had an interview with a professor at the University of Nairobi whose specialty was hyrax. Half-way through the interview, the professor exclaims, "Oh, l forgot!" and jumps up, goes to a big fridge and pulls out a hyrax, semi-comatose from the cold. He places this hyrax on a chair and, as thehyrax warms up, proceeds to lecture us on the hyrax's odd thermal regulation system. The professor had placed this poor thing in the fridge as part of a study to determine just how cold they could get and how long it would take them to warm up.

“Pole-Pole would venture into the kopjes looking for mates. She would disappear for hours or days at a time. One day I spotted her in the sandbox, returning with a male hyrax we called Caesar – he had a big nose – her betrothed. Caesar didn’t like us much, though, and didn’t hang around. Pole-Pole had babies under Katrineka’s bed. At that time we had a serval cat who acted as a midwife at the birth of the baby hyraxes. But the serval ate them – we found her licking her chops with all the babies gone. Pole-Pole didn’t seem to mind much at all.

Pole-Pole saved us all from a snake once. She was sitting on my bed staring at the flimsy thin plywood walls of our prefab house. Suddenly she started screaming. We went outside and looked around and there was a very large spitting cobra.

Despite Pole-Pole’s warning, the cobra entered the house and went into the bedroom. We were worried that it would spit at Katrineka, so Harvey got the gun and fired. The bullet hit the bed, went through the sheets, the mattress and into the floor. l looked at the holes and thought how lucky we were that there had been no baby in the bed. Harvey then went away on one of his long elephant-searching safaris, leaving us with the cobra that we knew was living in the kitchen.

“One day I was cooking in the upper level of the house with Anselm looking through the open top-half of the Dutch doors, singing away. His song was "There is a snake outside, there is a snake outside," and he sang it over and over, even after l told him, "Oh, do shut up." Finally I wondered why he was singing such an odd song, so I came out and looked through the door, and there was the spitting cobra uncoiling its body and raising it up so that it was nearly at eye level with the open door, almost face to face with my son.

I went and got the gun. I’d never used a gun in my life. But l thought, "This is it. The snake's going to eat my children so l must kill it." l wouldn't do it now, of course, but at the time, I was very worried for the children.

“I was also thinking, “Okay, I’ll show Harvey how it’s done, how to properly shoot a snake." Deluded thinking, really, because Ididn’t know how to load the gun, didn’t even know if it was loaded in the first place.

“ln the midst of fiddling about with the gun, l dropped it on my toe. Of course the bloody thing goes off and fires into the air. The cobra wriggles off into some old termite holes outside the kitchen that had recently been inhabited by dwarf mongooses. But it was a poor fit - it was a very fat snake and could only fit half-way into the hole. Meanwhile I was throwing things at it. I threw my iron at it. Then l found a quarter bag of cement. The snake’s mouth was wide open and I hurled the cement into its mouth, which made it gag and wiggle into the hole.


“By this time, all the scientist families from the institute had arrived, wondering what all the commotion was about. The snake had disappeared. Everyone admonished me, saying that women shouldn’t play with guns. The next day, the dwarf mongooses were twittering. I could tell by the way they were moving in and out of their holes licking their lips that they had got the snake.

Nani's mother, Riccarda, came to visit a couple of times, but her father never made the trip. Instead, he sent letters.



Amid the infinite freedom of the African savannah, Nani's too-long dormant artist genes sprang back to life, and she started to paint, her favourite theme being the stunning environment and its wildlife.


She sold and gave away many of the paintings to her scientist friends.

Lulu and the Lions

One time, when the men were away on a recce, I had a run in with some lions. It all started with Lulu, the baby zebra. Her mother had been devoured by lions and l had taken her in. Lulu was finally the pet l had been longing for – other than Pole-Pole, of course.

“I gave Lulu a home in the kitchen, but her hooves slid all over the polished concrete floor, causing her to bump into things and her legs to splay. So I created makeshift slippers out of inner tubes and tied them around her slippery hooves.

“Lulu soon grew too big for the kitchen, and outside the bungalow I built a little hut for the zebra. During the day Lulu wandered around the boma (compound) and at night I locked her up in the hut.

