Making money on the arse-end of Africa.
Dirty hippies like to listen to new-age music and watch the sun set, a beating bloody red, undulating across the serengeti, almost as red as their eyes after some of that fantastic Tanzanian weed. I should know: once, back in the old days when I was something of a spectacular vagabond, I would wax my poetic side with them and talk about all of the great things one could find in this “new place”; new to us, you know, dumping our bodies in a hostel this side of Dar Es Salaam and pretending we’re Henry Morton Fucking Stanley or something. You know, we just drop our dirty bags down and start looking for drugs, like the grand adventurers of old.
Sure, it’s all glory and great bragging rights when you finally get up off your ass and go to the next spot for the same pattern, but in those meandering blathering discussions we had over the evenings it became plainly clear of one important thing: we were all running out of money. This is when the “peace and love” types would get all apologetic and start fumbling for the Swiss bank number of their trust fund, or the always-important Parent’s Telephone Number. Being a bohemian isn’t free, you know: philosophizing costs money, and it’s best if it isn’t your own. So they shake a leg, like they’re dancing, searching in their cargo pants in sheer desperation and out of a heavy fear that the beer and weed may stop flowing at any moment as the haze of hash made them forget to call daddy last week. And they only have a few hundred dollars for the next few days.
Yet those of us without the trust fund, or parental backing, need to be more resourceful to maintain a sustainable strategy of “studying the African sunset while simultaneously studying the psychosocial effects of toxins commonly available in East Africa”, as one of the wandering students said he was studying for his thesis. Yeah, I was just flat out broke and needed some money.
Then you realize one thing when you’re hung over and driving around in circles in a safari truck on the serengeti, these four-legged walking things have big tusks and big paws and rumor has it that the Asiatic types over in the Hong Kongs kind of like their bladders, too, to treat rare diseases like kidney failure or baldness. That’s when you look into your back pocket and realize that you need to get some cash. “If only I could use my rusty pocketknife and sell one of those leopard-paws for a few hundred, I’d be golden for at least a week or two more,” you say to yourself. And sobriety having departed long ago, you even start entertaining the required number of hostel hippies to take down an elephant and sell off the ivory to one of those Dubai-folk you saw at the airport.
Too bad it isn’t so easy. Leopards and dreadlocks just don’t mix, and I remember once out in the parklands an elephant sneaking up on a few of us cheap-like-free hostel travellers: it could have easily gored us all. An inconvenient truth for sure.
I left the stinky hostel after a week or two, but kept on my research of entrepreneurial endeavors in the African plains, and came to the plain truth that there is gold in them there grasses. Indeed it would take more than just a dirty hippy to take down an elephant, and maybe some of those dark-skinned locals or even a dozen; but after I had bolted from the hostel after rifling through a few room’s full of backpacks for some extra stashes of drugs and cash, and getting bruises on my ass on a dented minibus heading east, I began to formulate my plan for a bona-fide poaching operation.
The gist of it is that it’s both simple and complex: sure, it’s simple to hire a bunch of locals to go into the bush or the jungle and find some fancy animals to kill, but keeping track of them, and making sure they know who’s boss, is not so much. That’s why once I was in Tabora I set around to find a local I could trust – which involves getting them drunk and in a quiet place, threatening them within an inch of their life, and seeing if they bolt or not.
We went into business, with me orchestrating the international exportation side of our entrepreneurial venture – basically going back into the capital once in awhile to find some Russian and Arab business folks who bought our dead animal stuff and re-sold it over in Asia for even more. Had I been more ambitious I would have cut them out, but since I was still very much a weed-hound back then it wasn’t one of those things that I was interested in getting “high” about. Yeah, all that.
Getting the animals was an art: getting in is simple enough, but park rangers and landowners tend to know the noise of a gunshot from many miles away. This is why it’s important to feign some kind of ignorance: often I would go along with the hired hands and pretend we were on a “lost safari”- you know, pull out the camera and unwashed clothes, and distract the rangers or ranchers while the hired help quarters the kill and gets it back into our “safariland” vehicle as quickly as possible. We even invented a shell company just for this purpose; we called it “Sharon-Getty Tours”. We specialized in “sustainable green-friendly eco-safaris” for Israelis, and then jacked up our prices so no one would call. The ones that did call, I dealt with. I’ll leave it at that.
Once you’ve hunted down the animal with your local help, it’s best to take it off-site and have a professional butcher it up into “whole-beef sausage” that you can sell at the local expat markets, and of course sell off the ivory, kidneys, paws, and anything else sort of valuable to your international interlocutors in the capital city. It’s really as simple as that: though it’s always worth having someone watch your back when you negotiate with them, so they don’t rat you out to the Tanzanian police, or even worse, some of their hired goons.
Yes, it did happen to me. I had to flee the fancy five-star restaurant we were doing business in, jumping across tables, dish-dashes whirling all around me, bald Russian bodyguards tearing off their fake leather jackets to reveal silenced pistols. I crashed through the kitchen, dodging a few sub-par French chefs stuck on the wrong side of the Four Seasons employee transfer system, nabbed a motorbike in the back alley and disappeared deep back west into the wilderness. Sadly with my contacts in Dar Es Salaam compromised I was no longer useful to the domestic poachers, and at gunpoint I said my friendly goodbyes and well wishes. Their parting gift was a rusty bicycle and a genial wish in broken english to “get the fuck out of here and go south until you die from exhaustion”.
It didn’t quite work out that way, as fate would dictate, though these days when I interview at the local burger shop I can’t help but bring up my importing/exporting venture. You too can make big money in poaching, it only takes a few wild fantasies, a little bit of dry conversation, and of course a lot of nosing to the grind to get it right. Maybe one day you too can receive the gift of a rusty bicycle.