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Istan the canon

Cleary-Camp — 2000-07-03

After Petro is seen off and the sound of his eight cylinder jeep engine is barely audible in the distance, it is time for us to tend to the camels. Tanja and I walk across the soaked, mushy ground at the edge of the bush, where we have been camped now for 18 days. It is a triangular piece of land on the west side of which runs the road to Paynes Find. The road to Beacon runs along the north end and to the west lies huge farmland. For reasons still unknown to us, this patch of vegetation has not been ploughed into farmland and provides excellent food for our animals. Nevertheless, even the largest pantry is empty at some stage and it is now definitely time for us to leave Cleary. The juicy grass between the bushes has been eaten down days before hand and the camels have even started nibbling on some of the bushes. Every morning and evening we tie the animals to another place so that they can munch away whenever they want to. We have begun bringing them back to a spot nearby our tents in the evenings now so that they are within earshot at night. The cow bells around their necks tell us at night whether they are sleeping, eating or pulling on the leg rope which binds them to a tree. Of course it’s not always easy to find a good feeding spot for each camel and Tanja and I discuss where to put them every time. ‘This looks like a good spot!’ Tanja calls ‘But they were there last night, I think it’s better over there’ I answer ’That’s too far from the tent, let’s check out that area over near Petro’s Jeep!’ ‘Okay, if you say so’ I relent.

Istan is, as usual, in a bad mood and doesn’t want to let me catch him. ‘Istan! Istan! Come here now!!’ I call and race after him as he takes to open land. I quickly grab the leg rope, glide it through the ring on his halter and pull him after me. Istan resists, but with a few gentle words, a bit of swearing and a lot of arguing I finally get him to where I want him. Eventually he falls into line behind the other camels. We herd our boys from point A to B in the familiar fashion, in this case Tanja grabs the lead camels, Goola and Sebastian, and walks them on the line in the desired direction. Camels are gregarious animals and Istan, Jafar and Hardie normally follow their companions, so Tanja then lets Goola and Sebastian go and I stay in the rear to keep them all together. The whole process usually takes about an hour in order for the animals to get their fill before we reach our destination. ‘Quick, bring Goola back!’ Tanja calls to me while she attempts to tie Istan to a tree. This is a crucial moment as the others take the opportunity to take off into the bush in search of more food while one animal is being restrained. The tied up beast does his best, of course, to join his mates and pulls like crazy on the knot. As previously mentioned, it is very important at such a time not to get any fingers in a half finished knot as one jerk from the camel could rip it clean off. Before I can manage to bring Goola back, Istan is getting very frustrated. Tanja has a hard job keeping him tied to the tree and calls ‘Back up! Back up, Istan!’ in a strong voice in an attempt to get him back and give the rope a bit of slack. Istan doesn’t even consider it and continues to pull with all his might on his leg rope. I rush over to Tanja and give her a hand by holding onto his halter. Istan rips his big mouth open and tries to bite but I don’t let him get the better of me and give him a slap on the nose while yelling ‘Udu! Udu! Udu Istan!’ Finally he takes notice and quietens for a few moments, during which time Tanja is able to fasten his bindings. ‘Are you finished?’ I ask ‘Yes’ Tanja answers ‘His leg rope is tied!’ Carefully I let go of Istan’s halter. He is furious and rolls his eyes, snorting like a wild brumby and as usual in such situations I notice that the whites of his eyes have taken on a dark red colour. Istan, under normal circumstances a gentle animal, has reached a point again which we find very dangerous. We cannot be sure that this camel wouldn’t turn into a killer in such a state. He has tried more than once, these last few weeks, to bite Jo or I, and the rumour is that he tried to squash his previous owner under his enormous body. ’It’s alright, Istan. Your friends will be here soon, don’t get so worked up.’ I speak softly to him in a soothing voice. ‘Okay Denis! I think you can let him go now!’ Tanja calls from her kneeling position nearby the tree. I very carefully take my hand from his halter and continue to speak calmly to him. Istan snorts loudly, heaves his great head, dances to the side and then suddenly explodes forward like a ball which has just been shot out of a canon from the middle ages. He shoots past me with just centimetres to spare, not knowing that his leg rope is tied fast to the tree trunk. There’s nothing that Tanja and I can do but await the imminent disaster with gaping mouths. The leg rope snaps taut and in a fraction of a second tears the huge animals front legs are pulled out from under him. Like a misguided bomb, Istan slams neck first into the moist earth with the force of a medium earthquake. Then the poor animal falls sideways, whimpering, and we momentarily suspect he has broken his neck. ‘Oh my God!’ I call and clasp my head in both hands. We stand and stare speechlessly at our pack camel lying stock still on the ground. Before either of us can say anything more, Istan begins thrashing his four feet through the air like a wild squid. ‘The rope! We have to cut the rope!’ I roar. I’ve already pulled the knife out of it’s belt loop as Istan finds his feet. Istan is probably in shock as he stands motionlessly there and looks at me questioningly. Because I’m standing next to him, he most likely thinks I’m to blame for his misfortune. We rush to him immediately and check him for injuries. ‘I think he’s alright’ I say quietly to Tanja who is stroking Istan beside me. He is as light as a feather and lets me lead him unconditionally back to his tree. ‘I think that was an unforgettable lesson to him’ Tanja comments. ‘Hmm, I think you’re right. As of tonight he will cause no more problems. From now on he probably sees me as the giant Goliath!’ I answer with a relieved chuckle.

Day: 53

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