“Then the men flew off on one of their recces, and one night terrible noises rang out – snorting, kicking, snarling, wailing. l ran outside and grabbed our four-battery torch to have a look around, and the nearest large object – a folding chair – for protection. I opened the hut door and saw that the zebra was huddled in a corner, safe enough, but also that the window was open. "Must've been hyenas," l thought. l looked out the door, and in front of me was a pride of a dozen young lions, clearly hungry and hunting.

“Now I’ve never really been scared of lions, and have always seen them just as big stupid cats. However, when I looked at Lulu again, I noticed scratches on her head. The lions had obviously already tried to get in and had scratched Lulu through the open window. I realized that there hadn’t been any hyenas, but these lions.

“In horror I suddenly remembered that I’d left the verandah door to the bungalow open with my three children inside,and those seventeen lions were going to enter my home and eat my children alive.

“So I closed the door and strode straight ahead, banging the torch and the chair together to scare the lions off. Of course the back of the torch opens up and all the batteries fall out and scatter. It was utterly dark, but I had to get back to the house, so I kept going, whirling the folding chair around over my head, shouting, “Piss off you stupid cats!"

“The lions could see in the dark far better than l, but l could see well enough to spot a ladder. Halfway back to the house was the half-finished rondavel we were building for my mother, who was about to come and stay with us. Lying on the ground was a long ladder we were using for thatching the roof. So I dropped the chair, picked up the ladder and whirled it around my head, thinking "Now they can't get near me."

“I managed to get to the verandah without being torn to pieces, but the whole time I swear I could feel the hot panting of their breath on the back of my knees. I felt like the Indian boy, Little Black Sambo, but instead of turning tigers into ghee by racing around a tree, I’d used a ladder against lions.

When Nani tried to pick the ladder up the next day she was unable to lift it. Adrenaline had fueled her nightime superpower.

“But for the lions, this was only the beginning. Nocturnal visits went on for months. They had that smell of Lulu in their nostrils. When my mother came to stay, her house was located between Lulu and our house, so she became the lookout. There were no phones, so she would call out, ‘Nani, they're here! They're here!’ and there would be the lions scrambling under the thorn bush we had placed around Lulu’s enclosure, trying desperately to get inside.

“We tried leaving out lanterns and storm lights, but the lions couldn’t care less. Nothing would deter them. We had no askaris (watchmen), because we were supposed to be safe within the compound. Any predators … well, we were just asking for them because we had this zebra.

“I got all the men in the neighborhood to pee around the fence thinking that the strong smell of male human urine would make a good deterrent. But it didn’t phase the lions one bit. 

“Lulu was utterly terrorized, and I could just picture her at night, holding her ears to block out the sound of these marauding lions.

“One day we went over for tea to the home of Hans and Jane Kruuk. Hans was the one who discovered that hyenas, rather than being cowardly scavengers as conventionally thought, were actually excellent hunters and have a higher success rate than any other predators. My mother didn’t speak English, so she quietly sat there looking around the Kruuk’s living room.

“There was a typical English mantelpiece, displaying silver, pictures of the children, and assorted knick- knacks. Among it all was a spray can with a picture of a cat and a dog. She called me over and asked me to translate the label. lt read something like: Anti-Cat and Dog Spray. ‘Do you think we can borrow it?’ my mother asked. So we did, and we sprayed this anti-cat and dog spray – designed for a little English garden – around our boma. Presto! The lions stopped coming.


Lulu ended up on Sanane Island in Lake Victoria, at a sanctuary for abandoned animals.

The teafields of Limuru

In 1970 Nani and her family left the Serengeti.

“We had a big VW van that had been used as a traveling bank. The whole side opened and would pop up. In the back were cages where the money had been kept. The top cage was reserved for the baby Lengai, for when we would be traveling through Africa back to Europe. That was our plan. But we discovered that Lengai would not fit in the back. We decided to go and stay in Kenya.

“We crossed the border with our usual entourage of animals, including a tortoise and a monkey.

The family first lived among the tea fields in the highlands of Tigoni, just outside Limuru. It was a nice small house that was free because it was Jane Goodall's house. She would come at regular intervals with dozens of students and their chimps.

