Tent Commandments Part 3 – Thou Shalt Not Read Thy Guest Satisfaction Survey Before Thy Guests Have Departed

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.


Disclaimer: Not Actual Survey. Actual Survey Much Worse.


The Tent Commandments – No. 2

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.”

camp managers on top of their game-3


The Tent Commandments

Lightning strike with text copy

The rules that govern the life of a safari camp manager.

  1. 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.

Carcass Eau de Toil

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.