Admittedly, I’m not the first European woman to move to the wilds of Africa and write about her experiences. However, as half of an expat management couple of a luxury tented camp in a famous game reserve in Kenya, most guests seem to think that after waving them off on their game drives I pop back to bed for the day, presumably with a gin, resurfacing only in the evening to listen to their tales of the bush. Others think I have clearly made a terrible mess of my life (I do live in a tent, after all) and I must be hiding in the African bush working up the courage to enter ‘real’ life again; as did one pitying lady who asked me in a whisper over dinner, “how long do you have to do this job for, dear?”. This blog is an attempt to put the record straight.
So, here we are. Opening camp after a closure of several months for the rainy season.
The usual things have happened. Most of the staff have suddenly found reasons to be urgently needed elsewhere, those that haven’t have got malaria, someone has stolen a beautifully embroidered loo-roll holder from one of our guest tents, (we can only presume that someone with great taste has a rather well-appointed mud hut in the vicinity) and, in our absence, the travel agencies have been urgently scouring Hitler Youth rallies, senior amateur dramatics societies and the local prisons to find us our first guests of the season.
Meanwhile, some idiot thought that the below was a good advert for a close neighbouring camp, as though the savannahs are a gigantic showroom for bathroom fittings with a two hundred kilogram cast-iron claw-foot bathtub here, a porcelain bidet there.
“You can just make out the young leopard between the trees, see how alert she is to the hyenas presence? She’s hoping the smell of her kill won’t attract their attention. But if I can just have your attention for a moment, I would like to show you the Austen range of claw-foot baths, normally £399 but I understand there’s a offer on the moment: £299 including the hurricane lanterns and spears.”
For some of our current guests, I fear this would be the highlight of their trip. I’m always glad when people are pleased with the accommodation, but we’re hosting an American family who were over-enthusiastic about everything in the tent whilst I was showing them around.
“OH MY GOD! Is this the toilet?” they asked, pointing at the toilet. After I’ve confirmed that it is definitely a toilet, they call the rest of the family over. “Jackson! Look at the toilet!” Six of us crowdily gather close, reverently staring at a toilet. A hand falteringly reaches out to touch but, losing courage at the last moment, sinks back to its owner’s side.
Joe shakes his head, laughing, “That is the strangest toilet I’ve ever seen!” Everyone, save me, nods in agreement. “It’s a toilet! In a tent!”
I cannot deny it.
Shannon gets our her iPhone, “Would it be weird if I took a photo?”
Nope, believe me, someone taking a photo would be the least weird thing about this moment.
Bill goes to leave the room when something catches his eye, “OH MY GOD! JULIE! Check out the toilet-roll holder!”
Sometimes some guests are so desperate for their trip to Kenya to be authentically African they lose all sense of perspective.
Pointing at the bow and arrow hanging on the canvas wall; “Is that African?”
At the hand-stitched, oversized leather-and-bead ceremonial necklace; “…and that?”
Closely examining the stretched hide shield and rusted spears; “…what about this?”
Wondering why anyone would think we’d be displaying artifacts from, say, Ecuador, I nod enthusiastically and confirm their suspicions; yes, it’s all from Africa, and unsurprisingly, specifically Kenya.
“Um, that’s a wine rack.”
“Yes, but is it traditionally Maasai?”
“The wine rack?”
“Um, not so much, no.”
guest |gɛst| noun ORIGIN Middle English: from Old Norse gestr, rootshared by Latin hostis ‘enemy’.
Each and every guest is given a satisfaction survey to complete at the end of their stay with us. Luckily, 99% of our lovely guests are 100% happy but every now and then a little pen-and-paper hand grenade is thrown into our trenches.
We’ve learned not to read the completed papers until the guests have gone otherwise we’d march to their tents to grab them by their lapels whilst shouting, “Whaddya mean, you didn’t like the quiche?! Whaddya mean?! I watched you eat it with your mouth open and YOU WENT BACK FOR MORE and I watched you eat that with your mouth open too.”
Or we’d sit down with the guests whilst they’re packing: “Can you justify why you’ve marked me down as average on ‘friendliness’? Hmm? Can you? Because I don’t think you can, mate.”
