As part of our Great Women in Travel series, we spoke with Angel Vendeline Namshali, the Serengeti’s first female Tanzanian safari lodge manager and the head of Dunia Camp, an all-female-run safari lodge in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Tell us about your work and role at Dunia Camp.
I’ve been working as the manager of Asilia’s Dunia Camp, a safari lodge in the Serengeti, for the the past four years. My role is to ensure that the camp facilities, activities, and staff work together in a smooth, safe, and harmonious manner to ensure that guests enjoy their stay.
What inspired you to become a safari camp manager?
Working with Asilia has given me an opportunity to serve the community and to be a good conservator for our environment. I would have loved to have gone to university, but never had the chance. I won a scholarship to secondary school and was selected to go to university, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me. There were six children in our family. My dad sold a cow to try to raise the funds, but he also needed to pay school fees for my brothers. I cried for weeks when I found out I couldn’t go because I had always wanted to be a doctor. A helpful cousin recognized my energy and drive and was able to get me a job at a hotel where I was put in charge of sorting the linen cupboard. It wasn’t long before my supervisors spotted my ambitious nature and I was promoted to a position in reception. From there I was able to move up to management roles.
What does a typical day look like for you at Dunia Camp?
I usually wake up early in the morning. The exact time depends on the wake-up call for our guests. During the first half of my day, I start off by making my way around the camp to ensure everything is in order and the staff are ready to serve breakfast before our guests leave for the game drive. Then I sit with the head of each department for a short briefing to discuss how things went yesterday and make our plans for the day. We talk about who is arriving and if they’ll be joining us for lunch or dinner. We go over dietary requirements, drink preferences, dislikes, disabilities we may need to take into account, and other important notes. We read through the feedback of departing guests to get a sense of what they think went well and where we might need to improve. From there, I’ll take time to compliment our staff members who did especially well the previous day and I will do my daily reports, emails, and any other office work that might need tending to, like ordering food and drinks for our guests. Afterwards, I’ll spend time checking each of the guest tents to make sure they are tidy and ready for the guests to return. In the evening, I welcome guests back from their game drives and usually host them at the fireplace or dinner table for a communal meal to end the day.
Of all the Serengeti lodges and camps, Dunia Camp is the only one run by a team of women. How did that come about?
I was the only woman working as a camp manager in Tanzania, and we thought hiring an all-female staff could be a great way to empower other women and give them the opportunity to work in this kind of environment. We operate the same way any other camp does. We just happen to be women.
What are your biggest challenges running a camp in the Serengeti?
There are challenges for sure, most of which come from the environment around us, like animals on the walking path at night, a fire from outside the camp, or cyclones blowing through the front of tents. Our staff is trained to deal with unusual incidents like these. As a women-led camp, we sometimes encounter guides who are not respectful of our staff and the knowledge we have, and I’ll have to give them a warning or bring it up with our head office.
What is most rewarding about your job?
Our guests come from all over the world, and there is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with them and learning about their lives.
What advice would you give a girl or woman who wants to break into a male-dominated role or industry?
You must have a strong sense of determination. Be ready to face challenges and have confidence in yourself. Nothing is too difficult if you give your heart a chance to do it.
What is the craziest thing that has happened on your watch as camp manager?
An elephant made his way into our vegetable tent and ate everything. I was screaming and banging on the tent, but he wouldn’t come out until he was finished. The next day I had to make local dishes for all of our guests. Luckily, they really enjoyed the food.
Where do you find travel inspiration?
Our guests, who have often seen a lot of the world and are always willing to share their stories when they visit.
Speed Round of Favorites
Dying to visit: Australia — for the kangaroos. I also want to meet members of the aboriginal population.
Bizarre travel rituals: I’m always keeping tabs on my passport. I’ve lost it before and it was a huge pain to replace.
Always in carry-on: My little camera for taking photos of funny things I see and hotels I visit. I’m always looking at how other hotels set up their rooms.
See it all or take it easy? Take it easy.
Drive or be driven? I love being driven.
Travel hero: I really admire one of our repeat guests, Debbie Odom, who visits our camp twice a year from Florida. She’s all about nature, is never complicated, and likes to live in the moment. I really admire these qualities. Bas Hochstenbach is another. He is one of the partners in Asilia and my mentor. He has a nice, easy-going temperament and is always happy to answer my questions and show me how to do things. Most importantly, he is a great advisor.
Funniest thing seen at Dunia Camp: One time a honeymoon couple “killed” a water bottle in their bed with a spear. They thought it was an animal that had broken into their tent.
My favorite hotel is: Matemwe Lodge in Zanzibar. It’s close to the Indian Ocean with amazing views. Each chalet has private butler service, which is always a nice amenity.
Favorite travel memory: Seeing snow for the first time. I was 29 years old when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It took five days to go up and one day to go down. We only saw the snow for about a half hour, but I had never seen it before (or since) and will always remember that moment.
One place you always tell people to go in Tanzania: I have two. If they’re staying in the Northern Serengeti, I always recommend visiting the Mara River for the wildebeest crossing. There are so many of them all at once, it’s a pretty spectacular sight to see. The second is Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania. The landscape is incredible and there are so many animals to be seen, like giraffes, elephants, and lions, because there aren’t that many camps down there.
I travel for the lessons. I always learn something new when I travel — whether it’s about the way people speak and eat or how they see the world.