Authentically Kenyan?

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.

“And this?”

“Um, that’s a wine rack.”

“Yes, but is it traditionally Maasai?”

“The wine rack?”

“Yes.”

 

id-prefer-pinot-noir
‘I hope Kingasunye isn’t serving that Chardonnay shit with dinner again.’

“Um, not so much, no.”

Great expectations

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.”

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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?”

An average week in camp

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.

“The Vatican.”

***

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.”

Lettuce with scissorsIt 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.”

Guests who are ‘aard work

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.

Business Class

Plane nose on airstrip with copyright

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.

Safari Stereotypes – Part 1 – Safari Snobs

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.

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A Truth Universally Acknowledged

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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.

Food Mountain

Just sitting at my desk in our office tent trying to recalculate the food budget for the next week.

Four new guests arrived today, all of whom swear that they enjoy low fat and sugar-free diets.

Without wishing to be rude, their claimed dietary restrictions have not, um, manifested physically in the way you would expect.

The chefs and I watched in amazement as they piled their plates high from the lunchtime buffet table. A pasta dish that would normally comfortably feed fourteen people ran out after these four new guests had filled their plates. The chefs ran up to the kitchen tent to prepare some more whilst I wondered if we’d not explained things properly and they thought this was to be their only meal of the day.

We sat outside in the shade of the trees, with flycatchers, weavers and eagles fluttering, tweeting and gliding respectively above the farmhouse-style lunch table. However, none of this caught my eye today as I was distracted by the piles of food on the plates.

Worried about keeping within my food budget over the forthcoming days and how I was going to justify extra expenditure to the camp’s owners, I considered trying to collect photographic evidence.[“Oh, sorry! Thought I saw a very rare bird sitting on YOUR MASSIVE PILE OF PASTA.”]

After lunch an interesting experiment took place. One of the new guests ordered a bottle of Bitter Lemon. If you’re not familiar with this drink; I imagine the accountants at the Coca-Cola company who make Bitter Lemon are more troubled by the invoices for sugar than they are by the invoices for lemons… Despite this, I watched one of the ladies attempt to add some more sugar to the bottle using a teaspoon.

I don’t think anyone’s attempted to add sugar to 100% sugar before and some sort of molecular-level reaction occurred, causing a lemony Mount Vesuvius.

The waiters performed the clean up heroically.

A difficult dinner last night; we’re hosting a group of twelve Americans in their seventies and eighties. Although there are a few friends in the party, most met for the first time in Nairobi three days ago.

Everyone has their story to tell, and it’s clear that some of these stories must be told at any cost. One lady, let’s call her Dorothy, will not stop talking. She segues effortlessly from one subject to the next without pause. Last night’s dinner was twenty minutes late as the waiter couldn’t find a gap in Dorothy’s monologue long enough to announce the menu. In the end I just yelled rudely, ‘DINNER IS SERVED!’

There was a little dance around the dinner table as the other guests tried to second-guess where Dorothy was going to sit and moved accordingly. Myself and two guests from Alabama lost the game of musical chairs and we sat at one end of the long table with Dorothy. The collective sigh of relief from the others blew out the candles.

Through sign language and telepathy the couple from Alabama, Cecilia and Robert, and I decided that our tactic had to be to not let Dorothy start talking otherwise the game was lost. Unfortunately, Dorothy is nobody’s fool and had started on her chosen topic of tennis before we’d unfolded our napkins and relit the candles.

After a twenty minute discourse on the merits of a grass surface over clay, the situation was desperate. I could see from their eyes that the Alabama two had lost hope of ever escaping; Robert handed me a note for me to pass onto their children.

I was struck by inspiration and leapt from my seat, “Oh my GOD!” I yelled, “I can smell burning!”

I dashed out of the dining tent to investigate hoping that the couple would play their part and use the distraction as an opportunity to stop talking about bloody Roger Federer.

When I returned to the table it had clearly not gone entirely as I hoped and I was disappointed to hear Dorothy say, “… so my friend has bought me tickets for the Open, we’ve gone together for the last twenty years…” but it turned out Cecilia and Robert had plumped for another tactic; Dorothy was going to carry on talking and they were both just going to talk over her. It resulted in a very bizarre three-way conversation about growing rhubarb in the southern states of America, the merits of getting tickets for the Australian Open and the state of the Danish monarchy.

