Header image by @brendon_white_
Header image by @brendon_white_
When I was the Lodge Manager at &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, this is a letter that I wrote to my family all those years ago…..
It has been said that a person attracts their worst fears in order to face them and deal with them. Well, that certainly proved to be the case both for myself and two of our guests.
They checked in a few days ago, their first camp on their first trip to Africa. On check in they mentioned that they were terrified of snakes and did we have them at Grumeti?
I told them that we did indeed have snakes in Africa and that unfortunately our camp was known for having the odd one here or there – understatement of the year! They instantly made me promise that snakes could not get into their tent. Considering that the odds of this happening are 1,000,000 to 1, I made the promise that we would do our best and they settled into life at Grumeti albeit with some rolled up towels at the front entrance and shower to stop all the gaps…
Meanwhile, I have been suffering from an irrational fear of finding a big black snake under my bed. This paranoia started when I got malaria, as one tends to have very vivid, horrible nightmares during a malaria induced fever. I had been checking under my bed every night since the nightmares started and to this day, I often wake up in a sweat after a dreamland encounter with a big black snake.
Our lovely guests were spending three nights with us. The first two went without a hitch and they were having a wonderful stay with us. However, on the morning of the third day, things went horribly wrong. After breakfast Ed went back to his tent, and decided to go to the toilet. The next moment I heard a blood curdling yell:
“Karen, Karen – there is a *@!!@* enormous snake in our toilet – help, help”.
Oh, GREAT – IT HAD TO BE THEM!
I thought that it would probably be a harmless snake, so I casually picked up the grab stick and made my way to Ed and Clark’s tent. Ed had turned a lighter shade of pale and Clark was yelling ‘I thought snakes couldn’t get into the tent!!!”. Trust me to open my big mouth!
I walked into the toilet and couldn’t see any snake. “It’s in the toilet bowl”, yelled Ed from outside the tent. I lifted the seat and was greeted by the raised head of a Black Spitting Cobra so big that the entire bowl was filled to the rim with shiny, black coils! I slammed the lid back down and leapt backwards – I would need help with this one.
A number of staff were milling about, but they quickly vanished into thin air as I turned around. I called for Robert, one of our rangers, who had made the error of telling me one day that he had worked in a snake park. It was time to let his expertise come into play.
So it was left to Robert and me; and a better comedy you could not have hoped to see. We lifted the toilet lid, to be greeted by a cobra head raised and waiting. We quickly dropped the lid and jumped back. Robert made an announcement: “Yes that is definitely a snake!” This broke the ice and everyone collapsed with laughter. I quickly sent out our head ranger to pacify Clark and Ed and to tell them that the snake must have come up through the plumbing in pursuit of a frog. In the meantime Robert and I were left to be the heroes as no one else was going to do it, and the camp was full – no chance I could just move them (or blow up the toilet!).
Our tents are dark at the best of times – try putting sunglasses on. I handed Robert mine and borrowed a pair from a guest. Of course, it should have been the other way around considering mine are prescription glasses. Poor Robert! I found a torch and a stick to lift the seat up with – the idea being that I would shine the torch on the snake and Robert would grab it with the grab stick. I lifted the toilet seat a crack (which is terrifying when you know what is lurking underneath) and shone the torch on our angry foe. Robert pushed the grab stick forward. The snake struck out and Robert closed the grab stick and then began yelling like a madman and giggling uncontrollably. That is when I realised that he had never done this before and was as nervous as I was. He had managed to catch it around the body; which is no good as the business end is still able to work. I told him to let go and I quickly dropped the lid.
We both got the giggles. Nerves as well as the whole situation suddenly dawned on us. All I could think about was how the situation could have been worse if that snake had latched onto Ed’s anatomy! We finally pulled ourselves together and went in for another try. By now all the guests had gathered round and we were being filmed. I told them to go out as the snake may get free and bite them! Truth be told, I didn’t want anyone seeing just how nervous I was. One guest didn’t leave, so this is all on film – finally I am a star.
Again I lifted the lid slightly and this time Robert caught him neatly behind his head. Now the next problem arose. The snake was so big that Robert could not pull it out of the toilet. It had hooked itself under the rim and was hanging on with all its might – a snake that size has enormous strength. Robert looked at me and said’ “you are going to have to pick up the tail and middle!” My heart sank – “you’ve got to be kidding!” “Sorry, Karen, I cannot get it out!” Wasn’t this just turning into the day from hell?
At this point, you see me on film, darting my hand in and out the toilet bowl while I was plucking up the courage and letting some choice expletives go. All the rules about not swearing in front of guests went out of the window. I grabbed the tail and the middle and began pulling it out. It was still too strong, and hung on. I managed to pull it out after I put my foot on the edge of the toilet and pulled really hard.
Now began the worst walk of my life. Robert had the business end and I had the tail end and the middle. It takes quite a lot of self-control not to let go and run. Its head was the size of a marshmallow Easter egg and I knew that if Robert tripped and fell, I would face the full fury of those fangs in a flash. I have never had to trust Robert with my life before…I prayed he did not have any grudges I was unaware of….
Finally we let it go and all was well that ends well. Clark & Ed were fed a few strong whiskeys and by the time they checked out the next day, they had become legends. They have even promised to come back in a few months’ time and I have to say they were such great fun, I cannot wait to see them again, but I hope that they have no irrational fears about lions…..
I am not so sure about confronting one’s fears; however, I am now somewhat of a legend amongst the staff. They now call me Mama Nyoka (Mother Snake!).
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