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?”

Nature in all its glory

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.

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Other times, not so much.

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.

Cat Hats Trophy

The conservation area in which our camp is located covers tens of thousands of acres and is managed very competently by our chief warden. His is one of those roles that would be impossible to contain within a job description and covers land management, community work, wildlife welfare and ensuring that the camps adhere to the conservancy code of conduct.

As he knows we will be with guests at particular times of the day he mainly communicates via texts, some of which have been very cryptic.

‘It’s possible that a naked man might be running through your camp in the next two minutes.

This turned out to be a herdsman who, when caught by rangers grazing illegally through a conservation area, had panicked and caused a mini stampede amongst his cows, one of whom had stood on his shuka [wrap-around blanket that the Maasai wear] which meant the herdsman continued his frantic run without it. An unusual number of our female guests showed a remarkable interest in using the binoculars in the mess tent that afternoon.

A couple of months ago he sent us:

Have you got any room in your freezer for a lion’s head?

A lioness had died in a suspected case of poisoning and the head needed to be stored until it could be collected and tested by the relevant people in Nairobi. D was really hoping that someone would annoy him over the following days so he could do a bush version of the oft-quoted Mafia threat.

Then, today lunchtime:

‘Is anyone’s guest missing a hat? We’ve found it next to the Simba lion pride, a bit pawed but still ok.’

D read out the message to our guests who all confirmed that their hats were safely on their heads. Then:

‘On second thoughts; are any of the camps missing a guest? The good news is; we’ve found their hat.’