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The Journeyman

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We all journey through life, for it is life that presents to us a constant process of traveling from one goal onto the next. For some the journey is easy and the road map through the journey clearly defined, for others the map has images and keys missing and the journey itself is cumbersome and downright difficult.

As an African, conservationist, hunter and businessman I have learned to travel with my senses. In this culturally rich and diversified continent I have learned to use the gift of sight to see the ruby-red sunsets against the thorn tree lined horizon, I have smelled the first heavy raindrops that splatter on the sun baked earth in the late summer months and have I felt the misery that poverty and hunger can bring to the soul of all humanity once they have lost hope and the will to live. I have also experienced the emotions that laughter can bring to a country rich in eleven different languages and have seen the joy of children that run endlessly with a football at their feet, oblivious of the journey that they still have to travel through life. We live with the fickleness of nature as God has blessed this continent with abundance as well as scarcity as He has clearly defined Himself as the beacon that we have to travel toward. We have learned to use nature as well as to protect her resources for generations that have to follow.

I have used this rather long-winded opening parable to illustrate what a privilege it is to enjoy the journey of life. To a large degree we travel the journey alone and in isolation as we only have ourselves to provide the impetus to get going. In my travels abroad I have seen a similarity in how we as humans venture on the life passage as we all recognize the importance of family, community and friends in our life journey.

Some of us are however not so privilege to have a long life journey and we only experience these individuals for a fleeting moment as they drift in and out of our own lives. I am writing this short pre-journey entry about a young man I have not yet met, but who has already influenced the way that I look at life and the steps that lay ahead. This young man from a town called Manassa, Southern Colorado was sent my way through the Hunt of a Lifetime Foundation, a non-profit organization established to make the dreams of young terminally ill patients come true. Steeped in a history of success and overcoming the odds, Tina Pattison and her Foundation had to battle prejudice, disbelief and stubbornness to grant her own son, Matt his dying wish to hunt. You can follow the trails and tribulations of the Foundation on their website at I do not know to what degree Jonathan Rodriguez has been struck by his illness nor do I know of the battles that he has fought to date or the battles that he still has to face. What I do know is that in the plentiful blessings that I have received, I have also been given the opportunity to give back.

I have also been in the privileged position to have joined a young man, sponsored by the men and women behind the Foundation, previously on a journey to Africa. This young man not only caught my attention but left a lasting imprint on me. I tried to construct my thoughts down after our experience and the following is a brief extract of that experience and the journey I managed to share.

"I recently penned a few thoughts on what it takes to be a child of Africa. The thoughts and emotions were formulated away from the rhetoric of politics and race, as I deliberately avoided getting caught in a topical debate that I do not enjoy. My thoughts and emotions were rather captured by an experience in July 2004 that not only has left an imprint on my soul, but also has left me feeling a better person.

The story that I am narrating had its beginnings in a rural hospital in Greybull, Wyoming. A remarkable young man, Nick DeWitt, has been battling leukemia for the last 13 years. A hunter in soul and body, he knew the rigors of fighting for what he wants, in his case it was a basic and simplistic quest - a normal day away from the smells and sounds of an intensive care unit. Our paths were about to cross away from that hospital, and together we were to rekindle the feeling that hunt unleashes within our soul. This story is an ode to courage and triumph.

I am a child of Africa. Her mountains, open veld, savanna’s and rugged bush remain an integral part of who I am. The continent has shaped me and has left me with believing that there is a bit of Africa in every one of us. We all long to see the unspoiled, uncomplicated world where nature remains supreme. It was with this philosophy in mind that I started the Hunting Network two years ago. My business philosophy is based on a realization of the privileged position that I have to be part of one of the most misunderstood of continents on the one hand, and our ability to share our world with a number of sportsmen and hunters from all corners of the globe on the other. A few months ago I made contact with a non-profit organization called Hunt of a Lifetime. Through our initial discussions and long-distance telephone calls we talked about sharing the vision of making near-impossible dreams a reality. I was mildly surprised when I received a phone call during May 2004 in which I was asked to facilitate and arrange a hunt for a young man from Wyoming.

