Day 7 – Thursday, June 1, 2017
We sleep in a bit today, we earned it. We had such a huge day yesterday walking and climbing rocks. We stayed up late telling stories and celebrating the old kudu bull of the Ongangasemba hills.
I decide not to go hunting today, even though the ranch needs meat. As part of their employment at Ongangasemba, the 30 workers and their families are allocated 4 kgs of meat per week, per person. That’s a lot of meat! They typically don’t butcher beef cattle to provide meat for the ranch families, they sell the beef. So it is the game animals that feed the Wilckens and their workers.
I awake to find that Kiewied and the men have killed a cow today. It had an injury, so they make an exception and take this one from the herd. The men are skinning the cow when I come around back the ranch house to their meat processing area.
The cow is hoisted up by the hind legs and is mostly skinned. I wonder for a moment, how many people in today’s society see this anymore? Very few I would guess. Which creates a conundrum that ails modern society nowadays, even in urban Africa: some people are opposed to killing cows, but they eat hot dogs.
This apparent hypocrisy enrages many ranchers and hunters. But not me. I understand this in a way. Why would urbanites be comfortable with hunting, killing, blood, guts and meat? They never see it anymore. Few folks today come from farms, growing up with the realities of life and death, meat and bone. The disconnect between people and their food is too wide for too many. We havc to work on this because it is totally unhealthy.
But there is no disconnect here at Ongangasemba. The men finish skinning the cow and expertly remove the entrails into tubs. Nothing is wasted. They open up the stomach and wash out the contents, a strong smelling bunch of green stuff, the cow’s food from this morning. The partially digested plant matter washes down the drain of the sloped concrete processing area, down a pipe, and into the garden for fertilizer. Nothing wasted.
The lungs, the heart, the liver, the stomach, the intestines, all used. And so it goes with the kudu, the oryx and the rest of the game. It is all handled with precision and respect. It is good and right and honest. Count me in.
This meat scene is no crass PR move by the hunting industry in Namibia to justify or rationalize hunting. Its just life here. Its just food and survival. Kiewied and the Wilckens aren’t making any apologies for hunting and eating meat here, nor should they. Nor should you.
But to know, you have to go. You have to be here to see it, not perched on a chair in a big city hurling criticisms from on-high. A message from the families of Ongangasemba to the crass critics of African hunting: come see it or leave us alone. Can I get an Amen?
The fact that someone like me would pay to hunt the oryx and kudu is a critical bonus. They’d be shooting game every day anyway to provide meat for everyone. When a hunter shoots it, they get cash and the meat. The extra value from the hunting is crucial to the ranch and to the workers. It is the difference between making it and not making it in this unforgiving, dry land. It’s the difference between having 15 or 30 jobs at the ranch.
And make no mistake, the Africans who work here have won the lottery. The Wilckens treat them like family. They send them for extra training. The kids get to go to school. They give the workers and their families opportunities many in Africa could only dream of. Without the cattle and without the hunting, there’d be few opportunities like that for these people. In a country with an unemployment rate well over 30%, hunting looms large for the families of Ongangasemba, black and white.
I wander into the back kitchen room. There is a walk-in cooler and in there my beautiful kudu meat is hanging, and the oryx and part of the warthog. In the main room, there are meat grinders and many racks for hanging and drying meat to make African jerky, known as biltong.
The air is so dry in Namibia, you can make jerky by just hanging it in a place with no flies. They give me a piece and it is to die for. Best I’ve had. There is just no gamey flavor with African antelope. I grab a hunk every time I go by the rack. I am a biltong junkie craving my next hit. Lord have mercy, biltong is amazing.
Back outside by the rapidly disappearing cow, Thomas, an amiable, lovely young African, is cleaning the skull and horns from my kudu. Immo arrives with a tape measure to see how long the kudu horns are. The moment of truth. Or is it?
The truth for me is that I don’t care much. The hunt for him was honest and he was a mature bull and that’s good enough for me. It was the experience of a lifetime for me to hunt the bull with Kiewied, regardless of how the bull scores. It was epic, so whatever number Immo comes up with is cool.
There are hunters whose quality of experience lives and dies with the tape measure. That is too bad, like that’s a real shame. The overemphasis of the size of game animals diminishes the experience in my view. And it can give hunters a bad name.
Polling data consistently shows most non-hunters oppose trophy hunting. But what is trophy hunting anyway? I suspect people think it means you cut off the trophy head or horns and waste the rest. I quite literally don’t know a single hunter who does that.
Hunters often keep bones, antlers or hides from the animals they hunt to remember the animal. Hunters have been doing this, and making paintings of their quarry for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a sign of respect for most of us.
Pursuing a mature animal is challenging. These older animals just happen to have larger horns. They go together. The old kudu I shot yesterday had huge horns but it is the challenge of fooling his old eyes, nose and ears that made that hunt special. I will keep the skull that Thomas is cleaning as a reminder of the old man of the hills. Am I a trophy hunter? I don’t feel like one at the moment as I am chewing on a piece of kudu biltong like it’s the antidote to something ailing me.
I watch the men process the meat till lunch, learning some new tricks, then retire to my room to do some more writing. I get restless and tired of writing around 330p. It may have been my internal San Bushman Alarm Clock going off: the animals would be starting to move around now. Kiewied in fact went out hunting on his own just now because the families need more meat. I decide to go for a jog.
In Africa, everyone talks about doing game drives, which is when folks drive through parks looking at the African animals (game). But I don’t hear much about game runs. This afternoon, I may have discovered the next big thing in safari tourism for Namibia.
I lace up my running shoes and head out for a jog. I run up the hill from the yard to the main gravel road that heads back towards the highway, back to Windhoek. When I get to the road, I stop….east or west? I check the wind. It is from the east. If I run that way, into the wind, animals won’t smell me. The sun is setting in the west. The sun at my back is a bonus because the animals in front of me will be brightly lit up by the setting sun. And the sun will be in their eyes, letting me get closer. Sweet. I head east.
I come down a high hill, and I can see for miles. It is a lovely run in the late afternoon sun. Immediately there are four warthogs on my left. Instead of running away, like they do from the truck, the trot towards me. I imagine they wonder, “what the heck is that dude doing?”. I guess they don’t see a ton of runners motoring by here wearing Lululemon like I am at the moment.
I run further and see a group of three oryx females. They too come a bit towards me.
Maybe Kiewied and I should do a jogging hunt in Lululemon getups, that would totally be a curveball the kudu would not see coming.
This might be one of the cooler jogging routes I’ve been on. There is game everywhere. I imagine my wife and her running group jogging here and smile. Except they could be worried about the leopards. It crossed my mind briefly. TIA afterall. And even though there is less than a 99.9% chance that a leopard will bother me (“so you’re saying there’s a chance?), the fact they are near here makes the jog a touch more electric. I wonder if one is seeing me run by.
I go for about 25 minutes east then decide that is far enough. I turn and not long after hear a truck honking its horn from behind me. It’s Henner and a bunch of his workers. “You are crazy”, Henner says. He is right on that count. “You better watch out for women chasing you out here alone”, he laughs and continues on. He is dead wrong on that count. If they weren’t chasing me in my teens and twenties when I had a smaller belt, it ain’t happening now!
I get back to the yard and decide to take a refreshing dip on the pool. Word spreads that the crazy Canadian is going into the pool. It is wintertime and the water is cold, so they think I am a nutbar. Namibians are a perceptive bunch. A few folks peek around the house to see my snow-white body jump in. It is cold as heck, but I don’t want to disgrace my country and admit that, so I do few laps that wouldn’t happen if nobody was looking.
As I walk back to my room, dripping cold water, I see Kiewied coming back from his afternoon solo meat hunt, empty handed. He should’ve brought his rifle and come jogging with me.
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