Every once in a while guests arrive and we can tell immediately they’re going to spend all their time complaining; we call this a premoanition, or if the guests are particularly nasty we say we’ve made a predicktion. We circle these surveys with trepidation, poking them with long sticks and consider calling in the bomb disposal people.
However, some guests appear to be having a lovely time, say they’re having a lovely time, tell the staff they’re having a lovely time but when it comes to completing the survey it appears they were overcome with misery and, to be honest, we were lucky that they didn’t kill themselves during their stay.
Said by guest on departure: “This has been the most incredible experience of my life, I will never forget it.”
Written on survey: ‘Impalas kept me awake at night. Disappointed to get a flat tyre.’
Said by guest on departure: “This has exceeded all our expectations, it’s been an amazing week. Life-changing, in fact.”
Written on survey: ‘Too many avocados.’
Another guest marked us poorly on the interior style of the tent, but when we went back to have a look, she’d actually stolen most of it. We could only assume that she nicked everything before going to bed, forgot, and when she woke up in the morning to pack, looked around and thought, ‘Blimey, it’s a bit bare in here,’ and then, ‘Gosh, I don’t remember bringing a Moroccan lantern on holiday with me.’
The ones that hurt the most, the ones that leave you with open mouths and stinging eyes, are the bad surveys from people after you’ve performed conspicuous hospitality. The guests who turn the camp upside down with their requests and once, memorably, unbelievably yet truly, at Christmas time, the guests who weren’t supposed to be staying at our camp in the first place – their travel agent had made an error but filled with the Christmas spirit, we made room. I’m not going to say they were miserable but, as they walked past our acacia Christmas tree, a little hanging Santa flung himself to his death.
We have an American family of six in camp.
The parents think we’re dim and the wife keeps comparing my job to when she worked as a chalet girl for a ski season. The four young children are somewhat precocious. I know this because, over yesterday’s lunch, the 12-year-old, Kit, told me so himself. “Yes, it’s been somewhat of a transitional period for me as I turn from a child into a young man. I’m hoping to become a tax lawyer like my father.”
I nod, immediately lose all confidence in myself as I’m not sure I ever made the transition from a child into a young woman and resolve to sit next to the eight-year-old girl, Rosa, in the evening.
Turns out I am not a desirable companion for Rosa either. She had previously complained that she’d finished all her books. Remembering that I had one left behind by another family, I brought it down to dinner. She took the book out of my hand wordlessly, looked at the title, flipped it over and read the blurb in silence. Finally, she looked at me and said, “Is this yours? It’s a little below my normal reading age but I’ll try it.”
Deciding that the four-year old represents my only hope of having a normal conversation over the next week, I carefully devise a seating plan.
It’s Kit’s 13th birthday today and late last night the father gave me three enormous presents and told me to wrap them.
“No problem,” I said, “let me just pop to the shops in the local village for some wrapping paper and ribbons, the 24-hour newsagents is next to the monorail station.”
Then they asked us to inflate the ‘Happy Birthday’ balloon which turned out not to be a normal balloon, oh no, it turned out to be, I shit you not, a ‘Five-Foot Banner Balloon’ which took D twenty minutes to inflate into something that didn’t resemble a giant penis, before passing out through hypoxia on the floor of the office.
During today’s lunchtime celebrations some new guests arrived, they looked vaguely worried when they saw the four young children. Guessing what they were thinking, I reassured them. “Oh, don’t worry, they’re not like normal children, they’re perfectly well behaved,” I said, before adding, “though it might be wise not to disclose your taxable income to the oldest.”
At that very moment, Kit must have had a rush of blood to his head and briefly leaving behind the world of federal law and white-collar crime, he threw his new frisbee as hard as he could where it flew swiftly through the air and would have carried well into the long grass, had it not made contact with the side of D’s head.
I turned to the new guests, “Would you like to have private meals in your tent?”
Around the camp fire one evening a honeymoon couple asked D and I where we got married. We explained that we eloped to Europe with a few friends and got married in a 14th-century tower in Italy.
The couple looked aghast so D clarified, “We didn’t want to have a huge wedding or get married in a church as neither of us are even the slightest bit religious.”
I joined in adding, “…that would just have felt so hypocritical. It wouldn’t be right for us to have used a church just so it looks good in the wedding photographs.”
“Anyway, more importantly, where did you two get married?” D asks the happy couple.
Earlier in the week some very nervous guests arrived. As I am a nervous flyer I try to be sympathetic to those with fears but after being asked a thousand panicked questions in the first ten minutes, my sympathy waned a little.
“I assure you that lions have no reason to come into your tent. Nor snakes. No, nor hyenas. Is the salad safe? Well, no-one’s ever had to use the emergency radio to complain that a lettuce has appeared in their tent uninvited – how the hell would it get in? Oh, you mean to eat, sorry.”
It was a long time until nightfall but the looks on their faces would make the wait worthwhile.
Finally, lest you believe that I live a life entirely removed from showbiz, the following was overheard at the lunch table said by a young lady who clearly moves in different circles to I:
“…and so mummy simply had to tell Kanye West to fuck off.”
New guests in the shape of an English couple in their 50s arrived in camp yesterday morning. It’s lucky they’re here because, it turns out, they know everything there is to know about safari camps. They know so much that D and I might hand them the keys and say, “You flew over with Kenya Airways and have read a guide book? You’ve got this.” and take the rest of the week off.
They’d seen an aardvark on a night game drive at their previous camp. I told them that they were very lucky; “D and I don’t get much time to go out on night drives – I’ve never seen an aardvark.”
The wife, Linda, looks at me pityingly; “Well, they’re about a metre high with a long nose and tail, and…”
She chunters on for a minute or two whilst I try to work out a nice way of saying, “Just because I haven’t seen one in real life doesn’t mean that I don’t know what one is, you patronising moron.”
I’m unsuccessful and she ends with, “…and they’re mainly nocturnal.”
Suppressing a laugh, D goes to show the husband, George, how to work the torch, “Be careful not to push the button halfway or it’ll start an annoying…”
“I KNOW HOW TO USE A TORCH, YOUNG MAN,” says George.
“…S.O.S. signal and…” continues D.
“I GO CAMPING IN SURREY ALL THE TIME!”, says George.
Linda adds, “He’s practically a professional.”
Last night, which was completely moonless, we’re sitting round the campfire with the other guests when we notice that George and Linda are the last to arrive.
We look down the path to their tent to check if they’re coming. We can see a rapidly flashing strobe effect illuminating the tree canopy between the tents.
Dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.
“George, for goodness sake, use it properly.”
Dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.
“I’m trying woman, I can’t turn this ridiculous thing off.”
We all hear a call of “Jambo!” followed by a high-pitched scream from George. I guess immediately what’s happened: seeing the flashing light make its way down the path, our askari, a watchman, has revealed himself in the darkness to guide the guests to dinner. His sudden appearance out of the long grass, supposed to be one of the most reassuring of sights has, in fact, had the very opposite effect on George and Linda.
As I quickly head down the path, I am greeted by the sight of the guests and Onesmus having a little S.O.S. disco under the acacias. Onesmus is the only one enjoying himself.
I must admit, the sight of his face looming in and out of darkness with the intermittent flashes is rather off-putting and could be a little scary as I imagine Africans leaping out from behind acacia trees are rather thin on the ground in Surrey.
After a not so brief interlude away from Safari Camp Life which included a stay in hospital, the closing of the camp for the rainy season, and the untimely death of our good friend The Wonder Dog, D and I have been released back into the wild and are surrounded by the dust and bleached grass of the bush once again.
Following on nicely from my last post about having an inadequate pet, the following message was nestling quietly in my camp inbox. All italics are mine.
‘I was so sorry to hear about The Wonder Dog. I know how you must be feeling as my lion died last year and I’ve never really recovered.’
Lest I was about to throw myself off the nearest escarpment at our shared despair, there was good news:
‘However, we still have our 17-year old Bengal tiger who is in excellent health and we’re hoping he is around for many years to come.’