To me, the name Nick Dewitt did not say much, and at first he was just another client on our books. However with the first of our e-mails exchanged between Nick and myself, I came to realize that when life has dealt you a few dud cards, you need to play your hand when the cards have fallen in your favor. I came to realize that this was no ordinary young man, and after sitting down with my colleague, friend and professional hunter of the Hunting Network, Glaeser Conradie, we decided that we need to pull out all stops to make this African Safari truly a hunt of a lifetime. The wheels were set in motion and we started wheeling and dealing to get a representative package for Nick going. The odd phone call here and the cashing in on long-overdue favors resulted in a structured plains package of game that we believed would provide Nick with a taste and feel for Africa.

It was with great anticipation that we awaited the arrival of the Dewitt family into Cape Town International Airport. After the usual customs and immigration paperwork we managed to get the all settled for their first night in Africa. I met Nick at the guesthouse in the university town of Stellenbosch, and I was immediately taken back by his size. He was a small compact young man and I thought that there is no way that he could be 18 years old. I was again struck by his gentleness, sincerity and the appreciation expressed, while I kept on thinking that I was the one who had to say thank you for providing us with an opportunity to show him our world. We talked about the hunt, the animals and the small things in life, and it was with these thoughts that I sent them in the care of my colleague to the hunting concession. I cannot write about the hunt itself as I was not the one who accompanied Nick. Unfair work pressure and deadlines to get a project completed meant that my colleague had to do the hard work in the field.

As I stated in my opening line, I am a child of Africa and I know that in order to hunt the plains you need to be strong in mind and body. Nick rose to the challenge, and listening to the stories of his training on the wrestling mat, I had no illusions that he took to the African hunt with the same ease that he would face an opponent on the mat.

Hunting the Karoo you need to be sure of shot placement and distance. A good guide will be able to keep the guessing work to the minimum, but with the combination of low shrub and keen eyesight the game will maintain the advantage of the hunter. The cold winter mornings and hot midday sun all add to the mix of the hunt, Springbok used to roam the plains in numbers over one million, and choosing a big male does take time and patience. Impala on the other hand are skittish in behavior and the slightest of noises and movement will cause them to dart away from perceived danger.

We knew that this is the basis of what his memories of the hunt would be and we hoped that the challenge will be part of those memories. A telephone call during the hunt confirmed the trust that I had in Nick’s prowess in the hunt. Nick soon bagged all his trophies with the exception of a Kudu. Somehow the old master of the thorn thickets did not present an opportunity for a clean shot and we decided to let the Kudu be this time around, and rather, to focus our attention on a Black Wildebeest (Gnu). It was an inspired choice as a well-placed shot meant that Nick is now the proud owner of one of the biggest trophy bulls ever shot on the Karoo plains. We are still awaiting the official results from the Rowland Ward Guild, but judged on measurements made in the veld Nick’s trophy cabinet can be dusted to make provision for a record.

Reaching records and new highs tend to be part of his remarkable life. I could go on and on writing about him, but it would not do his life or the love of his parents any justice. I am struggling to find words that will outline my feelings as I reflect back on a memorable experience of meeting a fighter and a companion. I have four kids of my own and they are blessed with good health. Looking at Nick I realized how much I take them for granted. Nick made my think about the gift of health and for that I am grateful. He might have taken a bit of my Africa with him, but he has left a lot of him in me.

I salute you my friend.

I need to draw a concluding line in my story. As I have stated in my opening line we all journey and for some the journey is smooth and a road well traveled, for others the road has a number of obstacles. Jonathan, in advance, we are looking forward to the journey. May the road be smooth.

Leon-David Viljoen

• Hunting Elephant in Mopani •
• African Pride •
• Third time's the Charm •
• 4 Paces from Death •
• Hunting with the San •
• Terminal Medicine •
• Cure for the secondhand life •
• The Journeyman •
• When things go right •
• When things go right Part 2 •
• The hunt is over - but the memories remain •
• Silent assasins •

•  •

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