by Leyla Ahmet
The month of December began with a shadow on the horizon. As much as I did not want to think about the anniversary of Hendri’s death it was impossible not to notice it blinking away in the distance. So instead I altered my mind state to a place of celebration, celebrating Hendri’s life, the people he touched, the people he inspired, the difference he made and remembering the good times, the laughs and the adventures…..
Circumstance had bought a small crowd of Hendri’s dear friends together. Pete and I had driven to Zambia from Uganda where we were meeting Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic. They had hired African Rivers expertise to lead them around Zambia, running waterfalls and exploring new rivers for a TV Series called Kaiak. Claire Turnbull was also by beautiful chance in town. She had decided to treat herself and take time off from New Zealand and return to the place her heart and soul were happiest, alive and at home. A few days before the 7th Dec trauma surgeon Alex Milhalovic flew in to join African Rivers and the kayakers on their journey. It seemed this was a bit more then pure coincidence, maybe someone was manipulating the universe and ensuring certain people were together at this time.
Pete said he would like to return to rapid 7 and celebrate Hendri’s life there. It was the place where Rosi Slogrove had introduced them to each other, the place where their amazing friendship had begun. Hendri was working for a heli company at the time but Pete charmed him with tales of adventures on the river and over a game of chess and a few rum and cokes offered him a job as a guide.
The morning of the 7th started with a truck that would not start. Somewhere along the fuel line was an obstruction and fuel was not moving smoothly into the engine. The plan had been to use the truck to shuttle all the friends to the river but Hendri the truck had another plan. Hours in the morning ticked into hours in the afternoon and finally we accepted it was not going to be moving “Make it harder” seemed to be at play. So in a hired truck we speed to rapid 7. What a stunning place. Watching the river from high above as it cuts its way through the gorge was mesmerising. Fish Eagles circling, cloud formations floating and constantly changing reminded me of the impermanence of life, how each day is precious, how everything changes…..the sun slowly sunk behind the gorge walls the heat of the day instantly dropped and later we watched the moon rise over the horizon. Only nature can be so utterly perfect.
Word had gone around about the gathering and quite a crowd had arrived to remember Hendri. Stories were shared, laughs remembered, beers cracked open, rum sunk, fillet, chicken, pork, beef, potatoes brai’d.
Giant lanterns were lit and sent into the canyon, the gathering became silent; everyone lost in their own world, lost in their own thoughts, remembering their individual relationship with Hendri. Many hugs, tears and laughter later the crowd slowly dispersed into the night.
Hendri you are dearly missed but alive in our hearts and minds