“It was funny initially, but as time went on, being descended upon by chimps was not so amusing. So we decided to find our own house, and moved into ‘The Sheilings', an old bungalow with a separate guest house in Limuru proper.

The Sheilings was very small and so Nani put her children in the guesthouse. They didn't like it there, though. It was too cold and far away.

Limuru Market Day c.1973

“We found an old double-decker bus without an engine, and towed it next to one of the last of the towering old sacred Muna trees. It had been embraced by a strangler fig (mugumu). Everyone and everything lived in that tree.

“All around us trees were being chopped to make room for tea fields. The bus was an old Nairobi bus, and the kids had fun changing the destination signs from Jericho to Kariokor and back again. The kids slept on the top deck and on the bottom was a Märklin model railway track that went all the way around. When we left we towed the bus away with the cows inside.

It’s now an airbnb in Karen, after a brief incarnation as a school library, 


“Soon after we left the Muna tree fell across the road, taking the strangler fig and the power lines with it. It was as if nature was avenging itself for the deforestation all around Limuru.

Daisy the Cow & Melon Colobus the Melancholic Monkey

“The Sheilings had a paddock off to the side, so of course I brought in horses and a pony and sheep annd pigs  and all sorts of other things, including Daisy the cow.

“Daisy was our first cow. I'd always wanted a cow, for fresh milk, butter, and just because cows are so beautiful. I got Daisy as a calf from a tea farmer neighbour. If I'd known what it meant when he said he'd de-horn her, I would have stopped him. It took three years for her to come into calf. Once she ate some cestrum, which had been introduced as an ornamental bush but was extremely toxic. The vet said, ‘she's a goner - shoot her.’

”I lay with her for two nights, a hot water bottle against her side, feeding her, massaging her, and she healed.

“The vet said, ‘That's incredible. I've never seen a cow survive cestrum poisoning.’ ‘I'm not surprised’, I told him, ‘if you always shoot them!’


Daisy went on to survive foot and mouth disease, this time nursed through the horrific ailment by Harvey, who didn’t leave her stall for days.

“Melon, short for Melon Colobus, was, well, a Colobus. One day, someone ran into the house with her while we were eating dinner and said ‘Here you are. Nobody else can look after her.’ A baby Colobus monkey.



“Apparently some big shot minister had wanted to catch a Colobus, and left this baby behind.

“She used to follow the family on our evening walks - hop hop hop - and jump on Harvey's shoulder and sit there. Colobus monkeys have no thumbs - so odd! - and eat only greens. They have special stomachs that allow them to eat vegetation, kind of like cows. They have tremendous burps with a horrific odor, but of course other Colobus really go for the burp smell. Well, Melon was supposed to eat only greens, but she couldn't seem to get enough of spaghetti!


“While in Limuru, someone also brought me an orphaned duiker, gentle and beautiful, who unfortunately didn't last long. One day the duiker was with me in the car, and I had to stop at a police station.


“The station had a nice green lawn, so I let the duiker out so he could graze. Soon afterwards he died from ingesting weed killer.

From Canvas to Murals


With the potential art market of Nairobi at hand, Nani kicked off a prolific period of experimentation with her art. She continued with the series of wildlife paintings she had begun in the Serengeti, and in 1973 displayed them at a solo exhibit at Gallery Watatu.

Nani with wildebeest painting at Gallery Watatu, 1973

“One day they asked me to clean up the gallery whilst they were away. I rehung the pictures, painted the walls and then I saw the ugly worn stairs. I decided to paint them black, starting from the top. When I reached the bottom just after midnight, I realised I couldn't walk back up the stairs to get out, so I slept at the bottom of the stairs, and by morning they were dry. I was feeling very proud of my work, but when Jony Waite (one of the owners and an amazing artist in her own right) showed up, she was furious, yelling ‘What have you done to my gallery?’

The popular politician, J.M. Kariuki, who was assassinated two years later, opened the exhibition and bought one of Nani's paintings - of a baboon.

