Catch of the Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


A unique experience of the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Submitted: May 18, 2018

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Submitted: May 18, 2018

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It was a mission to get there, but I enjoyed every minute of it from the twelve hour drive to Dar es Salaam, the Salvation Army hostel, sailing on the Flying Horse, Zanzibar’s historic Stonetown, The Haven Guest House, the safari to the East Coast, to the beach and guesthouse at Paje Ndame. We witnessed history the day we wandered aimlessly around Stonetown: the television in the window of an electronics store told us of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales! In those days, Zanzibar was a burgeoning tourist hotspot, where the facilities were still modest, which made it an exciting place to visit. Today it’s somewhat different, the tourist accommodation has been modernised and there are plenty of activities to milk the tourist dollar. On the East Coast, the locals have been kicked off the beaches to be replaced by flash lodges, owned, in the main, by Italians.

We took an upstairs room at Paje Ndame, where water had to be carried up by the bucketful, and the toilet wasn’t bolted to the floor, so it rocked pleasantly as you did your business. Water was drawn from the nearby well, extracted by an electric pump, which was fine when the electricity flowed! The young fellow who operated it wasn’t strong enough to carry a full bucket of water up the stairs, so we filled in for him most of the time. But there was a hint of salt in that water.

Mo and Jo’s room adjoined our upstairs so of course there were rooms below us. The building was white-painted stucco and the roof was coconut-foliage thatching. The sand was sparkling white and we were surrounded by coconut palms that rustled in the breeze. It wasn’t unusual to hear the thud of a falling coconut, a warning to watch your head! The sea was azure blue and in the sunlight, the waves were snow white. We had a clear view of the sea and to the north and south, Casurina trees rocked in the sea breeze.

There’s a reef about a mile out, it’s pretty much lifeless except for black, spiny sea urchins. Over-fishing is probably the culprit, and because of Mo’s interest in molluscs, at low tide we often waded out there. The tide retreats a long way, perhaps half the distance to the reef but it comes in very quickly, so you have to be on your way back in plenty of time. Closer to the shore, there were small paddocks of stakes driven into the sand above the low tide mark, twine was laced around them in a hash-type pattern. A stringy seaweed was laced onto the twine which increased vegetativly and was harvested later. The seaweed was dried and sent off to Denmark where chemicals were extracted from it.

Women did all the work, and because Zanzibar is 90% Islam, they wore their long dresses into the surf. The sun on the white sand must have been very dangerous on their eyes because none of them could afford eye protection. Certainly I was thankful for my sunglasses and my cap! I imagined that walking thigh-deep wearing a long dress would make for a very tiring day’s work!

As is always my habit, I’m up and about to watch the sunrise, and in the tropics that’s around 7:00am, but I’d been trying to take a photo of the sun rising from the Indian Ocean. I failed totally for the whole time we were there because of cloud sitting on the horizon. To me, morning isn’t morning without a brew of tea, and I was given permission to use the kitchen, because it was way too early for the staff to prepare tourists’ morning breakfasts. There was an electrical device for heating water, but I wouldn’t touch it with a forty foot barge-pole! It was a three inch square block of wood, with a kitchen fork attached to each side, each fork was wired and the gadget was placed in a container of water, and then switched on at the wall! How it didn’t blow fuses… in fact how it worked at all, I have no idea. I also have no idea how many funerals it caused!  I didn’t use the kitchen supply of charcoal either, I collected sticks and old, dead coconut leaf mid-ribs for fuel.

The sea was tepid and a delight to stroll in while going for a morning walk. Depending on the tide, I would meet women at work in the sea. Not tending their seaweed crop, but collecting pieces that the surf had broken free. It wasn’t a free-for-all or at all competitive, it was free for the taking. If I passed some, I picked it up and gave it to whoever was closest. It was a good way of filling the time until the kitchen staff arrived to prepare breakfast.

One morning at about half-tide, the beach was empty except for a woman with a spear. I hadn’t seen anyone hunting with a spear and was curious what she was after. She showed me two of the tiddler, silver fish I had seen shimmering in the shallows. She must have been a good shot to bag them because they would struggle to be three inches long! She told me she was really hunting for crabs or octopus. The crabs were in the sand and the octopus in rock crevasses on the reef. She told me that most days she returns home with just a few of the silver fish.

As I waded a little beyond the woman, there was a flash in the water and I realised it was a skate. I called out to her trying to herd it in her direction. Well, I claim that I herded it, certainly I walked behind it! Anyway with a trust of her spear the woman lifted the fish out of the water. Her grin that was a yard wide! She told me selling it would be of more value to her children than eating it themselves. I wished I had my camera with me, so she promised to return the next day to pose for me.

She returned with her spear and I took her picture, and never saw her out hunting again.


© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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