Beating of the waves – Rush for the sunset

In the low sunlight of late afternoon, I marvelled at the colour in the scene.  Not just the produce on the roadside or the colourful outfits of the Maleans, but the array of paint used on the boats, the crew’s clothes hanging out to dry next to the bric-a-brac of sea life; the fenders, the emergency boxes, the cargoes themselves.  I saw the sun was starting to set and I promised myself I would see one sunset while I was here.  The previous evenings I had been in the amid the high rise blocks and only knew it had gone down because the light levels had dimmed.  I hurried on, pausing only to watch a guy gut a huge yellow fin tuna on board his vessel.

I hurried past the next section which was just a wall of warehouses shielding the main port of Male from the city.  This area was a little run down, like so many ports, but I was soon at the western end of the island and there were many more office blocks, and more exclusive apartment buildings.

I passed a small restaurant ideally located with a shady garden looking out over the water.  Behind it I noticed a high promenade, up a flight of steps from the street.  It was littered with angling gear but there was still plenty of room up there so I decided to position myself on it for the show to come.

I watched the fishermen calmly putting worms or bits of flesh on their hooks and casting them out into the sea some 5m below us.  I could see others fishing off the tetrapods to my left.  In the distance beyond these was another one of the suburban islands covered in houses.  And to my right were the roads of Male.  I mean roads in the sense of a sheltered area of water, not the dense network of streets behind me.  Moored across this area were about 30 ships of different shapes and sizes.  Why they were there I was not certain; most likely the port is so small it can only deal with a couple of ships at a time, so the others have to wait their turn out in the deeper water.  Or maybe they are being repaired or awaiting their next job.

Some ships were moving around in the channel in front of me, and interlacing them the ferries heading to the nearby islands.  Most of the ferries heading out this way came not from the terminals I knew from the north side of the island but from another harbour in the south west corner of Male.

As a fuel boat chugged in front of us I realised the sun was nearly setting and was to fall behind the next island along.  Between that island and the ships in the roads, the sea just extended out and fell off the edge of the earth and I could see the curvature of our planet clearly as I could make out billowing cumulus clouds that were right on the horizon.  No doubt they were high in the sky but appeared to touch the water in front of me.

With a flash of yellow at the heart of a red sky, the sun plunged into a set of clouds, briefly shot intensive rays at me when it appeared below these, then set behind some small fluffy clouds hovering just above the island. At that moment a seaplane slowly passed us at low level, its odd bulky silhouette dark against the colour show behind. I watched the sun bounce off the clouds from beneath the horizon, making the nearby island look like a massive inferno from which no-one could survive. I moved off my perch and along the small promenade and noticed how many others had come to watch the show.  Three young guys posed like statues for photographs in front of the fiery sky. With darkness approaching, and my stomach rumbling, I headed back along the main shopping thoroughfare to find a restaurant for the night.

A Tale of Two Swamps – Entering the village

The clump of trees had resolved itself into a cluster of houses.  Well I say houses.  From this distance they looked more like Mongolian Yurts.  Our boatman cut his speed as we approached the first of these and we chugged past these as the  channel extended deep into the village centre.  After seeing a few isolated huts; probably store rooms, I realised the village itself was on a raised muddy island in the middle of the flooded grasslands.  Perched on slightly higher grasses, but still with their feet in the water, hefty cattle obviously content in water ambled in front of the boat and peered at us with dull eyes.  While the majority of the village was in one large island and densely packed, we made our way to a second smaller island with just a small cluster of buildings, and I clocked there were several of these smaller “suburbs” dotted around the plain.

Here we were to meet out main contact in the village – a guy who works as the local liaison for the Fisheries Department and is secretary of the local fisherfolk association.  We had to cut the boat’s motor to reduce our wash, but there were eager people nearby who were willing to tow us in.  Unfortunately the one that reached us first was the town drunk; at least he was amiable but he both had a problem keeping upright waist high in water, and also wanted to talk extensively.  This might have been OK but his English was very limited and the conversation kept heading towards money and alcohol.  Eventually the other visitors prised his hands off our boat and we were safely delivered at the secretary’s house.   We were immediately invited in to his house – a long substantial reed walled house with tarpaulin roof.  Inside was one large room, subdivided with low walls into a sleeping area.  On top of all the clothes that the family owned – piled high as if ready for a jumble sale, was a reed mat covered in very small fish.  The smell in the house was also piscine; I supposed it mattered little that the odour must work its way into their garments as these villagers ate, caught, dealt with, sold, and of course excreted fishy products.  The smell of fish must be as normal as pot pourri in other houses.

As well as the fish stacked on the clothes, above the cooking hearth at the back of the hut were trays of more fish being smoked and cured.  They shrivel up so much as they dried that they look most unappetising, but in the absence of ice boxes and fridges in many villages this is often the only way to keep fish edible for more than a day.  The ice that ends up in the village is expensive and is preserved for use in selling valuable fresh fish to distant urban markets; where opinions about what food should look like are more sensitive than in rural Zambia.