Karl-Heinz Gimpel, owner of Crocodile Camp Safaris and Croc Camp’s well known bar and restaurant on the Thamalakane River, followed me to our Water Africa home one day in 1996 to inform me that he wanted Sheila to come and work for him as an Operations Manager. My jaw dropped. But much as I told him that that was not going to happen, Karl-Heinz was determined to offer the job to her.
It is not often that when offered a job, the subject tells her employer-to-be that he must be bloody crazy and still get the job. Karl-Heinz insisted that she was hard-working and totally honest, the two qualities that he was looking for. The rest would be taught to her, he said. His persistence finally paid off, and with a whole load of misgivings, she accepted.
The “rest to be taught to her” bit was the problem. The girl whose post she was to take, and who was supposed to teach Sheila what to do, was heading for some sort of breakdown. Between bashing her head on the table and muttering “I don’t know what to tell you”, no teaching happened. It was left to Charles and Kenneth, the senior black staff, to fill in.
The job involved making sure that the mobile safaris and the camps in the Delta were issued the correct supplies in sufficient quantities on time, shopping in Maun for these supplies, and taking guests to and from Maun Airport to catch flights either into and out of Botswana, or into and out of the Okavango Swamps.
Sheila felt that it had been unfair that Kenneth had not been promoted to her position as most of what she learned came from him. Perhaps the lack of a driving license was the problem.
One Sunday, four young well-built Dutchmen needed a lift to the Airport to catch their flight. Sheila was the only one there to do so, but the keys to all the safari vehicles were missing, except for those of a battered old Cruiser used for rough work. Sheila exploded with some fruity language that left the Dutchmen chuckling. There was not enough room for them as well as their luggage.
Their leader, a handsome round-faced blond fellow in his late twenties, suggested that they use her own Nissan 1400 half-tonner as well as the Cruiser, which solved the problem. Sensible, accommodating and cheerful. Sheila was impressed. Some of the guests had been arrogant and rude, which she did not suffer gladly.
George van Meer, the Croc Camp manager at the time, also a Hollander, later told Sheila that the man in question was the Crown Prince of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander.