Don Jr and the Beach Boys are killing it

Dear Safari Club International,

I just wanted to wish you well for your annual trophy hunting bonanza that kicked off in Reno, Nevada, today.

Thousands of hunters from around the world are there. Hang on. If all the hunters are in Reno, who the hell is shooting the animals? Maybe a four-day jamboree isn’t such a good idea after all. Word will get out in the animal kingdom that humans have given up killing for sport and in no time at all they’ll be among the houses, clogging up the roads and trying to enroll their young in our schools.

I see you have some exciting prizes lined up. I like the sound of the 14-day trip to shoot an elephant in Namibia. I lived there for a while and I can tell you that they have more elephants than they know what to do with. And you won’t need two weeks, either. A lot of them are pretty damn tame. You can hold out a chelsea bun and one will be along in a few minutes. You don’t even have to get out of your car. He’ll come right up to the window and you can shoot him in the face without spilling your drink. Maybe let him have the bun first. It would be the humane thing to do.

Buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest are on the menu in Zimbabwe. Sounds like a great package deal. But this is Zimbabwe we’re talking about. Mega shithole. Maybe throw in a meerkat as a sweetener. As if that’s not enough, you’re also offering a 10-day crocodile hunt in South Africa. We have literally thousands of them sprawled around the country. They tend to be lazy and sleep a lot but can turn violent when provoked. No, wait. I’m thinking of our civil servants.

Whoa! What’s this? The big prize is a week in Alaska with Donald Trump Jr! Now you’re talking. Seven days in Sitka with the American president’s least stupid son killing as many black-tailed deer as your guns can handle. That’s gonna be more fun than watching daddy’s pee-pee tape.

Don Jr’s skills were put to the test last year when he gunned down a bunch of endangered sheep in Mongolia. Ya think he’s ready to make the leap to deer? They can be pretty ferocious when cornered. More than sheep, anyway. Oh, but this is a yacht-based hunt so I guess he’ll just be opening up when they head down to the water to drink. Good idea. Far safer. And no chance of drinks being spilled here, either.

And you even managed to get the Beach Boys to play at your party! Nothing says Good Vibrations more than getting a chance to shoot an African lion in the teeth. I see ex-band members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine have a problem with trophy hunting and now want people to stop buying Beach Boys merchandise. Bloody hippies. They obviously did way too much acid in the 60s.

Vocalist Mike Love, on the other hand, is a big fan of killing for sport. He might have love in his name, but he ain’t got none in his heart!

Everybody’s gone shootin’

Shootin’ USA!

Coming soon to a scream near you

Anyone who knows me or has read my ‘work’ will also know that if I am to be found somewhere, it’s unlikely to be in the bush shooting animals in the face for sport.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got an email this week from something called Heart of the Huntress asking if I’d be interested in sponsoring their event. I was hoping it was a reality show about women who get together and hunt rapists. It wasn’t. Heart of the Huntress is a programme where women get together and hunt animals. The ultimate game show, where there are no rules and the game dies.

The fifth series of the 13-episode show starts in October, when “the girls will meet up with Otjere Wildlife Safaris in the Omitara district in Central Namibia for an unmatched African experience with 2 special guests.”

Here’s how the email starts: “Dear Potential Sponsor.” The personal touch is always a winner. It goes on to promise that, “Each girl will work very hard to represent our sponsors and expose the Heart of the Huntress in their country, including the United States, Europe, Australia and South Africa.”

I am asked to contact Hennie van der Walt from Game & Hunt or Margaret Botha, a professional hunter from eMalahleni, for any “assistants”. I have always wanted an assistant. Two might be nice. If I could get to choose them, I might consider lending my support to this delightful project.

I had been planning on having a chilled day. Nothing more taxing than lying slack-jawed and drooling on the couch. Then this happened. I felt my loins stir. My lions. It couldn’t be ignored. Further investigation was called for.

Putting on my surgical gloves, safety goggles and biohazard suit, I clicked on their Facebook page.

I discover that “Heart of the Huntress follows 3 women hunters as they hunt all over the globe, sharing their passion for the outdoors with the world.” I know a few people who also have a passion for the outdoors, but inexplicably don’t feel the need to kill anything when they’re out there.

“The Heart of the Huntress team comprises of three strong-willed, independent women from three different continents … unified by a passion.” That passion being gunning down animals for fun.

After shooting (ha ha) in South Africa this year, the grisly production is now moving to Namibia for series 5.

The five women who will “experience the warmth and hospitality of Africa” are Christie Pisani (Australia), Donna Partridge (Australia), Margaret Botha (South Africa), Rudie de Waal (Namibia) and a “special guest” from USA/Europe.

Here’s how the show works. In each episode, one of the women will hunt an antelope using a rifle or a bow. The film crew from Wild Media Productions will capture “the grit and determination, coupled by the emotions of their new experiences, and entrenching their passion for hunting”.

Once they have washed the blood off and downed a brace of gin and tonics, they will gather around the campsite at night and chat about the day’s carnage. “We will be able to see into the heart of the huntress, to see what makes them role models for women who share their passion, or are also interested to start hunting.”

They thank Canada’s Chantelle Bartsch for being their guest hunter in series 4. She showed “an eagerness to learn and immerse herself in the experience of hunting at Phillip Bronkhorst Safaris”. This seems to suggest she was something of a novice. That’s okay. Our animals are more than happy to help amateurs who need to work on their aim. Unless, of course, they meant she was eager to learn how to perform for the camera.

Chantelle had the “unique experience” of hunting the Heart of the Huntress Impala Slam. I don’t know if that involves wrestling moves. Shoot your impala in the leg and pin him down. If he beats his paw three times on the ground, he loses.

I learn that Aussie Donna’s impala hunt with Eli van der Walt was “her hardest hunt mentally”. I’m not sure if that’s because she had to maintain a conversation with Eli or because she had an epiphany that trophy hunting was a cowardly and barbaric thing to do.

Oh, wait. Here’s the answer. “After the other 3 girls had taken all of their colour variant impala, Donna was left with the last one: the Black Impala. This meant the opportunities were few, as she could not just shoot the first Impala she saw.” A situation fraught with mental tension, indeed. By sunset on the second day, Donna was feeling the pressure. Then, like a gift from Jesus, a black impala wandered into her sights and BAM! Game over.

On the 9th of September, Margaret (who shot her first bird at five years old) is “assigned” the saddle-back impala. But Christie, who lives in Goondiwindi in the dust-bowl of Central Queensland, almost fucked it up for everyone by taking the entire day to kill her common impala. But then, at the last moment, one came along. The bullet hit the buck in the middle of the chest, went through the heart and exited behind the back of the shoulder blade, dropping him where he stood. “It was perfect.”

Marginally less than perfect for the impala, perhaps. But, as we all know, if you shoot and miss one of these common thugs, he will come after you and do you a serious mischief.

Thanks to the mad skills of the taxidermist, “everything from the posture and head position was specially designed to put the animals best qualities right into the eye of the viewer, making for a truly exceptional piece of art”. Some might argue that the animal’s best qualities were exhibited while it was still alive, but who cares what them bunny-huggers think, right? Art is in the eye of the rifle-holder.

Later, Margaret found a wildebeest standing under a shady tree. Here’s the official version: “She loves a good close stalk but when she ran out of cover, this was close enough and she dropped him on the spot with a perfect heart shot.” The wildebeest was 100m away. Tricky, even with a tripod and high-powered scope. The taxidermist “recreated this lovely pairing with Margaret’s blue wildebeest and this magnificent Golden blue wildebeest together on a pedestal mount.” Mooi skoot, Margaret. Not everyone gets to live in a house full of dead wildebeest.

“One doesn’t realize how beautiful a Golden wildebeest really is until you kneel beside him.” If he’s dead, obviously. Try kneeling next to a golden wildebeest when he’s alive. Not so beautiful.

We are asked to cast our minds back to series 1, when Donna took down a blue wildebeest after a hard day’s drinking. I beg your pardon. Hunting. The animal managed to make a 25m run for it before something called “Peregrine 220 grain projectiles” took it down. As always, the taxidermist gets a complimentary blowjob. He “made this wonderful shoulder mount, capturing the beauty of an animal not normally associated with beauty and grace”. Point taken. The blue wildebeest is normally associated with organised crime. He deserves a bullet in the teeth.

Chantelle, from Campbell River in Canada, had a lifelong dream to hunt in Africa. Fair enough. Some women dream of visiting Africa without killing anything, but each to her own. When she turned 40, her dream came true.

“The sun beetles sang as the haze on the horizon was building with the afternoon heat, just as a gemsbok walked in-between some brush. She aimed for the shoulder as her PH instructed and took the shot. Chantelle felt a strong sense of pride and respect for this life that she took.” There can be no doubt that the gemsbok felt the same. I feel such respect for my asshole neighbour that I shall kill him later tonight.

“Chantelle cannot wait to add this beautiful artwork to her collection to treasure forever. Every detail down to the smallest of neck muscles and angle of the eyes has been captured, making it look ready to jump out from the wall.” I don’t know, Chantelle. That’s some scary shit right there. If I were you, I’d shoot it again and send it to a less psychotic taxidermist.

Then there’s a post about Christie hunting her zebra. “Surprisingly the zebras contrasting stripes help them to blend quite well into the bush. And even when they are seen, they always seem to be in a hurry, galloping off through the trees at the slightest movement.” It’s almost as if zebras know they are easy targets. Quite smart for dumb animals.

This one stood apart from the herd 100 metres away, watching her “in typical curious zebra fashion”. He was probably wondering why she dressed so badly. The .270 disabused him of his critical notions. “There is no running away nor blending in for this zebra now,” gloated the writer. Curiosity killed the zebra. You basically shot a horse, Christie. A horse in pyjamas.

Donna Partridge, who hails from the back of beyond in New South Wales, had a rare opportunity to kill something with a crossbow “which is illegal to use in her area of Australia”. What? There are loads of things that will kill you in Australia. I had no idea that you weren’t allowed to kill them back. Perhaps you can’t use crossbows on refugees.

Here’s how it went down. “When this beautiful waterbuck walked up to the blind at 27 metres, she could not stop shaking with excitement, but held steady for long enough to take a perfect shot which dropped the animal within 60 metres.” Well done, Donna. You could’ve save a bullet, though. He was close enough for you to amble over and strangle him with your bare hands.

Next month, the girls are off to Namibia for series 5 and they are looking for a Special Guest Huntress. The tantalising copy reads, “Have you ever hunted with other women or wondered how awesome it would be to do so ? Are you a strong independent woman who loves to hunt with like-minded people?”

Don’t all rush.

Author flees – gets high

Trovato-mainpic

My memoir hit the bookshops last week so I left the country before anyone could read it. My publisher accused me of aberrant behaviour. Apparently the normal thing would have been to stay around and help publicise it.

Right now I’m in a stone house at the foot of a koppie on the far edge of the Namib desert. There is no fence. The people who live here don’t even bother closing their front door at night, let alone lock it. The only chance of getting stabbed is if you startle an oryx or stand on a porcupine.

It was probably a mistake to flee to the very country in which my ex-wife lives. I saw her briefly and she badgered me into giving her a copy of my book so she could see what I had written about her. It felt as if I were handing over a warrant for my own execution. Early the next morning, I drove into the desert.

When the people I was staying with offered me a free flight in a hot air balloon, I immediately suspected the ex-wife had read the chapter on our marriage and had put out a hit. My suspicions were confirmed when I discovered there would be only two other people in the balloon with me. Both looked like potential assassins. Then again, in my eyes most people look like hired killers. It’s one of the reasons I don’t go out much.

Apparently the best time to go ballooning, or get murdered, is 4.30am. I hadn’t been up so early since the army. When you get out of bed at that time, the first thought that crosses your mind is, “I want to kill someone.” Good if you’re a soldier, not so good if you’re a writer. Although I suppose you could always kill off one of your characters. Too many early mornings and it’s going to be a very short book.

An hour before sunset found me bouncing through the desert on the back of a bakkie, an icy wind flagellating my face. Riding up front were a Dutchman and a Belgian, nationalities notorious for committing all manner of heinous deeds. Moments before my eyeballs froze over, an indistinct shape lit only by starlight loomed out of the gloom. Three shadowy figures worked silently on something alarmingly big. It turned out to be the instrument that would carry me to my death.

The Belgian and Dutchman – a real one, from Holland – began fiddling with equipment. I stood to one side, hands in pockets, watching warily. Suddenly there was a deafening roar and two jets of blue and orange flame shot into the night. I almost soiled my broeks. If this was the assassination attempt, they failed miserably.

“Nice try, guys,” I said. “Better luck next time.” They ignored me and continued assembling their infernal chariot of fire. With the balloon inflated, I was ordered into the basket. It was tiny. I have seen bigger baskets carried by fat people at picnics. I was about to jump out and run out away when I looked down. The car was the size of a matchbox.

“Two thousand metres and climbing,” said the Belgian. That’s the trouble with balloons. It’s deathly quiet and there’s very little sense of motion so you don’t know if you’re going up, down or sideways. Actually, it’s only quiet when the pilot isn’t spewing giant gobs of fire into the belly of the beast.

With us in the basket were three large gas cannisters. The kind you see on the back of trucks displaying the warning, “No naked flames”. Given what was happening in that balloon, those flames should have been arrested for public indecency.

