'Back from the gates of hell'
July 7 2012
“I learned a lot in there about tolerance, forgiveness and patience, you have to have a lot of it,” said Calitz yesterday in an interview with the Pretoria News two weeks after she and her partner, Brunno Pelizzari, were released by Somali pirates who captured them as they sailed up the east coast of Africa in October 2010.
Calitz said the ordeal of being held hostage had given her a new lease on life and had shifted her focus from superficial things to appreciating everything and everyone in her life.
Sitting barefoot and cross legged on a couch in her daughter’s Montana home, rock music playing in the background and her grandchild close by, she spoke of the plans she has to get her life back on track.
She declined to speak of the rape referred to in an article in You magazine, in which she was quoted as saying she had been blindfolded, taken from Pelizzari’s side into a different room, hit on the head, and then raped by a man whose face she never saw.
After spending time with her family in Pretoria, she said she was going to Durban to join Pelizzari so that they could get their documentation in order and make plans to fetch Pellizzari’s yacht which has been in Tanzania for almost two years.
“My children don’t want me to sail again but I am not afraid to sail again. I also know that I don’t want this to happen again. We are not sure what the future holds but all I know is that we need to get Bruno’s boat back from Dar es Salaam to South Africa,” she said.
Calitz said they were also planning to write a book based on their experiences and in that book she promised she would lay bare everything that happened to them during their capture, and how everything had brought her and Pelizzari closer together than before.
“I really want to help people and I think a book will do just that. It will also expose these people and what they are doing. It is not the Somali people themselves but the ones above them giving orders,” she said of her captors.
While being held captive, Calitz said there had been days when she and Bruno had questioned the existence of God and why he was letting them go through such an ordeal.
“We would ask ‘when is this ever going to end’. We would sometimes get angry… I said ‘God, if you exist, please get us out of here somehow, help us’.”
Calitz said it felt like they had been to “another world” and it was difficult to get back to the world they had come from.
“There were times we felt like we were dead; we were living in hell, but even in hell you have good days, and that we had to have,” she said.
“We had different groups of people who would be nice to us. Sometimes we were lucky enough to be with a group that treated us a bit better,” she said. But of course there were the others.
Calitz, says the psychological torture was worse than the physical torture, such as when their captors would cook nice smelling food but then not give them any. If she remonstrated with them she would be in more trouble.
While the pair had to constantly think about their safety and survival, their families back home were growing. Calitz became grandmother of two children while Pelizzari became a grandfather. Calitz said she did not know about it, although they thought constantly of family and friends back home. She was relieved her father was still alive when she got back.
Another relief is that her ordeal has brought her and her daughter, Samantha, together again.
“My daughter and I were estranged for about 12 years but as soon as we saw each other, all our differences went away. We are closer than we ever were; it was like we were never separated,” she said.
Asked what she had missed most, Calitz said: “I missed fresh air, oxygen, sunlight, the wind and the moon and the stars. We are sailors, we navigate by stars and we would know where we were. I missed that.
“Everywhere we were kept, the windows and doors were covered. There would be just a small opening under the door where we would see a bit of sunlight and get a bit of air. We would hear the wind blowing outside but never felt it. That was horrible.”
Declared fit by doctors, Calitz, who looked gaunt on her release, says she is struggling to eat properly. “I have been battling to eat normal food but I am taking things slowly, starting with fruit” – something she was denied.
She said she had been advised to get professional help to deal with the trauma, but for now she felt she must wait until she is more settled.
“I don’t like sharing my emotions, like things that really affect me inside with complete strangers,” she said.
Calitz said she had never anticipated that their capture and release would make so much news. She said she couldn’t believe it when she walked off the plane to the barrage of cameras. But, she said she did not know how she could repay all the people who helped free them.
“We thought that there wouldn’t be anyone to welcome us back when we got home because we had been gone for so long. We thought the world had forgotten about us. It was the opposite. I want to thank everyone… Those people are the ones who kept us alive,” said Calitz.
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