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A great Rhoooooooooooodee-tale published in 2003 in Rhodesians Worldwide, a magazine and website dedicated to re-establishing lost contacts, making new contacts, catching up on news of Rhodesians, and generally strengthening and maintaining the bonds that residents of Rhodesia formed during its turbulent years.

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The Monkey’s Number


This one really cracks me up and is still good for a few beers.

One of the great part time jobs I used to take on in beautiful Rhodesia in the late ’60s was assistant camp manager for Rhodesia Parks and Wildlife. Normally, we were called out in an emergency when Parks found out they had employed an alkie who had succumbed to the demon booze after the rainy season had ended.

As we all know, one of the most feared predators in Africa is the two legged American tourist. Talk about fussy! (I know, I have lived in the States for thirty years now, but it was true then and it still is now.)

One really hot day at Robins Camp in Wankie National Park, three of us were in the camp gate rondavel: John Stevens, the real ranger, and Peter Baston (me), his trusty sidekick, sans uniform with lion lagers ever-ready in both holsters, were sitting on the floor with our backs to the wall trying to suck in some cool air, and behind the counter sat Cliff Freeman, the head honcho Camp Warden. Now, Cliff was a really straight guy, but John and moi were always getting into trouble because we kept taking the lighter side of life, and anything was fair game until Cliff came down on us. 

Cliff was having a really bad day as his wife, Wendy was in the late stages of her pregnancy and with no air-conditioning in the camp she was often really uptight. Rumor had it that even the buffalo had vamoosed when Wendy got mad; the elephants never stood a chance.

All of a sudden the tourist minibus comes into the camp and squeals to a halt and this little short, fat, round guy comes screaming into the rondavel making totally unintelligible noises. (I now know it was a NY Brooklyn accent, but then I didn’t.) Eventually we decipher what he is trying to say: “Go##*n f#*##ng hell can't you control your f#*##ng animals one of the Go##*mn monkeys has stolen my camera and its worth f#*##ng $$$$$. What the f#*## are you going to do about it?”

Silence reigns in the hut, and John and I are scrambling for cover waiting for Cliff to go off like a rocket. But noooooooooo, deadpan, our fearless leader replies: “I am really sorry sir, we will, of course, immediately take care of this. Did you get the monkey's name and number?” 

chimpJohn looks at me and I look at him thinking the same thing: “Cliff has flipped!”

Then, to our further amazement, our uptight American responds: “Wadda ya mean, name and f#*##ng number?”

“Well, sir,” says Cliff, “each one of the animals is tagged with a number and all the monkeys also get names so we can immediately find the ones that misbehave, such as the one who stole your camera. So you can make a claim, but only with the name and number.” 

You can hear the tourist’s brain gears chewing on this information and you can see he wants to throw another tizzy fit, but he is looking up from his lowly 5' 5" to Cliff’s 6' 2", wrapped in its clean cut, impeccable khaki uniform, and Cliff is still absolutely straight-faced. (John and I are about to wet the floor and we can barely stop our sides from splitting.)

“No shit! That’s f#*##ng amazing!” says our tourist.

“Absolutely,” says Cliff.

Tourist stares for a long time at Cliff and after a final long pause about turns and goes out to speak with wifey, who is still in the minibus, obviously totally embarrassed.

“Honey, this place is incredible! Ya know what, all the f#*##ng animals in this place have numbers. That’s absolutely f#*##ng amazing. The monkeys even have f#*##ng names.”

The minibus driver is listening to all this impassively and has not said a word, but then our tourist digs himself in deeper.

“Hey, boy!” he shouts, “How am I going to get that monkey’s f#*##ng name and number? Can you help?”

Now, Jonathan was Ndebele, looked like a Shaka Zulu stand-in, and topped Cliff by 4 inches. Taking his cue from the strange conversation he has heard from the makulu boss Cliff, he gets in on the act: “Yebo, sah,” he replies. “For $50 American I will go now and get them for you as the camp outside tours are now closed and tourists are now not allowed out of the camp to the watering hole where this sad thing happened.”

Money changes hands and off goes Jonathan at a fast clip.


I am not going to tell you the rest of the story, except for Cliff’s parting line to us: “OK, gentlemen I am taking Wendy into Bulawayo for the rest of the week. Make sure you take care of any minor problems that come up.”

Off he went into the sunset (well, not really) chuckling for all to hear, and when Wendy heard she laughed all through the rest of her pregnancy.

There were rumors all week about some really weird conversations between the tourists and staff. The tale got back to main camp and then eventually to Salisbury HQ. When they called us on the phone to get the straight story, no one could talk about it for more than two minutes without gales of laughter from both ends.

Oh, yes, I forgot, Cliff told the tourist his name was ............ Peter!

Yaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Hamba kahle.

( : ( : pete