My paintings are a new slant on wildlife”, Nani told a reporter, who added that her work combines art with scientific knowledge and her pieces "pulsate with life and color - you can feel the fluid movement of a small herd of gazelle in flight or the magnificence of a mass migration of wildebeest."


Nani was playing with different lines and styles. She now waxes nostalgic for what she calls her 'chunky style', which she says she has never since been able to replicate.

Pelican Party c. 1973

In retrospect, however, Nani's discriminating use of substantial, stylized blocks of bold lines emanating a keen sense of depth and motion seems tailor-made for the design of stained glass panels and murals - for which she was later to become renowned.

As part of her experimentation, Nani also tried mood-altering substances.

“All the great painters - Van Gogh, da Vinci - smoked grass - so I tried it to see how it would change my art. But I'm not a good drug user. Every time it was the same: I would get hungry, eat a lot, then fall asleep, and never get any work done. And it did the same to everybody else I saw smoking the stuff. I couldn't understand the allure.


It proved wise for Nani to keep away from drugs, for she was soon to find herself atop tall buildings, building and pitting murals. Her first mural commission, though, was on the wood panelled walls of the Mayfair Hotels's hip Oasis Club.

Nani decide to go for a burnt charcoal effect, and to make it permanent she used a blowtorch. The flame kept burning through the wood and hitting the metal fixtures behind, so she didn't use that technique again.

Nevertheless, the Mayfair was impressed enough with Nani's work to commission another mural. This time she built and painted one out of cement.

She had a few run-ins with the hotel management who tried to jeopardize her project so she hid caricatures of them as evil gremlins in the Rousseau style mural.

Nani playfully coined her new technique ‘cemainting’ - it involved stripping a wall to the bare stone, wetting the surface, mixing cement and sand in a bucket, and smearing it on - sometimes with a palette knife and sometimes a butter-knife. "I've had ten years of training, buttering sandwiches for my family," she said at the time.


After the cement had dried, she painted the sculpture in white, then applied the color, and finally varnished the finished piece - to striking effect.

Nani's next commission was a mural for the Kerugoya County Council hall in Kirinyaga District, and she created a cement relief of a symbolic Mount Kenya predominating like Mother Earth over village, field, stream and the four main cash crops - coffee, tea, rice & cotton - so vital to the district and the whole of Kenya.

When she had just finished the Kerugoya mural, Nani encountered an unexpected problem. The County Council said that it was mandatory to hang a photo of President Kenyatta dead center on the wall, atop Mount Kenya. This threatened to break the cement attachment and would certainly have ruined the effect of the mural. So she suggested that they get two pictures and hang them on either side of the mural - that way they'd be doubly patriotic. They liked this idea, and when Daniel Arap Moi succeeded President Kenyatta, they were able to hang photos of both presidents, one on each side. It worked rather well.


Following the death of President Kenyatta in 1978, Nani was moved to paint a composite portrait after attending his funeral.

Nani began to receive considerable notice, including in the press, for her work. Some seemed to be most impressed, albeit confused, that the artist who had produced these audacious murals was a woman.

John de Villiers, writing in the East African Standard, remarked: "Revelling in what would at least seem to be male materials, Nani brings the woman's artistic touch into her work, but it is nevertheless boldly conceived work that is never bitty or for that matter feminine."

mural for KLM Airlines HQ 1978

In the mid-1970s the United Nations voted to situate the global headquarters of the newly established United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in Nairobi.

The architectural firm of Mutiso Menezes hired Nani to create a series of wildlife relief murals on their otherwise staid administrative blocks. Each mural she made corresponded to the letter of the building block, for example 'A' for 'Antelope', 'B' for 'Buffalo', etc.

UNEP relief mural ‘G’ block 1974

Working in her characteristically engrossed and speedy mode, Nani spent two days cement-sculpting each wall. Painting the murals took her a bit longer.

UNEP relief mural ‘I’ block 1974

But Nani didn't rest on her laurels and wait for more acclaim and work to come her way. She pounded the street to drum out more commissions. She drove around town examining new construction boards, which displayed the names of the architect and contractor. She then flushed out those few approachable architects who were willing to place their walls at her disposal and to allow her free reign with her relief mural experiments.


