By Marianne Betts
A lot has changed for Rachel Sakara since she started out as a laundry hand at Lokuthula Lodges 25 years ago.
Rachel is one of 55 staff to receive long service awards, this month, in recognition of working for Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) for between five and 25 years.
AAT operates Lokuthula Lodges, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, The Boma – Dinner & Drum Show, and Ngoma Safari Lodge in Chobe, Botswana.
One change is that the 49-year-old mother of three has worked her way up from laundry hand to assistant housekeeper, where she supervises a team of eight bedroom hands.
Rachel was certainly relieved when another change came into play – a fence was erected between Lokuthula Lodges and Zambezi National Park, so her once regular encounters with wildlife have dwindled.
“I remember one day early in the morning a group of us were walking to work, and we were close to the entrance to Lokuthula Lodges, when we saw two leopards passing by. We all squeezed into the guard room.”
And if the leopards weren’t enough, there were always elephants.
“We used to meet elephants on the property often, they’d come in and destroy trees … they’d come within a few metres of us.”
The clientele has changed too, in the early days mostly locals – especially farmers – stayed at Lokuthula, but now it’s people from all over the world.
“Now our visitors are coming from everywhere – the United States, Australia,” she says.
“I really enjoy interacting with the guests and working with the staff. I am proud of my job, I love my job,” she says.
AAT has been a part of the Sakara family’s life for a long time.
Rachel’s husband, Farai Sakara, is a plumber at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, starting when it opened in 1994.
Cornelia Ngwenya, 48, who works with Rachel as a bedroom hand, is also celebrating 25 years on the job.
“I like chatting with guests, meeting different people and learning about cultures from other countries,” the mother of one says.
She laughs as she recalls the early days of wildlife encounters …
“There used to be a lot of buffalo here in the morning, and snakes in the lodges … they are far away now.”
While Rachel and Cornelia were the only two to receive awards for 25 years of service to AAT, four staff received awards for 20 years, four for 15 years, 29 for 10 years and 16 for five years.