It was unconventional but I thought I was handling it well until I said, “Are they fruits or vegetables?” to Cecilia who I thought was the one talking about rhubarb but it turned out that she was the one talking about the Danish royal family.

I was forgiven and learned an interesting fact about Bluetooth.

Summit to Say?

A few guests who stay with us are travelling on to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Most are accepting of the fact that this remarkable feat has been achieved by others throughout history, indeed, it’s highly likely that it’s being climbed at this very minute.

However, two British guests likened their plans to that of Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller.

The boring smug buggers managed to sneak in the fact that they were climbing Kilimanjaro into every conversation.

Me: Would you like some tea? Coffee?
Them: Hello? Climbing Kili next week, we’ll be drinking tea and coffee then!

Me: Goodnight then, sleep well.
Them: Hello? Climbing Kili next week, we can sleep anywhere!

Me: Ooh, look at the full moon!
Them: Hello? We KNOW, climbing Kili next week when there’s no full moon!

They also bored the other camp guests who stopped including them in their conversations as game drive viewing was open to unfavourable comparisons.

“You saw two leopards together in a tree? Oh, we’re much more interested in landscapes; we’re looking forward to the view from Kilimanjaro.”

They even left a little complaint in the visitor’s book; ‘Would have liked to do more walking as we’re climbing Kilimanjaro next week.’

"Flying? We're flying over Kilimanjaro next week."

“Flying? We’re flying over Kilimanjaro next week.”

 

A little bit crapper than Mufasa

A little bit crapper than Mufasa

We knew they were going to be trouble the moment they arrived. Rather than leaping enthusiastically from the Land Rover they surveyed our camp with dismay from within the vehicle before stepping carefully out, unsuccessfully picking their way through the dust and scat.

A three-generational vineyard-owning family from California, they looked like they’d packed for a cruise; tiny pointed shoes, hair immaculately dyed and styled, delicate little Hermes scarves. The wives looked high-maintenance too.

When I introduced myself to one of the ladies, she limply took my hand; “You guys have Wi-Fi, right?” When I said no, she looked over her shoulder and called to the rest of the family, “They’ve not got it here either. What are we going to do?”

The thirteen of them stood in front of us, looking vaguely panicked.

The first lady turned back to D, “Well, do you have a TV room at least?”

The panic spread to us; these guests were here for four nights and had booked all of our six tents.

“Well, hopefully you’ll be out on too many game drives to worry about TV,” said D continuing to introduce himself to the mixed group.

The smallest of the four children, a girl, tugged at the shiniest of the adults; “I don’t want to go on another drive.”

“Wait until you see the lions and elephants,” D said, “you might even see hippos in the river.”

One of the other mothers stepped forward and spoke gently to D as you would to a simpleton; “We saw a lion on the way from the airport,” she said, “we don’t need to see any more.”

Knowing it was going to be a long few days for all of us, we introduced them to the non-existent facilities of the camp before leading them to their tents to reveal the hair dryers, bathtubs and minibars that the camp also doesn’t have. In the face of their disappointment, it seemed churlish to point out the flushing toilets.

They remained unmoved by the beauty of the camp, scared of the few bugs that made an appearance, bored by game drives although the wildlife did its best to impress; leopard, cheetah, lion, elephant and rhino all made an appearance during their game drives, despite them only being out of camp for an hour a day.

“So did you choose to work out here?” asked one of the daughters, implying that I was an victim of a lesser-reported human trafficking ring; condemned not to a sordid life as a sex-worker in Soho but to live in the wilderness and talk to guests until I could have my passport back. It was clear which she considered the worse fate.

On their fourth and final day, D and I walked down to the dining tent to make sure that the family had everything they needed. It was 4pm, a time when guests would normally be out on game drives; traversing the grassy plains and escarpments before watching the sunset in all its glory.

As we approached the tent we could hear music.

Whilst bona fide lion cubs, warthogs and hornbills went about their lives only kilometres from camp, we found the family huddled together watching Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ on the grandson’s iPad.

Hakuna matata…