'Cementing' c. 1973

One enthusiastic architect was George Vamos, who hired Nani for her next large scale project: a cement relief on the wall of the new Maendeleo ya Wanawake, or ‘Women's Progress’ building, the headquarters of Kenya's largest women's organization. Drawing inspiration from the worker's realism art she had seen on a recent trip to Turkmenistan, she sculpted a powerful image of a woman proudly raising a tree to be planted in her clenched fist, with two children at her side. As Nani worked, she constantly scurried off the scaffolding and down the stairs to monitor the progress of her work from the nearby roundabout.

Nani working on the Malendeo mural, 1979

Local art critic Margaretta wa Gacheru wrote: "Every day Nani climbs up five stories of scaffolding to stand, spatula and cement in hand, atop a precarious wooden platform. It is worth a trip over to the site to see her work while still in the process of formation. The mural represents what will surely be the strongest and most sizeable artistic symbol of the presence and power of Kenyan women anywhere in the land."

While up on the seven-storey scaffold with her constant companion - a white Jack Russell named Dudu - she was visible to all southbound motorists entering the city from the main thoroughfare of Uhuru Highway. One such motorist who always looked for her as he drove to his office in town was fellow Jack Russell-lover Eric Krystall, who was still unknown to Nani but would later become her husband.

The Maendeleo ya Wanawake relief ended up three storeys tall.

Nani finishing the Maendeleo mural, 1979

"For the women of Kenya and the world at large," Nani said at the time, "I wanted to do something more solid, more concrete."

She also created a sculpture of a mother and child in front of the building's courtyard entrance. Later (without consulting Nani) somebody painted over the sculpture in colorful African designs.

Another high-rise balancing act was a cement relief mural at Unga (Flour) House in Westlands, where Nani sculpted and painted twin scenes of golden wheat and maize fields with rolling hills in the background.

Unga House mural, 1980

At the newly built Ministry of Water Development, Nani created a billowing cement surf relief mural. In the Nairobi Times, a journalist wrote, "On either side of the ministry's two entrances, streams of splashing, surging sparkling surf inundate the sensibilities of all who enter the grand new concrete, steel and glass structure."

At the same time as she was climbing and sculpting walls, Nani was busy with numerous other art projects. She began 16 years of some of her favorite work: illustrations for Rainbow, a children's magazine published by Fleur N'gweno. She worked hard at the illustrations, doing all the color separations by hand, but she relished this work, realizing that for many Kenyan children it was the only art they were regularly exposed to. She also painted backdrops at the Kenya National Theater, particularly for their lavish musical productions, such as Cabaret, Oklahoma, and Pirates of Penzance.

From her Limuru home, Nani developed a cottage industry painting skirts and t-shirts with scenes of animals, birds and flowers. They were sold in the elegant Shezan shop run by her friend Ute Goodwin.


“Painting the skirts was where I learned super-realism, and trompe-d'oeil, a technique where the artist achieves such a realistic, three-dimensional image that you want to reach out and grab the flower, and feed the bird. None of this abstract namby-pamby stuff.

Other venues where Nani employed trompe-l'oeil were the ICDC boardroom in Nairobi and Lake Naivasha Hotel. In the boardroom she painted murals of banquet settings.

“ICDC was a real challenge, and it was fun. I brought in a dead cockerel to use as a model for a pheasant. The staff freaked out. They thought I was a m’gan’ga, a witch doctor.


Nani considers the screen panels which still grace the grounds of the Lake Naivasha Hotel to be her best super-realism. To paint the panels of bird wildlife scenes, she laid hessian over hardboard, and smoothed the cloth so that she could use it like a canvas.


Building Kitengela

In1979, Harvey, Nani and the kids visited the Athi-Kapiti Maasailand plains for a picnic. The outstanding natural beauty of the area with its riverine gorges so captivated them that they decided to move there.

"Do you like it here?", Harvey and Nani asked the kids? "Yes! we love it!" they chorused. "Good", they responded, "because we bought it."

