Sunday, December 15

The Reluctant Camper

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The concept of picnics and camping have always sent chills down Claire’s spine, however, having recently moved to Africa, on realising the cost of local lodges and shocked by the frequent bomb blasts in the city, Claire realises that her refusal to pack up a tent makes out-of-town excursions extremely rare, so she has decided to bite the proverbial bullet.

Fortunately Claire, her husband Keith and their three boys have been invited to join a camping adventure with seasoned experts, Bruce and Jenny, whose camping standards can be happily likened to those of professional white-Kenyan safari guides. The fact that Bruce owns a camping ‘trailer’ that he designed himself, a Bloody Mary ‘kit’ and promises to organise hot showers for all was enough to convince Claire after a moment of weakness at the Country Club members’ bar.

The trip does not bode well when a shoeless five year old Ben emits a blood curdling scream having stepped on a thorn in the garden. He weeps and Claire applies a plaster having been dragged away from mixing tuna mayonnaise, boiling eggs and frying sausages for the picnic. If there are such perils in her own garden then what dangers lie in wait in the African bush? Meanwhile Keith attempts to pack the car in light drizzle. His sense of humour deserts him when he realises that, with the best will in the world, the Prado is not going to accommodate five foam mattresses, a six man tent, five suitcases, drinking water, washing water, a gas stove, firewood and three cool boxes, without a fight. He turns to wonder if there is anything left in the house at all meanwhile items to be packed are fanned out over the tarmac drive and slowly getting wet.

An hour after their hoped for departure time, all five family members are strapped into the car. Claire mutters something about the gas stove looking precarious over Ben’s toddler car seat. Unspeaking, Keith reverses, narrowly missing the dog, wipers swishing, using side mirrors only.

No sooner than the family has driven out of their compound, pleas for Maryland cookies and sweets pipe up from the back seat. When calls for food are denied, the boys scuffle about in their rucksacks searching for a movie and demanding a dvd be played. All this activity takes place before even reaching the bottom of their road. Stress levels are high. Claire’s legs are contorted around last minute additions of wash bags, in-car snacks, bottles of water and a well stocked first aid kit. Keith seems distracted as he fiddles with dashboard controls then attempts to plug in his iphone. The car drifts perilously close to the unfinished tarmac edge of the road and Claire grips the door with white knuckles.

After four hours, wee stops ‘en plein air’, a near miss with a wandering goat, too many police road blocks to count and a spilt thermos of coffee, the boys are bouncing off the walls. Sadly, the dvd player turned out to have a flat battery early on. There is a long negotiation at the Tsavo park gate made overly complicated by the fact that Keith has forgotten to preload their Kenya Wildlife Service entry cards with credit, so it is with near hysterical relief that the family fall out of the car at ‘camping spot’ in the national park.

Thankfully Bruce and Jenny are already in situ. The camping trailer is unpacked and seems beautifully organised. Bruce stands over his Weber, expertly frying sausages with a Tusker in hand, while Jenny sets up a couple of camp chairs, pulling two glasses and some chilled white wine out of her safari wine cooler. There are even cubes of ice.

Claire watches mute as Bruce soon launches into offering Keith unsolicited advice on where best to erect their family tent. Keith bristles. There’s a question mark over the presence of wild animals, the long-drop loos are a horror to behold and there appears to be no running water but as the boys run wild with their friends over the scrubby dirt, happily climbing anthills. Claire takes her first sip of wine and feels that she’s going to survive this; just as long she stays in a semi-inebriated state. Expat Stereotypes are satirical short stories that first appeared in The Telegraph Newspaper

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