“There’s a gas leak,” the Belgian shouted. My sphincter snapped shut. “What the hell was that,” said the Dutchman. “Sphincter,” I said, pointing at my bottom. “Gas leak’s not coming from me.” And wouldn’t be, for quite some time. Not without the help of a crowbar.

We stopped going up and started going down. “Maximum velocity,” said the Belgian. “What are you going to do?” I waited for him to say, “Jump.” Just before we hit the ground, the Dutchman let fly with a double-barrelled burst of fire and we hovered an inch above the sand. Before I could get out, we were off again. Were they planning on scaring me to death? It was working, but it would take a while. Eventually it dawned on me that this was a training flight. The Dutchman was being tested on emergency procedures. I felt better after that.

A day later I got coerced into helping film a music video for a German-Namibian kwaito artist called Ees. I held a reflector board and made suggestions that everyone ignored. It was viciously hot but they fed me free beer so I couldn’t complain.

Agoraphobia kicked in after a couple of days and I fled for Windhoek, the city in which I once spent ten years, spawning a daughter and almost losing my mind. It’s spread out since I was last there. The city has the luxury of being able to sprawl in any direction it chooses, like a drunk Russian oligarch.

Where there was once a parking lot, a Hilton Hotel now stands. It appears to have been designed by the same guy who did the Berlin Wall. It was built on unstable ground and is apparently slowly sinking. I suppose they’ll just keep adding floors. Eventually, guests on the fourth floor will have to take the elevator down to their room. I imagine the view wouldn’t be much to write home about.

Overlooking the city is a vulgar monolith decorated in a shocking shade of gold. It’s the independence memorial museum. It was completed three years ago and has yet to open. Korean efficiency and Namibian planning is not a good combination. The worker ants shipped in from Pyongyang must have put it up overnight because when someone from the council came around in the morning, they discovered there was no way to get an exhibit larger than an AK-47 into the building.

The statue of a Germany genocidal maniac on a horse is gone. In its place is a towering bronze of Swapo ringleader and Namibia’s first democratic president, Sam Nujoma. He stares out over the city, a copy of my book clutched in his right hand.

Trovato-inset

I left before Windhoek could suck my soul dry. Hosea Kutako Airport falls somewhere between a hanger and an abattoir. People mill about like doomed livestock, fear and confusion etched on their faces as they realise there is only one departure lounge consisting of a duty free shop more expensive than Edgars and a couple of tourist shops selling wooden giraffes and stuffed animals that cost almost the same as the real ones.

There is one bar staffed by three slow, hostile women wearing hairnets. Namibia’s entire service industry is staffed by slow, hostile people. Not all of them wear hairnets.

Passengers are expected to remove their shoes and put them through the X-ray machine. Has nobody told them that Osama’s dead?

I almost missed my flight because the time on my laptop said it was 2.45. I thought I still had three hours to go. It turned out I was looking at the remaining battery life, not the clock.

The waitress brought a beer to my table, made deliberate eye-contact and said, “That’s your fourth.” I felt like I owed her some sort of explanation, or at the very least a reassurance that my pace generally slowed down after the first four. Or so.

Namibia has a population of two million people. Nine of them drink moderately. The rest hit it hard. I didn’t understand what her problem was. Maybe she didn’t have a problem. Maybe I did.

Anway. I discovered the worst place in the world – the smoking cubicle at Namibia’s airport. It’s a perspex box designed to accommodate no more than three people. I saw six men go in there. Only four came out.

 

* The Memoirs of Ben Trovato is published by Panmacmillan and is available online and at bookstores countrywide.

 

Gang banging at Home Affairs

I can’t get out of Cape Town because I am wrapped in an electric blanket which is plugged into a 30m extension cord. It’s the only way I can leave the bed and get to the beer in the fridge without hypothermia setting in. I’m hoping the weather will warm up enough for me to make a run for the airport. I need to get closer to the equator.

I know someone who knows someone who has a house in Mozambique and I’m thinking of holing up there for the rest of winter. If nights turn nippy, I shall toss a fresh poacher on the fire and open another bottle of Tipo Tinto rum.

I must be one of the few white South Africans crazy enough not to be in possession of a valid passport. Much like me, my instincts for self-preservation could do with some work. The prospect of having to go to home affairs sent rivulets of fear trickling from my pores, shorting my electric blanket and shocking my ass. It wasn’t the first time my ass had been shocked. The things it has seen. But let’s not getting into that now.