At that time the only people living on the land that came to be known as Kitengela were Maasai, to whom the Kenyan government had granted thousands of hectares of the plains. They had land aplenty but no cash, and were more than willing to sell. From the local Maasai laibon (elder), Lesian, the Crozes bought a five-acre plot of gorge-front property - and later another, and another - overlooking Nairobi National Park.

A traditional shepherd, Grieshaber c.1950

At that time, the plot was indistinguishable from the rest of the arid plain. There was only one tree, a wild strangler fig - a mugumo - the tree sacred to so many Kenyans.

“We had lost one mugumo when leaving Limuru, and found another at Kitengela.

Even before building their first house, Nani started an assiduous tree and bush planting campaign. In the first year, she planted 360 trees, an average of one a day.

Building the geodesic dome under the mugumo tree, 1979

While the family slept in tents, Nani and Harvey, with the help of friends, build their first structure under the mugumo tree: a geodesic dome. The first idea came from the hippy bible - The (last) Whole Earth Catalogue

which mentioned the architect Buckminster Fuller, who invented the domes. In fact, the book taught everything, from how to skin a rabbit to how to build a round-roofed house.

The geodesic dome was to ultimately become Nani’s first studio at Kitengela.


As one of the upgrades, some years later, in each of the dome's triangular spaces they laid chicken wire and hessian and then hired a fundi (craftsman) to plaster it. By the time the fundi arrived the chicken wire and hessian had sagged, and he faithfully filled each large sagging space with more plaster. Then it rained, and all that plaster soaked up water, became too heavy for the wooden frame, and the dome eventually collapsed.



Next Harvey and Nani built the kitchen cum dining room.

While building the kitchen (around the cooking fire), the family slept in a tent alongside it.


“We dug down to make a sunken floor for the dining room. It turned out we were in kind of a gulley. When the rains came water rushed under the ground sheet and we bobbed up and down in the tent as if we were on a water-bed. We were young and it was all loads of fun. We constantly had friends coming to help us build, and there were many parties. Although it was almost 1980, it was very much a 60’s vibe.


“We built using the principles we learned in constructing the geodesic domes, integrating the local style and technology of Maasai huts. We built round huts - rondavels - because they suited the landscape and were cheap to build. We had no money at all and my friends gave me 24 six-foot fence-posts. But they had to go a foot in the ground, so that's why, to this day, the doors to the kitchen and dining room are so low and anyone over my height has to bend down when going in and out - many bump their heads.

Building the kitchen and dining room, 1979

Between the posts the Croze’s created a containment of chicken wire supported by fitoes (thin bendy bits of wood - often green wattle saplings), and inside the chicken-wire was stuck the most readily available material gathered from the immediate area: small rocks with some grass stuffed into the gaps. The walls were then finished with mud. Later tthey plastered with concrete, when there was enough money to buy cement.

Harvey with a gleeful Anselm on the back of the XT500 c.1980

Another building technique, similar to that which Nani used in building her cement relief artwork, is a variation of the construction style used at Kitengela to this day, and related to Masaai building technique. Known as ‘ferrocement’, it’s is built up in layers. The structure is made using rebar, covered with chicken wire. Then hessian cloth or paper is laid over that, and the walls are stiffened with cement. This cheap method creates a light but strong structure.

The kitchen floor was beaten earth with the traditional three stones in the middle, in which they built a fire for their cooking pots.

African kitchen panel 2009

Next to the kitchen the Crozes built a stable, but when they realised they had nowhere to stay, they decided to move into it.

“We made it our living room and it also served as our bedroom.

“At first we had a grass roof, but after it began to leak badly we replaced it with corrugated iron sheets.


Around the kitchen they built five more huts - one for each of the children and one each for the cook and the ayah - in true manyatta style, the traditional circular shape of the Maasai enclosure. The huts were connected with a mud wall to stop lions from strolling in.


Outside the enclosure, they built the maasai guesthouse. It's a Maasai hut built for Westerners. It has windows and is built from asphadobe - asphalt and mud. It had a straw roof. After a few rains, though, the roof started leaking.

“I'm certainly not a Maasai lady to patch it up all the time with cattle dung and mud, so I put on a mabati (corrugated iron sheet) roof. Later our artisans added a second storey, it was supposed to be an elegant little turret, but it actually resembles a turnip.

