In the bottom left corner of the top right pen was a sick pilot whale. He listlessly floated in the exact same spot, day in, day out. He didn’t swim and he didn’t eat. We had no idea what was wrong with him, but he seemed to have given up. Just simply…. given up. The trainers showed no interest in the whale. He wasn’t fed and he wasn’t trained. The trainers showed zero compassion towards this animal. This was enough to send me right to the edge. I did not like losing my humanity but if one of those trainers were on a sidewalk bleeding to death, I would not blink an eye. I would walk right by without helping and sleep soundly at night. I was turning in to something I did not like. But that was the reality and I needed to find a way to deal with it and confront it head on. It’s so incredibly easy in this ‘business’ to become that which you are trying to fight. We all tread a very, very thin line. I think right then I was walking on that line and it was difficult not to lose my balance and fall over in to the dark side.
The trainers were done for the day and they were all busy collecting the buckets which contained the fish they blackmailed the dolphins with. I was standing right at the entrance of the walk way where they had to pass me. I wanted to be close enough to look straight in to their eyes as they walked by me. I wanted them to look straight in to mine. Don’t ask me why – but it needed to be done. KNOW me. KNOW my face. KNOW that I am watching you and hating you for all that I am worth. SEE my hatred. WITNESS my condemnation. Know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are one of the most hated people on earth. Know that I will make bloody sure a world with 7 billion inhabitants hate you as much as I do.
A young man, who I subsequently nicknamed “Runner Boy” (because whenever he saw us he ran, plus as junior member of the trainer team he acted as a runner to the senior trainers) came walking up the walk way, eyes cast downward. As he was almost level with me, I greeted him with the most jovial sing song voice I could manage.
“Kanichiwaaaaaaaah!”. You $%^&*. A big, false, toothy smile was plastered across my face – an ordinary gesture which usually contains no threat. But at the most primal level, I showed my teeth. He quickly looked up in surprise, a genuine smile forming on his tanned face. When he saw my smile shadowed by the pure, unadulterated hostility in my eyes, his face fell. He cast his eyes downward again and started to run.
I threw another “Kanichiwaaaaaahhh!” dripping with sarcasm at his back. I have no idea why I did what I did. I suppose it made me feel that although I couldn’t do anything for the dolphins, at some level I still had a semblance of control. Seeing the happy surprise on his face turn in to hurtful disappointment within a split second was exceptionally gratifying. I felt like triumphantly punching my fists in the air, jumping around like a rabbit on crack and cackle with sheer abandonment at my small, personal little victory.
I felt a tap on my back. “Come, let’s go. They’re done,” Rosie said.
“Now where are we going?! What are we doing now?! What’s next?!”. I was hyper and totally amped up.
“We’re going to the harbour pens to monitor the dolphins there.”
Karma is a bitch. The downer was instant. It was like being hit with an emotional sledge hammer.
“Whaaattt?!” More pens? Like this freak show wasn’t enough?!
I fell quiet. There isn’t much you can say. I marched my unfit body up the hill back to the car as if somehow the exertion would purify my body from the poison I just endured. I stood at the car, breathless and wordless. Do I have to? Do I really have to? Wasn’t this enough? I am new. Give me a break. I can only take so much in one go!
There was no way I could ask Rosie to take me to the hotel. These activists and my friend will lose all respect for me. I was here to serve, not to be some soft, emotionally fragile tourist who could choose what she wanted to see and experience and what not. Again – people didn’t donate their money to me to get here so I could report back on the interior of my hotel room. They opened their hearts and wallets because they believed in this caused. They believed in ME. I stood there thinking how very wrong they all were. I couldn’t do this. As I waited for the others to catch up and as we all drove towards the harbour, the same sentence repeated itself over and over in my head:
“I can’t do this.” Inhale. “I can’t do this.” Exhale. “I can’t do this.” Inhale. “I can’t do this.” Exhale.
I didn’t have a choice.
“Is that one of the cop cars?” Rosie said pointing towards a non-conspicuous car turning in to the road. “Yessss it is.”.
How did she know? “They follow us everywhere. We know the number plates by heart.”.
We entered the harbour area.
“There’s one……. twoooo….yep, all the banger boats are there,” the other Cove Guardians said.
“Where?” I was so lost in my own self pity and panic, I didn’t quite know what they were on about.
“You see those boats? They’re the banger boats. They’re the ones which go out each morning to hunt.”
“Ahhhhhh okayyy!” I had NO clue what I was supposed to be looking at. There were many fishing boats docked right next to the road. I don’t mind appearing a bit panicked, but I will NOT appear to be dumb, no matter how out of my depth I am. “Holy cow! They’re so exposed! I thought they would be under lock and key, away from easy access! Anybody can get to them!”.
“Yep.” No one said anything further.
We turned in to a parking lot. There was a little grey bus with a little red light on top, parked there.
“That’s the riot police. They never come out of that van. You can occasionally see them peeking through the curtains in the windows.”
Right on cue, a curtain moved slightly and I could see a man in a baseball type cap and a white hygiene mask covering his mouth and nose. I waved. The guy was humourless – he didn’t wave back.
As we gathered our gear from the boot of the car, a dark blue and white car with silent flashing lights arrived in the parking lot.
“NOW what? What did we do wrong?”
“We didn’t do anything wrong. Remember, we are constantly followed by the police. These are the uniforms. They are really nice guys – very fair. We have a good relationship with them. Get your passport out. You’re new and they have to record your details. They will ask you some questions on a questionnaire. Be honest with them. They know why you are here and you don’t have anything to hide.”
The Cove Guardians greeted the three policemen with sincere smiles and laughter. They introduced me to the three cops. There was no way I could remember the names. All I know is that when the one cop smiled, his whole face lit up. I nicknamed him “Sunshine” after the fact.
One of them pulled me aside while the other Cove Guardians spoke and joked with the other two cops. Again my heart was beating fast. What if I say something wrong?
“Passport prease……” I looked at his face and so no malice. I handed it to him. He wrote on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard.
“Aaaaah! South Africa! Rike Rosie!”
My ear was still trying to adjust and adapt to the strong accents.
“Pardon?” I asked as sweetly as I could. The last thing I wanted to do was offend a policeman who could potentially arrest me for making a sudden movement.
“Uhh… You….. South Africa. Same as Rosie!”
“YES!! Yes. She lives down the road from me!”
He continued to write. When he was done he handed back my passport.
“I ask….. uh…. you questions?”
“Why you come to Japan?”
Stay calm. Think straight. Be honest. They know why you are here. No sense in saying you’re here for the sights. “I came to Japan to see for myself about the dolphin hunting.”
He wrote furiously.
“Ah…..uh…. you are Sea Shepherd?”
“I am here as a Sea Shepherd supporter.”
“How….. uh… when you go back South Africa?”
“Two weeks. I fly back on the 14th to Cape Town.”
He still wrote. Then he looked up and looked me dead on in the eye.
“What you uh….. think…. Japanese people?”
I didn’t know whether the question was part of the questionnaire or whether he asked it to satisfy his own curiosity. I answered honestly.
“I love the Japanese people. I really do. Most people I have met have been so NICE! I understand that it is not all Japanese people who kill the dolphins, but only a few. I look forward to learning more from the people of Japan.”
“Uh…. prease….. you must not break the law. If so, we uhh…. arrest you.”
“I understand completely. I am not here to break the law. I have no wish to do so. I have a husband back home that I want to get back to.”
The young policeman looked relieved.
He bowed slightly. “Thank you.”
We both rejoined the other Cove Guardians and cops who were engrossed in friendly conversations while looking at the pens.
I realised I just made it through my first police interview.