It’s good to be back.
Thou Shalt Not Compare Thyself to Other Camp Managers Lest Thou Feel Inadequate
There is no escaping from the fact that, despite being immigrants, D and I are not very exotic when compared to other camp managers who, coming from long-standing colonial families, are remarkable just by their very existence.
“You’re from where, dear? The UK? Oh, we’ve just been staying with Tim-Tim and Minty in the Kwumerutiti Swampland, they of course have been here for their whole lives, and now they have two darling girls – Chui and Duma, they’re positively wild but will be sent to London to finish their schooling. Her grandfather started up the national parks in Kenya.”
“You’ve only been here for ten years? Oh, well, we’ve just stayed with Algernon and Fru in the Pwananiti Hills, they were born here, so so clever – she breeds ostriches and her great-grandmother started up the national parks in Kenya. Algie was telling us of the times his great-grandfather shot ostrich from the back of a train! We mentioned we were coming here and they said they’d never heard of you.”
We’re plunged into further doom by the fact that every other camp has some sort of bandy-legged Bambi-like creature gambolling around the lunch table. The Wonder Dog just doesn’t cut the mustard, it seems.
“Oh! You’ve got a little dog? Peregrine and Titty have two dogs and a zebra…”
“Do you know Flim Flam and Fuckwit? They’ve got two zebras, a giraffe and a rhino.”
We’ve currently got an American couple staying with us; let’s call them Brad and Tammy. The wife is mostly synthetic; silicone and Botox. She must share 90% of her DNA with her Louis Vuitton luggage. Presumably during check-in at John F. Kennedy International, after removing her shoes and belt, she gently lay down next to her bags on the conveyor belt, winding her way to the hold, spending the long-haul flights beside the suitcases and golf clubs.
Her husband is one of those sorts that treats being on safari not so much as a holiday but as a personal challenge to be overcome. “Ha! You think I can’t make a phone call to my lawyer whilst next to a leopard. I shall show you – I shall not let these savannahs of gold stop my daily routine,” before donning a Fitbit and trainers and racing off into the bush triggering a frantic search party.
Then, a last-minute booking: a new couple. New as in they’ve just arrived and new as in I believe they’ve only just met. Todd of Toronto is accompanied by a prostitute; Glitterisha from Nairobi.
It appeared that Glitterisha hadn’t been booked a seat on the aircraft for the 45 minute flight from Nairobi, and was therefore forced to sit on the wings for the journey whereupon most of her clothes have been blown off.
D’s safety briefing was shorter than normal as, realistically, Glitterisha was going to freeze to death long before she was going to get eaten by lions. “It can get suddenly cooler during the afternoon game drive, so it’s a good idea to wear, well, something.”
We took them to their tent which took longer than usual with Glitterisha’s stilettos sinking into the soft black cotton soil, occasionally stumbling into the foliage. If she’d been wearing any clothing it would have snagged on the acacia thorns.
Todd, for his part, is remarkably unflummoxed for a chap who is accompanied by a flashing sign announcing, ‘I PAY FOR SEX! BUT NOT FOR PLANE SEATS!’
Luckily, Glitterisha put on some extra sequins for lunch and, ever professional, the waiters set two extra places for her breasts.
When introduced, the two couples had more in common than I dared hope. Brad and Glitterisha both think acacia trees must be phone masts in disguise and make a phone call every time they see one. Glitterisha and Tammy are both concerned about the safari bucket showers in the evening; one because she doesn’t want to get her weave wet and the other because she should only be Wiped Gently with a Clean, Damp Cloth.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Look, could you tell your bloody guides to stop driving off-road, it’s ruining the sodding grass.”
The rules that govern the life of a safari camp manager.
- Thou Shalt Not Spend More Than Eight Weeks in Camp Lest Thy Slay Innocent Guests.
As the working weeks pass and time off becomes but a faint echo, the likelihood increases that guests or staff will be attacked, not by a buffalo or lion, but by a marauding manager whose wits are overloaded with camp life.
