The regional heads workshop cum retreat was slated for Kenya this time round. This prestigious annual affair is a meticulously planned, highly stressful, cannot-afford-to-blunder event, that is the pride and bane of whichever country director is playing host. After years of being organized in great cities in Europe and the Middle East, the show was coming to Kenya.
Working at the East African branch of a multinational company there’s always a sense that our colleagues across the oceans are covertly questioning our ability to perform and deliver to their level. Well one of the best way to outdo the grand hotels, cutting-edge conference rooms and splendid dinner settings of more progressive countries is to leverage on the unique and captivating qualities of ‘Destination Kenya.’
“We’ll take it out of the city and put in the bush!” It was during the tenth or fifteenth meeting to review possible venues for the workshop that our Director hit upon this idea. Very ingenious fellow, our boss is; ingenious to the point of lunacy. He had that all too familiar look in his eye that we all knew meant there was no turning back. On and on he went about canvas tents and campfires and zebra steak dinners. Eventually the leadership committee struck middle ground with him. A luxury, tented safari camp in the Maasai Mara national reserve, complete with electricity, hot showers and fluffy, white duvets; where meals were served indoors and the zebras grazed outdoors – as opposed to embellishing the bone china dinner plates.
Thereafter followed several hectic weeks of planning the finer details; selecting an exclusive safari camp, flight bookings, dinner menus, the workshop programme, AV and IT set ups, executive gifts, spouses’ names and their food allergies, etc. All too soon the workshop was virtually upon us.
The regional heads and their fashionably attired wives spent the first night at a five-star hotel in the city of Nairobi followed by a morning excursion around the city and the not-to-be-missed craft market. They then took the afternoon, hour long flight to the Mara. By this time business suites and couture blouses had been exchanged for khakis and bush hats – fashionable ones, of course. Several Toyota Land Cruisers, specially outfitted for bush driving and game view, lined the airstrip awaiting the guests. At the safari camp, smiling-faced staff proffered warm handshakes and cool beverages to the new arrivals.
Thereafter came three days of intense meetings and deliberations in the midst of attentive camp service and surrounded by spectacular, natural wilderness. There were sumptuous breakfast spreads, tailored lunches, and divine dinners around a bonfire facing the star-speckled African night. For the very early risers, a warming cup of hot chocolate prefaced the chilly morning game drive. This is the best time to view the wildlife in plenty, when herds of antelopes, buffalo and gazelle are nibbling on the dew covered grasses and it’s still cool enough for the cats (lion, leopard and cheetah) to contemplate hunting.
The afternoon sessions were the hardest ones, particularly after a lavish lunch and if the presenter happened to be that mono-toned fellow out of Dubai… or was he from the London office? His voice matched the incessant buzzing of cicadas outside. These bugs are about the only creatures that relish the hot mid-afternoon when the cats are hiding away in the bush, panting for dear life, and the antelopes stand motionless under shady trees. The workshop delegates cast sleepy eyes upon the yellow-green savannas, wishing they could join their wives whiling the time away at the poolside or sneaking an afternoon siesta on cool, linen sheets.
Evening time and everyone came to life again. After refreshing hot showers and sun-downer cocktails by the nearby river, all sat down to grand, multiple course meal perfectly paired with excellent wines.
The third evening brought about the ‘detention at the dinner table’ delivered by the residents (wildlife, of course) as only they can manage. From the candle-light dining area, the guests observed huge, hulking figures ambling across the dark lawn of the camp. One of the creatures blew a trumpet-like snort. “Hippos!” declared the camp manager. These massive, semi-aquatic herbivores emerge daily from the river and graze mostly at night. Occasionally they take a liking to the lawns of the safari camp.
Well anybody who had any plans for an early night was sorely disappointed. There was no crossing back to bedrooms, even escorted by an armed camp guard, as long as river horses were munching outside. Hippos kill more people in Africa than does any other animal. Consequently, the post-dinner drinks and tales stretched long into night. At one point it was hard to tell who was laughing louder — the company executives or the cackling hyenas in the dark night beyond.
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