As one of the few women guides operating in East Africa, Zoe Wanjiru has been guiding tourists up some of the region’s most treacherous peaks, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya for seven years. In August 2010, she launched travel company Bush and Events Africa, which she co-owns. Peter Musa from Akilah Net spoke to her about discrimination, flirtatious guests, and professional as well as personal triumphs.
How did you decide to become a tour guide?
Tour guiding was in my blood. I don’t have a memorable experience about being a tour guide simply because I have grown into it. It came naturally, as I have always loved outdoor visits since my school years.
During weekends, I used to organize hikes to the Ngong Hills north of Nairobi and Mt. Longonot near the coveted Naivasha Plains. It is just that when I grew older, I came to realize that it can be an income-generating undertaking.
What do you love about guiding mountain hikes?
I have always loved hiking because it is therapeutic to me. So when I realized I could use an activity I truly enjoy as a source of income, I was more than elated. I’m at peace when I’m on a mountain. If it wasn’t that cold, I would live up on Mt. Kenya or Kilimanjaro!
How did you start your tour guide company?
I was employed elsewhere at first, but I started making plans to quit and launch my own tour company. I knew I would make it, as I had established a strong base among previous clients, and they were already sending referrals my way.
I resigned and started off full throttle with a lot of hope. Almost five years down the line, I couldn’t be happier. My partner is more versed with the corporate world, so he handles the team-building and conference side of the business.
What challenges do you face as a female tour guide and businesswoman?
Most people expect a tour guide to be a man, especially for mountain climbing. So when you’re a woman, most people don’t believe you will actually take them up the mountain!
Sometimes you’re looked down upon. Other times, you find clients who are more interested in wooing you and not treating you with respect, just because you’re a woman. Sometimes if you work with a crew that views you more as “the woman” and not their leader, it becomes a problem.
I’m lucky to have an amazing crew that respects me for who I am — they have no problem working with me or under my supervision. With time, I’ve also learned to always draw clear lines from the get-go — for both clients and the people I work with. They must understand why you’re there and be ready to work together with you, regardless of your gender.
Are there advantages to being a female mountain guide?
The advantage of being female is the other climbers take you as their benchmark. They think, “If Zoe can do it, why not me?” And they end up at the summit!
Please click on the link below for the full interview.