The endless plains and the wuffling zebras respectively turn into isolation and a bloody nuisance. The first hint that it’s time to gather up those closest to you and head for the hills is increased levels of forced joviality with guests:
‘No, I’m glad you decided to have a lie-in at the last minute! It means I got up at 5.00am for no reason, as did three members of staff. Refreshed, you say? Ha-ha! Excellent!’
‘Oh no, of course it’s no trouble, I’ll be glad to walk a round trip of a kilometre to search the game drive vehicle for your phone which you’ll almost certainly find in your handbag later! I’m so glad you waited until it’s dark to mention it. Oh! Is that a spot of rain? That will make the search so much more challenging. What fun!’
Sarcastic responses to innocent questions lurk close to the surface.
“What do elephants eat?”
One of the common errors made by guests is confusing Cape Buffalo (who live in Africa) with Water Buffalo (who live some five thousand kilometres away in Asia).
It’s customary to listen to a guest, hear their mistake and wait for a suitable opportunity to politely drop in the correction; “Oh, yes, I do so love Cape Buffalo when they’re in large herds; the calves are so playful.” Eight weeks in, however, and there’s the ever-present danger that it’ll turn into:
“We saw lion, cheetah, leopard and water buffalo…”
“Water buffalo, huh? Fuck me, you’ve got good eyesight.”
There’s also the fear that you’ll go ‘bush’ if you stay in the wilderness for too long. Living amongst trees, vultures and mud, my already estranged relationship with culture is beyond counselling. Glossy magazines with make-up and perfume adverts have no relevance.
The very last time we drove to Nairobi I made the mistake of going directly to the hairdressers without popping home first. As I’m having my hair washed I hear a clunk in the sink behind me. I turn round to find the girl holding up a three-inch acacia branch that has clearly just fallen out of my hair. I’m horrendously embarrassed and attempt to explain, “I live in the bush,” then seeing her look suspiciously out of the window at a tree in the car park, I realise she’s misunderstood. “No, no, I mean The Great Outdoors, not an actual bush.”
As I’m writing this I’ve received an email from a lovely guest, “I’m going to Mombossa. Will I be safe from the Somelians?”
I’ve only been in camp for six weeks so I’ll be gentle.
It would be fair to say that most of our guests are from a certain demographic, namely upper middle class, and D and I are sometimes left floundering amidst a flurry of cut glass accents and RP.
I periodically read Nancy Mitford before dinner so I know what the hell is going on and am able to offer my own opinion about fox hunting and having SHRIEKINGLY good fun at tennis parties.
However, sporadically someone will turn up who falls outside this category. Sometimes they’re like a breath of fresh air amongst the maritime lawyers, surgeons and hedge funders. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the upper classes will remember their manners and include us plebeians in their conversations. Aaaaaand sometimes they won’t.
We’re currently hosting a husband and wife from Australia. The wife weighs four stone and lives off white wine, from which she must draw all her calories. The husband works in mining and smokes 40 cigarettes a day, from which he must draw all his calories.
All the other guests have, how shall I put it, withdrawn from their company somewhat. One couple from America threw a tantrum of frankly epic proportions (more on them in another post) and refused to share a vehicle with the Australians. Luckily the Aussies remained oblivious to this snub and happily stayed on the conversational periphery smoking and drinking, pausing only to swap hands and commence drinking and smoking.
I tired of this social discrimination last night after one of the lawyers had mentioned that she and her husband had moved from London into the countryside and had a couple of animals around the place; a dog, a Shetland pony, a couple of sheep, a sprinkling of chickens etc. Trying desperately to make conversation I asked, “Who’s looking after your sheep whilst you’re away?” The woman looked shocked and said, “Why, our shepherd, of course.”
Oh, of course, your shepherd is looking after your sheep. Fearing to ask who was looking after the pony, I turned my head and caught sight of the Aussies being ignored at the end of the table, taking a rare break from their Olympic Smoking training.
They’ll probably surprise us all, I thought to myself, I bet he has an obsession with Beethoven’s symphonies and she collects Jane Austen first editions. That’ll knock everyone off their snobby perches.
