Posted by & filed under Maria Henson, Safari Stories.

Gasekgale “Kelly” Thebe is a crowd pleaser at Shinde and an example of someone in Botswana’s tourism industry who aspired to move up and did.

She first worked as a housekeeper in this camp when she arrived 20 years ago. She advanced to become a waitress and eventually a trainee chef. In recent years she has been the head chef, serving up anything from pork ribs to quiche to oxtail stew to granadilla cheesecake.

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During my stay she and the staff served dinner on the lawn near the lagoon under the stars with luminaria twinkling in the dark. The scene was storybook perfection, with an opening to the evening that included harmonious singing and foot stomping by the choir of staff members around the fire.

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“At night we come here to sing,” Kelly says, “to make the guests happy.”

Singing is one of her favorite activities at Shinde, as is the celebration each September 30 of Independence Day for Botswana. She makes cakes featuring the flag of Botswana, and celebrates with all the staff members, who come from different tribes and areas of the country to work here. Kelly calls them family. “When I have a problem, they talk with me. When I am sick, they can care for me. They treat me like my mother.”

Ask Kelly her favorite dish, and it is an easy answer: seswaa, pap (maize meal the consistency of polenta), and peeled and cooked roots of the water lilies. I refer to seswaa as Botswana barbecue. When she is at home, Kelly cuts beef into chunks and places the meat in water in a three-legged iron pot on the fire outdoors. Depending on the tenderness of the meat, she will cook it for up to four hours. Salt, pepper and a little vegetable oil will be the only other ingredients. Once the meat is done, Kelly pounds it into chopped barbecue consistency. Delicious!

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There might be one change once in a while at home – a change of chef. “My daughter cooks for me,” she says, pointing out that sometimes when she goes back home after cooking for all of the Shinde visitors from around the world she needs a rest. Well deserved, I would say.

Maria Henson was a guest in Ker & Downey Botswana's Shinde and once spent a sabbatical year living in beautiful Botswana