A few weeks back I heard that Joan Root died a violent death back in 2006Timmy the Mongoose looking for hand creme, Kenya 1999
I met Joan Root when I was on an Earthwatch trip
in Naivasha, Kenya. Her mongoose Timmy ate my Skin So Soft and suntan lotion. (Root apologised for his behavior, and told me she kept all her hand creme in jars because he had full run of the house and quite an appetite.) We visited with her for about two hours and had tea. She was soft spoken and gracious and did not hesitate to open her home to us. I thought she was older than she was (she was 69 when she was killed, so when I met her she would have been about 62), but everyone in Kenya looks a little older than they actually are. The sun is strong and the live isn't always easy in Naivasha.
I remember thinking, I should take a photo of her.. but it seemed so intrusive. She was very polite and open to answering questions but I got the sense that she was a fiercely private person.
There were bars on every single window in the house, and the home was well off the beaten path. It was very isolated, but the location was breathtaking. I don't think I've ever seen a more lush, beautiful landscape.
When we were leaving her compound, I saw a sign written in Kikuyu. I was told it said "Trespassers keep out". Why was in in Kikuyu and not English? I was told the sign was not meant for english speakers. a Lilac Breasted Roller that Joan Root had rehabbed. He'd often come back for a visit when he saw her about. Here he is sitting on my hand
RIP Joan Root. You were truly badass. There's an amazing video of a spitting cobra spray venom at her face (she was wearing glasses) on cue for the camera. She made Steve Irwin look like a sissy. I've been looking for quite some time for the Root films on DVD, but have not been able to find them anywhere.
Like Joy Adamson, you loved Naivasha. And like Adamson, in the end it killed you :( Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa
by Mark Seal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book left me torn.. I wasn't sure if I loved it or if it came up short. Turns out, both are true
I was fortunate to meet Root in 1999. I had gone on an Earthwatch trip in Naivasha and she was kind enough to open her home to the 'volunteers' because of her relationship with Dr David Harper, one of the principal investigators. My memory if Joan Root is a tall, slender, older woman who I had trouble keeping up with as she showed us the lake, who grabbed her pet mongoose Timmy by the tail and carried him off when he began nipping at our ankles. She didn't strike me as a woman who could easily be duped, or a wilting flower crying because she was barren. Quite the opposite.
The first half of the book provided so much insight into Root's colorful life. I wasn't so pleased with the second half of the book, it painted her as a woman who whined about 'not having a man to lean on'. Seal also glossed over the strife that was brewing in Naivasha at the time, which boiled over into horrific ethnic violence between the Kikuyu and Lao tribes shortly after Root's murder.
Naivasha is a magical but deadly place.. I can see why Root remained even when logically she knew she was in danger. To me there are so many parallels to the life of Joy Adamson, who also lived on the same lake and also died defending the animals that she loved.
These women are heros and I'm honored to have spent even a few hours in the presence of Joan Root. I wish this book had done her justice, and spent less time defining her as the broken hearted, abandoned wife of Alan Root. ( oh and one more thing that bothered me about this book... )