Looking forward to shocking the crowd, I coughed and loudly enquired of the son what he liked to do when he wasn’t drilling mines in Australia. The table fell silent. C’mon, I willed him with all my heart; say something intellectual…
Addressing the table, he announced: “I go pig ‘hunting. I like to ‘unt pigs.”
Our camp is 90% staffed by local Maasai men, all of whom I presumed had been ambling around camp in a conventional manner until today I was asked the following by a guest: “Have you got an area that I can visit where the Maasai are just walking around normally?”
Clearly some sort of investigation is warranted.
They just can’t wait. Barely out of the vehicle and into camp before they start listing the countries they’ve visited, spitting the names out like a ticker tape machine.
One newly arrived guest told me yesterday (within minutes of arrival) that I ‘couldn’t imagine’ the countries he’d spent time in. I was a bit offended when he went on to list Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana amongst others. Far afield for many but beyond my imagination?
I pointed out the various tents that make up the main body of the camp; “There’s the dining tent which also includes a small reference library…”
The guest chuntered on in the background and in every available pause. “I’ve been to the Arctic four times, can you imagine?” [If Zimbabwe is beyond my imagination, it’s unlikely I could comprehend the Arctic.]
“…then to the left of the bookcase there’s the bar – our waiters will be happy to offer you any drinks…”
“…Antarctica by helicopter. I’ve seen more than one hundred polar bears. I’ve been on an icebreaker to see the Emperor penguins…”
“Lunch will be a buffet lunch with fresh salads from our garden.”
“…Madagascar, Reunion, Brazil, Uganda, Rwanda, India, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Tanzania…”
I give up my camp tour, put on my sunglasses and have a gentle snooze whilst the tally continues. As I doze off to the rhythmic listing of possibly every country in Europe, I wonder: what’s the purpose of this domineering bragging? In recognition of my pathetic, relatively untravelled life, should I quietly leave my seat and throw myself under the hooves of a passing buffalo?
Before I’m fully asleep, I recall that we already have in camp an equally tiresome, well-travelled guest. I get animated at the thought of introducing the two of them.
Over lunch, they do not disappoint. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The competition begins when Guest A enquires if it’s B’s first trip to Africa. Oh, such foolish innocence.
At first the names are casually tossed out there; Costa Rica, Russia, China. Breezily countered with Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam.
Poker-faced yet each recognising a worthy opponent the stakes are raised; “I’ll call your Kazakhstan and raise you three islands in Micronesia.”
Voices get frantic, higher-pitched. Benin, Iceland, Burkino Faso. Laos, Ethiopia, Togo. A staggering display of one-upmanship.
As far as I can tell, they’re neck and neck in the challenge to be the Most Travelled Show-Off Arsehole in the World. The tension is tangible. The rest of the guests, sensing some sort of apocalyptic event, sit silently, open-mouthed, cutlery hovering between plate and mouth.
They’ve both been to the Marshall Islands. They’ve both been to Inner Mongolia. They’ve both been to the Galápagos. [It’s obvious they’re both including the accent.] It seems the deadlock can’t be broken.
Then, in a flash of inspiration, Guest A goes all in and asks Guest B which month she went to the Galápagos.
Guest B hesitates. Smelling blood, the audience shift in their seats.
Guest B whispers, “April.”
One of the other guests turns to me eagerly, “Is that bad? Is that bad?”
“AHAAA!” shouts Guest A, throwing down her napkin in triumph, “If you went in April then you won’t have seen the penguins on the shores of Bartolomé!”
Slumped in his chair, Guest B admits this is the case, vainly muttering something about excellent weather for snorkelling but the game is lost.
In the ensuing silence, Guest C pipes up. Clearly carried away on the wave of A’s victory she blurts out, “I went to Paris in December once, it was lovely!”
Unsurprisingly, no-one gives a shit.
We managed to sneak out for a game drive this afternoon. Our surrounding area has been blessed with rain over the last few days (for rain is always a blessing in Africa) and forgotten springs are appearing in the landscape.