The nearest home affairs office was in Wynberg. Only in the Western Cape would you find a suburb  called Wine Mountain. It’s gone now, of course. But many of the locals still show signs of having contributed towards flattening that particular mountain.

I was surprised to see that the department had modernised its operations. In the old days, you would have to use a machete to hack your way through mobs of screaming Somalis and bribe-hungry freelancers. Now, you are given a number. Home affairs has become one of the numbers gangs. I joined the 1 028s. We kill time.

I was relieved to see that the personnel hadn’t been upgraded. We South Africans can’t take too much change all at once. Home affairs staff still have all the charm and charisma of your basic agricultural implement.

The seats were stainless steel. The message was clear. Don’t make yourself comfortable. This is not the Ecuadorean embassy and you’re not Julian Assange.

The countdown began. I had 45 shifty-eyed desperadoes in front of me. Some failed to report when their numbers were called. Are there people out there who go to home affairs, take a number and then go back home? As far as initiation rituals go, that’s pretty damn hardcore.

There wasn’t much to look at. Posters saying do this, notices saying don’t do that. Suicide notes scribbled in Swahili. And, on the wall, four big photographs in frames edged with guilt. I recognised Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe, but not the other two. Friends or family, I suppose.

Eventually my number was called. I pulled my jeans low and sauntered up to the counter.

“Yo,” I said. “I be representin’ the 1028 massive.” I pushed my form across the counter and folded my arms. The clerk had wires coming out of the back of her head and an SABS stamp on her forehead. Her upper lip twitched. She glanced at my form, then shoved it back to me. Her index finger stabbed at a section I had missed. She made some kind of metallic hissing noise. She sounded a bit like my electric blanket.

The section asked if I had ever held citizenship of another country. Sure, I had. But not a real country. Not like Spain or America. I had been a citizen of Namibia a long time ago. I don’t know what came over me, but I ticked the “Yes” box.

This was met with a rattling sigh and a shaking of the head. I mentally smacked myself across my stupid truth-telling face. “You were a citizen of another country?” She looked at me as if I were personally responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

I started to explain. “Comrade,” I said, “Namibia was a South African possession.” That was my second mistake. Her training had clearly failed to include certain elements of history, but she recognised words like possession. Drugs can be in your possession. You can be possessed by the devil. It’s a bad word in the lexicon of the law.

Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head to one side, like a sniffer dog.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I took Namibian citizenship at independence because you weren’t allowed to hold both. I was born and raised in Durban. I only went to Namibia to help free it from the clutches of the apartheid regime. I got my South African citizenship back in 1996.” I had my expired passport in one hand and my ID book in the other. I held them up, stupidly thinking that would be proof enough of which country I belonged to.

Unmoved by my contribution to liberating Africa’s last colony, she said, “Where is your letter?” Apparently home affairs gave me a letter seventeen years ago. I explained that I had lived at 38 different addresses since then, and that I lost important documents on a weekly basis.

The only thing I had done wrong was to tell the truth on the form. “I should be awarded the Order of the goddamn Baobab!” I shouted, banging my fist on the counter. “If it weren’t for me, we’d all be speaking Russian today. I am a citizen of this filthy country and I demand that you …” She looked at a camera mounted on the ceiling and nodded. I grabbed my passport back and ran away.

Twenty minutes later, I was inside the home affairs office in central Cape Town. I joined another numbers gang. This time, the 2 327s. I wanted to kill a lot more than time.

“Go into the main hall and wait,” said a man with the social skills of a combine harvester. If there was a sign saying, “Main Hall”, it must have been written on a postage stamp and stuck on a piece of chewing gum underneath his table. I bent down and had a look. Nope. Just the chewing gum. “And the Main Hall is where exactly?” A look of irritation crossed his face. It might equally have been a look of unrequited love. Or hunger. Or wind. I expect he only had one look. He also only had one method of dispensing directions. A jerk of the head. Hand signals probably required additional training. Perhaps he had signed up for the course and was waiting for his number to be called. He jerked his head to the left a couple of times. But then he jerked it to the right. I wasn’t sure if he was over-correcting or had Parkinson’s. I jerked my head to the left, he shook his. He jerked his head to the right, I nodded. We were developing quite a rapport.

The car guards, the crying babies, the Chinese immigrants. They were all there, sitting on their stainless steel chairs, waiting patiently like extras in a movie called Dashed Expectations.

I was an older, wiser man by the time my number came up. I lied on my form, paid my money, had my fingerprints taken and got the hell out of there. The truth? Don’t bother. Home affairs can’t handle the truth.