Out of Africa
Going from automobile mechanic to certified safari guide is quite a feat. Add being a single mother with a child to put through school, and you start to get an idea of what Rose Jere has accomplished. Usually when we think of safari guides we think of khaki, guns, lions and well, men. It’s not that the wardrobe or the animals have changed, but Jere changed the stereotypical image of leader of the pack.
Jere was born in Lundazi Province, in the eastern part of Zambia. Although the area is not rich in game, she had an interest in wildlife early on and knew somehow, someday she would do a “man’s job.” While most of the women in her area followed a set tradition, marrying early, staying at home and caring for their children, Rose found herself swimming upstream, breaking barriers and smashing traditions. Her father, a teacher, encouraged her to make her own unique path. In 1996, she did so by qualifying as an auto mechanic—she was the only woman in her entire graduating class. When her dream job as a mechanic wasn’t available, she settled for her second goal—to be a safari guide.
She chose to work for the Kapani Lodge, one of the top safari lodges in Africa. The only problem: According to Kapani regulation, she had to find a way to work at the lodge so that she could reach her objective. The job of housekeeper was the only position open, and so, she became a housekeeper. After she finished her strenuous day job, Rose worked extra hours studying and assisting drives at night. Her fellow Kapani guides became so impressed with her ambition and drive that they chipped in to help with her English, her driving skills and her knowledge of all the birds and animals in the area.
Last May, she passed a written test and scored 100 percent on her mechanic’s exam and first-aid test. The physical exam that followed was even more daunting. Candidates are tested by three Grade One safari guides on their knowledge of all things African: from birdcalls and vegetation to tracking and interpreting animal behavior. Most importantly, she had to communicate these skills to the guests at the lodge. Rose passed all these tests and entered into a world most men, and women, only dream of. Even after five years of grueling work and dedication, her reaction is modest. “I am only just starting to learn,” she says. “And I will never stop studying and improving.”
Even after passing her exams and joining the ranks of the safari elite, Rose continues to face difficulties because of biased perceptions of black women and their place in the bush. Even though she’s a fully qualified guide, some guests, and even some other guides, are doubtful about her expertise. Many choose to believe that a black woman does not have the ability to make judgments, manage groups and understand Mother Nature. Regardless of the frequent attempts to undermine her confidence, Rose continues to meet the challenge and rise above the status quo, redefining power and leadership in her chosen field.