By Jofie Lamprecht
“Like the black and white keys of a piano, how they are played and produce melodious verses”Kamanteh – Karen Blixen’s Somali servant in Out of Africa
To the trackers, chefs, camp staff, skinners and other essential personnel, all those backstage, and their families from whom they are away for large portions of the year – this is for you.
A safari is a theater, in which there are many roles to be played, both onstage and backstage, in the harmonious performance which is known as safari.
Without those men and women that work a life on safari, we could not have eaten, slept, dined, tracked, skinned, driven, relaxed, had companionship – in both good and bad times – if it were not for a dedicated safari staff. They are the backbone of the safari industry, without whom our performances would be mediocre, nay, disastrous at best. And there are many more events that do not come to mind right now
So, a beautiful tune is heard before, during and after a successful safari when hunters, trackers and staff work together in harmony.
While the hunters – our employers no less – are fussing with fashionable luggage they can be seen with in public; with airline tickets, gun paperwork; finding the ‘correct’ color of clothing and pants that don’t make them look too… buying boots that are in style… meanwhile the men and women on the Dark Continent are hard at work.
Wood needs to be fetched – and only the hardest wood will do on a safari so that the embers burn longer to delight the story tellers and to use to braai the protein resulting from the hunt. This wood is not easily chopped. It is broken by sheer force with a blunt ax and pure manpower. Roads need to be opened, potholes filled, picnic spots identified, water points checked – all while seeking for signs of that animal that is on the next hunting permit.
In those far-flung areas, the local store has warm beer, cheap high-sugar fruity concentrate (for fruit juice it is not), and basic starches. There’s sugar, tea and chicory coffee. No fillet of beef, prawns, escargot, fine wine, whipping cream, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables. No cleaning chemicals, paraffin, spare tent zippers, or uniforms. Nor is there enough water – as much as 15 gallons of bottled water is consumed in a single safari day. All this needs to be purchased and trucked in, while making sure the frozen stuff stays frozen, and that which cannot freeze must at least stay cold.
Vehicles need to be cleaned, serviced and checked for any issues, for they cannot break down in the field. The fuel, oil, spare tires and parts and more need to be on hand, as well as someone who knows what they are doing with them. Torn seats must be stitched and polished in expectation of the coming safari.
And where will clients stay? Tents are carefully inspected for tears. Furniture is carried out and sunned if too long under roof, and buffed and polished. Mattresses are turned, lights checked, plugs too. And that bathroom, throne and all, scrubbed to a mirror finish.
Cutlery, crockery, glasses and more – all inspected for cracks and chips.
And the kitchen: clean and neat and tidy to prepare fine dining in the remotest of remote places. The fridges and freezers filled with food to be prepared to excite a hungry palate.
Backstage is set to process the bounties of the hunt: concrete slabs cleaned, pulleys ready, and tons of coarse salt. A cage to keep everything safe, with labels to mark to whom and to where trophies need to go.
And all of this needs a source of power, either by the sun or with fossil fuels – one being more expensive and the other a logistical nightmare.
Once the stage is set, the curtain closed, ice stocked up, the troupe ready and the camp ‘just so’ it is time for the main event and for the curtain to open.
Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht