Kenya: A Visit to an All-Female Camp At the Serengeti

25 September 2021

When I arrive at the Seronera Airstrip in Tanzania's central Serengeti National Park, a slim woman in her mid-20s dressed in a crisp safari guide uniform is holding up a sign with my name on it. I have been on close to 50 safaris in my time, and Lailatu Wilfred Kivuyo is the first female safari guide I've ever encountered. She is one of only three female guides in the Serengeti.

With a huge infectious smile spread across her face, she grabs my luggage with ease and we set off across the dusty parking lot to the waiting jeep. Every other person in a safari guide's uniform is male, and she sticks out, drawing stares from curious tourists. I ask her if male guests are comfortable letting her carry their heavy luggage. "Initially not, but they get comfortable after a while," she says with a laugh. Propped on two pillows in the driver's seat so she can see above the windshield, we tear across the plains towards camp. Off-road driving is not allowed at the park. Whenever we come across exciting sightings such as a leopard sprawled across the branch of a sausage tree, or a reeduck crossing the river, she stops, lets me take pictures, tells me about the animal, then thanks it for being a good sport.

"Thank you giraffe!" she says to a melanated Maasai giraffe.

Arriving at Dunia Camp, I am welcomed with jubilant songs and dance like I'm Eliud Kipchoge. I notice that every last one of the staff members assembled is female. Christened 'Ladies Camp', Dunia Camp is the only entirely female run safari camp in Tanzania (or East Africa for that matter), and this is largely due to cultural reasons. I was surprised to learn that the minimum marriage age for girls in Tanzania is 14, with parental consent. As a result, some families still prioritise sending off their sons to school and marrying off daughters young in order to get dowry.

Tucked around a bonfire that evening, glass of wine and onion rings on hand, I chat to Lailatu and camp manager Siyaeli (Elly) Moshi. Lailatu was handpicked from Samba village as the first recipient of the Asilia Africa scholarship fund.

"My village is the source of Tarangire River which is what helps animals survive during the dry season. Asilia Africa thought to support and thank the villagers for being custodians of this vital water source, hence came up with the scholarship," says Lailatu. "They came to Sambwa in 2014 and asked for five youths who could go to the bush to work. We had to do interviews and I ended up being the winner."

Lailatu started off as a waitress, then a chef. "The only thing I could ask at the beginning was 'would you like red or white wine please', and now my conversation skills have drastically improved.

The programme then sponsored for her field training when Lailatu expressed interest.

The security guards were once female, but Lailatu explains that changed after some guests indicated they preferred male guards.

The ladies come to sing for us around the campfire before dinner, a beautiful rendition of Adam Salim's Malaika. We joke that being a good singer must be a prerequisite to work here.

Dunia camp goes for $270 per person sharing for East African residents, including full board accommodation, all house drinks, scheduled game drives and airport transfers. There are only eight tents, including one for families, and each is comfortably decked in muted safari chic style surrounded by acacia forest and within a major migration corridor. The sunrise from the wooden front porch of my room was spectacular.

Another highlight of my trip was a lavish surprise sunrise breakfast that the ladies set up for me right by the shores of a lake teeming with flamingos. This was followed by a full day game drive.

"I might have been a mother of five in the village right now, which was not the dream for me," says Lailatu. At 26, she is now married, but has no kids yet. Aware that getting pregnant might derail her career, she says her husband is supportive, but they're also figuring out the right time to start a family.

"I would like to inspire more women to be guides. I like to meet new people because the more you meet the more you learn. I like sharing my traditions, and I like being out because I enjoy learning about animal behaviour," she adds.

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