Bushbabies in the Kitchen

The Kitengela kitchen and dining room is still the same shape as originally built in the late 70’s. Now, though, red oxide plastered cement and mosaic lines the floor and stained glass panels adorn the walls.


The most regular dinner guests are the adorable nocturnal primates known as bushbabies. They tread their wide-eyed way along the rafters and daintily pick up banana slices left out for them in a special dish. They sometimes eat in the kitchen, and sometimes prefer take-away.

Despite their opposable thumbs, the bananas occasionally slip out of their little paws and drop to the floor. And periodically, just for kicks, they pee on the two-legged guests eating down below.

Kiserian Gorge

When the Crozes first moved to Kitengela the only water source was the Kiserian River running seasonally through the gorge. The river runs straight down from the Ngong hills, cutting across the Kapiti plain, joins the Mbagathi River, feeding the Athi River, which in turn feeds the Indian Ocean. The river was still relatively pure and potable, unencumbered by the development and dams which have since plagued it. Like their Maasai neighbors, Nani's family at first transported the river water up to their homestead by foot. They later bought a pump. 

Dr Renato Ruberti, an Italian brain surgeon, bought the plot next door and drilled a borehole, and he agreed to exchange water for the occasional case of whisky supplied via the commissary at UNEP, where Harvey worked.

When Harvey left the scene and the water supply grew erratic, Nani sold the London flat her dad had left her and drilled a borehole of her own on her land.

“I used to have a house in London, and now I have a hole in Kitengela.

Way before the Croze family or even the Maasai settled at Kitengela, the Kiserian river gorge had for millennia fed a bewildering array of animals, birds, fish and plants. For an animal behaviorist family, moving to Kitengela was like an elephant finding a newly ripened grove of marula trees.

The Croze kids spelunking 1979

They would clamber down to the gorge past herds of impala and zebra, negotiate its steep cliffs watched by hyrax and pythons, and float in the river with crowned cranes, Egyptian vultures and fish eagles drifting majestically overhead. The gorge provided after-hours entertainment as well, as the audio from its nightly dramas echoed off the cliffs: wailing hyenas, roaring lions and yelping baboons.


The baboons also served as unwitting beauticians.

“My hair has never been so soft as when I first moved to Kitengela. I soon realised it wasn't just the river water. I am convinced it was due to the baboon turds that were generally floating in the water. Once I discovered what a great hair conditioner it was, I wanted to market it, but haven't got around to it, yet.

The Genesis of Glass

In the early 1980s, Nani found herself alone with her three children at Kitengela.

“It was a hard time, feeding the kids and taking them to school - when it rained they had to swim across the river with their books and school uniforms in plastic bags atop their heads, and I had to make sure there was a ride waiting for them on the other side. When they got to school, usually late, the teacher would scold them. They would have more than their fair share of elaborate excuses. One time that there was a dead wildebeest in the river and they had to swim round it, but instead of being sympathetic, the teacher accused them of fibbing.

Nani's first window, 1979

It was a time for Nani to redefine her existence, to design a new template for living and working, and it transpired via the medium of glass.

Back in 1979, Nani had taken a couple of short courses in glass art, one at Goddard & Gibbs in London and the other in Seattle at Pilchuck School, (established by Dale Chihuly, the ‘emperor’ of glass).

Nani in Pilchuck 1983

“I took the courses after my dear architect friend George Vamos advised me that there would be far more commission work coming up in stained glass than in concrete relief murals. With the incredible influx of Christianity flooding this continent, there were tons of churches being built. Any church worth its salt has stained glass windows, but most of them couldn't afford to import the windows, so a demand was created. The people at Goddard & Gibbs were very supportive and accommodating. I only had three weeks because I'd left my kids and my animals behind in Africa. Three weeks to learn stained glass is a joke. You really need 30 years to learn it properly. I returned home knowing next to nothing.


