HER EXPERIENCE CAMPING IN AFRICA
I have been married to Martin Slabbert from Explore Africa Adventures for the past 30 years. Because he advertises in Leisure Wheels, we get a free copy of the magazine every month. During his absence from home, I usually page through it and am sorry to say, but there are very few, if any, contributions from women.
I do not want to get involved in a battle of the sexes, but I am tired of letters and articles from men. Most of the articles are experiences through the eyes of men or the stories of the ‘manne’ travelling with Johan Badenhorst. I sometimes wonder what their expeditions would be like if women travelled with them.
So I have decided to make a small contribution by sharing how (some) women experience a safari in Africa.
I had the privilege of joining Explore Africa on their way to the Serengeti this year. I only travelled with the group through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi (flying back from Lilongwe) as one of us has to work!
We met the 2017 Serengeti group in Musina. The men immediately compared their different vehicles and the gadgets they’d added. Women take longer to bond.
Crossing into Zimbabwe at Beit Bridge was not bad as we had a runner and a representative of Zim’s tourism department to assist us. On our way to the campsite, we were stopped nine times by traffic police. We never felt intimidated but to pull over seven vehicles can be time consuming.
Martin knows the drill. When stopped by the police, you pull over slowly, open your window, switch off the music, take off your glasses and show respect. If you’ve done something wrong, or if there is something wrong with your vehicle, apologise profusely. If you are forgiven, you may proceed, if not, well that is a different story. Then you negotiate or rely on the numbers in the convoy.
We slept at Norma Jean’s campsite close to the Zimbabwe Ruins (the ruins are definitely worth visiting). The campsite is beautiful, the reception area colonial and the garden has luscious plants. The ablution facilities were exceptional: this is a huge issue for any woman.
TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE?
The real Africa hit us women the following day: there are no highway rest stops along the main road. After drinking too much coffee you become desperate for the toilet and the open veld is the only option. All the men went over the road to the right, the women stayed on the left. What a picture: all the men neatly lined up along the roadside (I am sure they were farting, too). Men have no issue with privacy, they might even have been showing off, for all we know.
The women searched for the biggest bush available. No one should see you squatting and despite every possible effort, your pants or shoes always get a little wet.
At Kamba Caravan Park, just outside Harare, the only politician to ever join one of Martin’s trips gave every woman some wool and needles to knit squares for blankets as a welfare project. This gave rise to the following scene in our Hilux once we were en route again: I started knitting. Martin got irritated. How could I come to Africa and knit? What he didn’t understand is that he’s busy the whole day. Busy driving. I just sit.
If a woman just sits, she eats. If she eats too much, she feels fat. If she feels fat, she is not nice. If she is not nice, who suffers? Him. So, to allow a woman to knit, a man is actually looking after himself! Anyway, a woman can multi-task: she can knit, change the music and enjoy the scenery all at the same time.
The state-owned ablution facilities at Mana Pools were typically basic. There are no lights so you need to shower while the sun is still up, otherwise it becomes a struggle with a torch and it is difficult looking after your skin and hair by torchlight alone.
Speaking of hair, men will never understand the absolute heart-breaking feeling when you have just shampooed your long hair and the shower stops – no more water! Fortunately, it will happen to you maybe only once, because after such an experience you will embrace real camping. As someone once said: “If your hair does not smell of smoke and your ankles of urine, you are not camping.”
A privilege of being married to the tour leader is that he knows Africa. One vehicle decided to set up camp under a huge tree at Mana Pools. It seemed to make sense, as their vehicle would be in the shade when the sun rose. Martin stopped in the open. When I questioned our position, he said ῾you will see’. And I saw.
The following morning, the lady of the vehicle (with curlers in her hair) laid out a beautiful table. Chaos ensued when she brought out the rusks. Monkeys came from nowhere, filled the tree and a courageous one jumped on the table and grabbed the rusks. He lurched back into the tree where a fight broke out. The end result was rusks raining down on the poor woman, pieces even got stuck between the curlers – a real YouTube moment.
At the border post between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the women went through immigration and then waited for hours for the men to finish the documentation for the vehicles. While we waited, we made small talk and this was where I heard the following:
A 38-day camping trip from Musina to the Serengeti is not a cheap holiday but Man wanted to go. Her brain calculated costs only to realise Venice, the Greek Islands or Paris are cheaper holidays, but Man’s mind was made up. Man contacted the tour guide and then the spending began. She thought the 4×4 came with everything necessary but Man said no, the tour guide suggested a few extras. The phone beeped continually as he spent. She thought of the need for an extra fridge, especially in summer when the grandchildren visit, or for painting the lounge, but those ideas vanished with the purchase of spot lights, an extra battery, a roof tent and, and, and...
The trip was only in July but Man started packing in May. She had to work out a menu and buy the food, while keeping in mind that space is a problem; yet, they “would be on holiday and must spoil themselves”.
A week before the trip there were two crates in the bedroom: one for Man’s clothes (although he wears the same shorts for days and may change his T-shirt on occasion), the other for her. How on earth does a woman fit clothes for 38 days in one crate, never mind her vanity case and hair dryer? She complained about the lack of space and so Man changed the original crate to one with a raised lid.
A woman cannot wear the same clothes for more than one day, as she does not feel the same every day. When she wakes up, she will decide how she feels and therefore what to wear. Some of the men on that trip eventually allowed the women to use half of their crates, too.
I could identify with all the women’s stories as Martin allowed my hair dryer in his crate. The women finally bonded at the border post as sisters in oppression.
SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP
Time is an issue when travelling in Africa. It is a continuous struggle for the tour guide as he knows the roads ahead. He usually explains to the group that we will not be travelling far, but it is quite a distance, then we know it’s going to be a hard day sitting in the car. To pass all the markets in the little villages is close to a crime against humanity (women’s humanity). A woman needs to shop – not necessarily to buy, but she must feel the products, smell them and touch them – otherwise she might get withdrawal symptoms. Eventually we stopped at only one big market just before some of us hyperventilated.
Pioneer Camp outside Lusaka had an exceptional challenge in store. We shared the campsite with a group of international cyclists. These Germans had no shame and walked around in the smallest of underpants, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. The showers were also unisex and couldn’t lock.
We did a spot of shopping at Tribal textiles (on our way to the Wildlife Camp near the South Luagwa National Park) and when we heard our money was going to community upliftment projects, we bought even more. It was great fun!
We stayed three nights at Wildlife Camp. There was time to clean the vehicle, do the washing
and relax. The women didn’t mind doing the washing as it gave us time to bond even further, there’s nothing like a lekker skinder around the basins. What I couldn’t believe was that one woman packed an iron and ironed her husband’s clothes. Unbelievable!
At Senga Bay, we camped on the beach next to Lake Malawi. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Africa. A female security guard was having a shower, washing herself with the door open, singing and enjoying every moment. After the shower she rubbed her whole body with oils until she shined, still cherishing each second. We, with our pale skins, could not believe her confidence. I envied her and thought we as women should live more freely; we should leave the hang-ups at home and experience life to its fullest.
The following day I said goodbye to the group. Would I ever join Martin again? Every time, if possible. Africa has many dimensions and there is nothing more special than crawling into the tent at night after witnessing the most beautiful sunset, and knowing your man will protect you against lion, hippo or even spiders.
More people should travel into Africa, even if it is more expensive than a visit to Paris or London. The experience is lifechanging. I was sad to fly back, but as Mary Oliver, an American poet, said: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She then gave instructions: Pay attention (I did). Be astonished (I was). Tell about it (I am). I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world (nor me). Magda Slabbert via email