Every now and then, when one decides to abandon urgent spreadsheets and maintenance in favour of a game drive, your truancy will be rewarded. Sometimes nature will gift you a sight so beautiful, magnificent and appealing that it’s hard to tear yourself away and return to one’s desk in a dusty office.
Other times, not so much.
As further confirmation that our job is the gift that keeps on giving, I have just had lunch with a pheasant plucker’s son. However, in direct contravention of the Tongue-Twisting Laws, he was also a pheasant plucker himself.
It is a truth universally acknowledged within the safari industry that even the most intelligent of guests degenerate to having the analytical abilities of a newborn kitten on the day they leave camp.
I’ve watched internationally-respected giants of industry mentally collapse under the strain of having to pack their bags, go on a game drive and embark a light aircraft all in one morning. In possession of a fortune but not their intelligence. If guests are travelling as part of a group the syndrome is exacerbated.
Alas, this morning a group of nine retired Americans and their Kenyan tour guide are departing after breakfast to fly south to a camp in the Serengeti. All have lost the ability to undertake the simplest task and are asking questions to which there is no polite reply. When I walked into the dining tent at 7am, George pulled away from what was clearly an unsatisfactory conversation with their tour guide, Robert.
“I’ll ask B,” he said, striding across the tent towards me, “she’ll know.”
I asked what I could do to help.
“Should I have a shower after breakfast?”
“The opportunity is certainly there,” I said, “we can arrange for hot water to be at your tent.”
George looked exasperated, “That’s what Robert said, but do you think I should have a shower?”
“Well I guess the question is, do you want a shower?”
“I don’t know. Do you think I’ll need one?”
“It depends how skilfully you usually eat breakfast, I guess.”
As George stared at the buffet, unable to foresee if he would end his morning meal covered in scrambled egg, one of his co-travellers, Barbara, joined the conversation and told George that he should wait to shower until he got to the second camp.
She looked at me conspiratorially and said, “Men!”
Sensing a kindred spirit, I nodded and started to tell her the newborn kitten tale. She laughed, agreeing with me and then asked me if I thought the camp in Tanzania would sell Maasai beaded bracelets. (Our little in-camp shop had sold out of bracelets the previous morning.) Knowing that most camps in the area sell variations upon a theme, I said that I thought they would.
“Excellent,” she said, “do you think they’ll have them in red?”
My superpowers had deserted me and despite having a beautiful old pair of Zeiss binoculars to hand I couldn’t quite make out the colour of a bracelet in a neighbouring country.
Barbara’s sister joined our huddle and waved an Apple charger in my face, “Is this mine?”
“Does it look like yours?” I asked.”If it looks like yours, let’s just say it’s yours.”
Joan comes up to me, “If I have a cup of coffee with breakfast, am I likely to need the bathroom before we get to the plane?”
Forty minutes later everyone has been served breakfast, (“Is your muesli like the stuff I would normally have at home?”) and they’re ready to leave.
It turns out that trying to get nine retired Americans into two Land Rovers and getting them to stay there is quite a challenge. Every time eight are in, one decides to pop to the loo, or unpack their luggage to get out a scarf, or to change camera lenses. Joan remembers she promised her son in California that she’d buy him a map of Kenya and pops to the shop. (“Will the map show where we saw the elephants?” “If the elephants were in Kenya at the time, yes.”)
Hearing the word ‘shop’ inspires Hilary. Although she’s been staying here for 96 hours, five minutes after she should have departed for the airstrip is revealed to be the ideal time to hunt for souvenirs. She holds up a branded t-shirt, “Will this fit my grandson?”
D is concerned that time is ticking on; we’ve got 12 incoming guests that morning and our staff need to stop waving goodbye and prepare the tents. He tells the guides to start the engines, I block anyone’s exit and pretend not to notice Howard, who’s been patiently sitting in the vehicles for twenty minutes, stand up from his seat and mutter something about a weak bladder.
“Bye then!” I said, closing and locking the door, “safe flights!”
The guides take the cue and drive off at top speed, creating a dust cloud. My last view of the group is of Howard’s panicked grasping at the lock and Barbara’s sister confusedly looking from one hand to the other, both clutching identical Apple chargers.