Pink flip-flops and tarot cards are all that Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz have left to remind them of their 20-month hostage ordeal in Somalia.
Speaking to the Daily News on Wednesday as the couple soaked up the sun at Durban’s North Beach, they appeared relaxed – in stark contrast to the gaunt-looking pair who landed in South Africa almost two weeks ago.
They arrived in Durban on Saturday night.
Pelizzari dug into a cheeseburger, looking out to sea as he relived aspects of their capture.
Pointing to the flip-flops, he said: “This is all I have from that time. We didn’t want to keep anything.”
About two months before their release they were given clothes by their captors. “When we got the clothes, we thought, ‘this is it, we’re going home’. Another false alarm,” Calitz said.
She reached into her bag and revealed a set of tarot cards made with scraps of paper. “This was the third set we made. We made it from an old school book and pencil Bruno found in a rubbish heap.
“The first set was made out of a sanitary box and charcoal. That was confiscated. We made a second pack from a calendar hanging on the wall, but that too was taken. I’ll never get rid of these,” she said.
“Being in a dark room all day, forced to whisper, and no stimulation was horrible. We needed something to occupy our minds.”
Before their release the couple wore whatever they had on the day they were captured. For Pelizzari it was jeans, a T-shirt and baggies.
Calitz had a bikini and a thin cotton dress, which turned to rags in the first few months of their capture.
At one stage the couple were separated and Calitz’s bikini was taken from the bathroom, she said. “I was naked all the time.”
Shying away from certain questions, Calitz, who claimed she was raped by her captors, said more would be revealed in a book they were planning to write about their ordeal.
Reliving her experience, Calitz said the most harrowing part was the kidnapping. “It was like a dream,” she said.
They described how they were taken hostage after their yacht, SY Choizil, skippered by Peter Eldridge, was hijacked off the Kenyan coast en route to Richards Bay from Dar es Salaam in October 2010. Eldridge was later rescued.
“Bruno was asleep and I had finished my shift. Peter just started his shift when I saw three speedboats. From a distance they looked like whales,” she said. “Peter took one look and knew they were pirates. He went downstairs and made a Mayday call. Within a minute the leader was aboard, pointing a bazooka at me.”
About five other men also boarded, wielding AK-47 assault rifles, she said.
Cellphone, money and jewellery were demanded, in that order.
Calitz said each pirate had about six cellphones.
The third boat, which she described as a “supply” boat, arrived with rice, beans, milk and sugar.
“I asked for a cup of food for Bruno and myself. It was nice, it tasted like rice pudding.”
The couple and the skipper were held on the SY Choizil for about five days before being taken to an island where they said they were interrogated and assaulted.
Calitz said a woman and a girl had been present for a while. The woman seemed to have some clout with the pirates, she said. “When they started to beat me, I told her to take the girl away. She spoke to the men in Somali and they stopped.”
In their almost two years in Mogadishu, Somalia’s largest city, the couple said they were moved – blindfolded – about 17 times
Calitz said she bore no grudges: “They were young enough to be my children, I can’t hate them. They don’t know any different.”
Pelizzari said some pirates appeared to be friendly, but they had a rule not to speak to the hostages for more than a minute at a time.
“Some were ruthless, but others would sneak us a banana or something now and again,” he said. “I don’t know if it was part of their plan.”
The couple said their only link to the world – and a source of entertainment – was the oil drenched newspaper wrapping their meals. “We’d read whatever news we could find and do the cryptic crosswords in our heads,” Pelizzari said.
Calitz said she would accompany Pelizzari to Dar es Salaam soon to fetch his boat, but that she would fly back. She said her children refused to let her sail again. Details about their release, who had played an instrumental role in freeing, them may never be revealed.
Spokesman for the Department of International Relations, Clayson Monyela, said on Wednesday: “Nothing more will be said on the matter. Security matters are not for public consumption.”