"It took me a year to teach myself how to paint glass and fire it and lead it, and where and how to buy the glass and lead. On my early stained-glass panels I did all the work myself. I didn't have a kiln, so I'd have to drive with all my glass pieces over the atrocious road and fire them at a potter friend's house, drive back with them over the atrocious road, solder them together, and drive with them yet one more time to install them. My dear friend Erica Mann's had several small flash kilns designed for as enamel. I quickly discovered that they weren't suitable for glass when my pieces cracked. Then I met Jenny Hammond - later Jenny Root after she married Alan - who had a pottery kiln, which worked much better. It was all a learning curve. One time I covered my pieces with mattresses and pillows to cushion them, but the cloth completely wiped the paint off the glass. I had to go back and redo the whole lot. It was all quite tedious, and very different to painting on walls.

Nani's first stained-glass panel was of a butterfly on a hibiscus flower, and she sold it to a wealthy Nairobi family and installed it in their dining room window.

“I still had no idea what I was doing, so I carried with me a book on how to install windows, making sure that I kept it hidden from my customers.

Early stained glass panel, 1980

Another new development was the entrance into Nani's life of Eric Krystall, who had been doing socioeconomic development work in Kenya for twenty years. As Eric recalls:

“In January 1984, a good friend, Kathy Eldon, called to invite me over for lunch. It was the beginning of the hot dry season and we sat outside eating on the patio. Suddenly, a familiar figure swept up through the garden and simultaneously swept me into her world.

“Kathy introduced the whirl of womanly energy to me, but I already knew her name. Over the years, I'd seen her about town, and she'd always intrigued me. The first time that I'd spotted her I was driving down Uhuru Highway and she was straddling a high scaffold to paint a relief mural of a Kenyan mother and her two children on the Maendeleo ya Wanawake building.

“Next I'd attended a talk on Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz's famous work with the Greylag Goose by someone named Nani Croze.

“When the speaker stepped up to the podium I saw that she was the same woman, the muralist from Uhuru Highway. Later at the French Cultural Centre, where I often met colleagues for working lunches, I noticed on several occasions the same goose-girl muralist rush into the restaurant with her long dress and long blonde hair flowing behind her to meet a clique of wildlife conservationists. There was a magnetism at once attracting me to and repelling me away from her.

“Without ever having spoken to Nani Croze and not knowing if I ever would, it was easiest to settle for the repulsion by classifying her as just another Third World hippy. Was I ever wrong.

“On Kathy's patio, everything about Nani was quick. Her entrance. Her speech. Her mind. And her departure.

“After she'd disappeared as fast as she'd arrived, Kathy informed me that, by the way, Nani's husband had left her just a few weeks before. I barely had time to digest this information before Kathy again called me, this time with a request: Her son, Dan, had spent the weekend with his best friend, Lengai, who was Nani's son, and would I be so kind as to fetch him and bring him home?

“She gave me directions to Nani's house in Kitengela, ‘just outside of town’. I was soon in a Honda Civic on one of the worst roads in the world, and proceeded at a walking pace for fear of breaking the car's delicate chassis, which just managed to skim over the jolty ruts and large, protruding stones.

“Among the herds of gazelle, wildebeest and zebra I lost my way several times and, still at a walking pace, had to retrace my tracks. After driving around in circles for a couple of hours, I stumbled upon a few huts surrounding a lone fig tree. As I got out of the car, a yelping Jack Russell dashed towards me, followed by a loping black Labrador, followed by a striding smiling Nani, who welcomed me to what she called ‘the farm’ - although there didn't appear to be much growing there.

“Dan and Lengai were swimming in the river, so Nani led me down the steep path to find them. As I followed her, I thought to myself what kind of woman would live alone with three children in such an isolated place, so close to the splendour of nature, but also to its vagaries.

Nani, Dudu & skeleton 1980

“Being a city boy all my life, aside from my infancy in Hope Town, South Africa, it was difficult to fathom such a wild existence. If anybody had told me that within a couple of years I would be living there myself, I would have laughed aloud.

“I started to take Nani out on dates - to movies and out to dinner. Over bottles of wine, she told me about her fascinating background. She also told me of her life in the Serengeti.

Lengai, Nani and Katrineka

Eric's Yin Yang panel

To be continued …

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