- Kate Wilson

Chapter 2: A life changing friendship

My second trip to the African bush saw me living there permanently; I have now been in the South Luangwa 11 years. I am not going to lie I was terrified at first. I found it very challenging to be cut off from my family and friends. Only weeks before my life had been about dressing up in high heels and teetering around London bars. Suddenly I was learning to do my 360’s to check for elephant and buffalo while walking to work. I checked my bed for scorpions and tried not to sweat the snakes that hung from our roof. I did manage to dodge the khaki and sand colour scheme and clung to my old wardrobe of fuchsia pinks and sky blues much to Dave's bemusement!

It was during this first year that I met a wonderful friend, Abi James. Like my proposal to Dave, my friendship with Abi changed the course of my life. We hit it off instantly and could make each other cry with laughter on any given topic. She played a large part in helping me survive my first year in the bush. My first job in Zambia was Food & Beverage manager for a wonderful Safari Lodge; this role really tested me as I struggled with the concept of management. I had to learn the hard way the all-important lessons that Africa teaches you; don’t try and change things too quickly and don’t expect people to think in the same way as you. I believe these are two of the most constructive lessons I have experienced, and it took me ages to grasp them!

There were also the crazy things that happen to you in the African bush, stories that London could never prepare me for. For instance, one day I heard a quiet ‘help’ coming from the guest loos as I headed for my weekly stock take. It was so faint I wasn’t sure I had really heard it until a man fell to the ground, splintered wood all around him. He approached me pale as death with a trickle of blood running down his head. I rushed to his aid, he whispered that a snake had bitten him. My inexperience could not have been more apparent. Initially I said ‘maybe sit down so the toxin doesn’t spread through your body’ whereupon he nearly fainted with fear, I changed tactics… ‘actually come and sit at reception as I am sure you would be dead by now if it was poisonous’. Surprisingly my ‘comforting’ words did not reassure him; I persevered and organised one of the team to identify the snake. Whilst the man sat with his head in his hands waiting for the pearly gates the radio call came back ‘Reception, reception it’s a spotted bush snake, no harm done’. The relief on the guest’s face was fantastic; he walked briskly to the bar where he stayed for the rest of the day! This was one of Abi’s favourite stories; she has made it known I am the last person she wants to see after a snake bite.

Abi is an inspirational and creative soul and I always admire the way she mixes strong integrity with a gift for laughing at herself.  She had set up a small jewellery making project with local ladies in the village while in the South Luangwa. As well as teaching them new skills she funded the building of their houses and sponsored their kids through school. But she was leaving at the end of the year and so passed the project onto me. Whilst Abi leaving was devastating, the cardboard box full of beads that she passed over was the beginning of Mulberry Mongoose.

Abi now runs a beautiful company aptly named Soul and based in Cape Town. She makes ethereal jewellery hand made in Kenya. We talk regularly about our businesses, aspirations and creative journeys; not to mention laughing at the randomness of life! It’s wonderful to support each other and I am so grateful for this very special friendship.


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