Fisherman’s secret in Eastern Africa

I spent a few months wandering around East Africa. A fisherman named Morzina invited me to spend a few days fishing together.
All together combined the crew on the dhow spoke 3 words of English. I exercised my Swahili. Maybe some messages were lost, but the ones I received inspired me to write a story about the lifestyle of a fisherman.
I present to you my documented fiction.
I am a fisherman. I come from a lake that has mountains on it. It is beautiful.

Once every year with the guidance of Kaskazi, the seasonal northern wind, we set sail to Ziwayu. It is a holy place for the fishing people.
To us, fishermen, it is a sanctuary. To the sea it is a rock. To the birds it is a rest. To fish, it is home.

I am a strange fisherman, though. I think this is why other fishermen are so suspicious of me.  I possess an unorthodox trait, one that is very unusual among us hungry lot. Sometimes I decide to let a caught fish back into its salty wave. It happens rarely. For a lucky  few. It is strange.
I think it is all in the eyes. Fish eyes, human eyes, mammal eyes, it does not matter.  It is hard to strike someone when you see your own reflection doing it.
I often become an object of mockery after giving a fish another chance. But I cannot change me. Nor the connection I develop with some creatures. But it makes other fishermen think that there is something fishy about me.
Even skiff mates glance at me like I am bad luck or something.

Eyes are a strange thing. Things become very personal when you look one another straight in the eye.
The other day we caught a big octopus. It was behaving very calm and gentle. It had a certain something about it. If I were the one who caught it, I would have let it go. Yet the others did not notice anything special about the octopus. Maybe because they killed it without looking in its eyes.

Sometimes letting fish go costs me dearly. Sometimes I will not catch anything for days afterwards. I do not mind, though – bad luck always comes eventually. The trick is knowing how to make it go.
And I know the trick.
I wanted to prove to myself that I really hold the key to overcoming bad luck. That this trick is the truth. But to find out I had to push my luck, push myself, to the limit. I needed a journey that would take quite a bit of luck to accomplish. With the next Kaskazi, I decided to sail to Ziwayu on my own.
Kaskazi came early, and I started preparing my skiff for the voyage. With all my heart I covered it in shark liver oil, scrubbed it clean, tightened the ropes and tailored the sails.
On the day of departure I woke up at an early hour and headed for my skiff, both of us ready for the trip.
Besides it I met a wise old man. He gave my trip his blessing and watched me raise the sails. As I started distancing away, he continued his stroll alongside on the beach. His gaze was my last escort.

3 days I was drifting in the sea without catching a fish. But, as I mentioned, I have a way to deal with misfortune. If it works this time once again, I will know for sure that I have deciphered the Truth.
Here is what I do: I welcome it. I welcome bad luck. We set some time aside for one another. We drink a few cups of sweet tea together. Then we daydream. At the very end, we simply enjoy silence and forget about one another.
I treat it as an uninvited guest, and therefore it never allows itself to linger for too long. Out of courtesy, maybe.
Time is passing. Bad luck and I, we are slowly getting into the routine. We already have drank more cups of tea together than usual. Eye-tracing the skiff’s wake in the water, I distance away. To stay in a positive mindset, I think of a friend who keeps his mind happy by constantly whistling.
In my mind I was listening to his jingles. It kept me smiling.
The skiff moved in a steady pace, being gently rocked on the waves. I started feeling my misty memories irresistibly consolidating into a world of their own. A dream. I became comfortably numb. I could not resist. I did not try. I did not want to.
Taken inside, I hear a continuous, friendly whistle. I look around and see my whistling friend besides a bicycle. I erupt into laughter. He is watching me from a distance, with a firm grip on his bike, whistling away. His gaze reminds me of the wise old man that watched me sail off.

He comes up to me and sits me on his bicycle. He then cycles us to the beach, a melodious whistle constantly ringing in my ears. By the sea, strange creatures are all around us. My friend calms me down. They are only showing the way, he says. I chase some, try to avoid others.
My friend motions for me to come closer to him. He submerges his hand into a puddle of water. When he takes it out, there is a creature clinging onto his palm with its tentacles. An octopus starfish.

It jumps off back into the water. I start chasing crabs around me. Suddenly I notice that my friend and the starry octopus are nowhere to be seen. I start making my way along the shore. I see smoke. I run towards it, scared to find a village in flames.
It was a matter of seconds before I got to the place responsible for the smoke. It is a dhow, shrouded in smoke. But there were no flames. There was no sound. And besides it stood no one else but the same old wise man who gazed unto my ship as it distanced into the horizon.

‘What are you doing to the dhow?’ I spit out.
‘I am blessing it. But the smoke itself is not a part of the ritual. It is merely a signal.’
‘A signal for what?’ I asked.
‘For you.’ The old man took me by the arm and guided me aboard. He himself got behind the rear of the dhow and started pushing it, with me inside, to the sea.
‘Wait, what do you want me to do?’ I was confused.
‘Sail. I want you to reach Ziwayu.’
‘Why?’ The boat was already kissing the waves.
‘Because to me there is nothing sadder in this world than wasted potential.’
He smiled, loosened his grip on the boat and the sea took me in.
The salty, smoky aroma stayed with me throughout the journey. The boat cut through the waves without effort or grace. Before I noticed, I hit a rock shelf. I got out of the boat and started walking up the sea rock. Suddenly all fell silent – the sea became still, the birds quit their chatter on the rocks, Kaskazi calmed down. I turned my head and looked back, mesmerized. I made it to Ziwayu.

In the face of tranquility, I was finally at ease…
Then I felt a strange beat to my own leg. It was strong enough to rip me out of the dream realm back into reality. Something was forcefully flapping forth and back between my leg and the side of the skiff. A barracuda jumped on board while I was asleep and thrashed violently against my stiff leg.

My mojo was back.
Teo Gregg

One Reply to “Fisherman’s secret in Eastern Africa”

  1. Like father like son, great write up Teo! And the photos are just stunning, you have a gift, that’s for sure. Enjoy your travels mate.

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