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Thursday, September 28, 2006

An unforgettable experience

There are certain events in life that trigger behaviour we may later regret. This narrative is about an exciting event in my life that brought me and my friends an unforgettable disaster.

I was about ten and it was my Uncles wedding in a few days time and everyone in the village was looking forward to it with much anticipation. My uncle in particular was very active and I can remember clearly that he was the most excited person in the entire village.

A lot of food had to be prepared as many people from the neighboring communities would be attending. A few men had heroically left the village on a pig hunting trip and the women had proudly begun to gather almost all the local food crops and fruits from their garden. Fishing was left to us boys.

"Go get all the boys, we are going fish diving to night” my uncle commanded and I went to all the houses to call my cousins.

Fish diving at night is the most popular fishing technique among us boys. We frequently get a lot of fish and big ones too from this type of fishing. This is because most of the fish are usually quiet at night and we can shoot them with our metal rod spears that are attached to elastic rubbers without having to chase them under water. The reefs we usually go diving on are about ten to twenty kilometers outside our village and there was a particular long strait of reef we call ‘abohi’ that is bountiful in marine life, particularly reef fish, where we planned to go on diving the night this story is based on.

Everyone got ready when the sun dipped itself on the horizon and by nightfall we were on our way. My uncle provided the batteries for the torches and tobacco for the smokers. My future Aunt volunteered to bake the scorns for us and promised that it would be ready by the time we return. Ten of us were in the small boat, which was run by a new fifteen Suzuki horse powered engine that belonged to my Grand Father. My uncle was the driver and you can see from his face how excited he was.
“Do you have any more tobaccos?” One of my heavy smoking older cousins jokingly asked my uncle, while we were traveling.
“Yeah it’s in my bag” he replied without any hesitation, “John get two for your cousin” he seriously ordered me.
“You can ask for anything in the world right now and he’ll give it to you” I said to my cousin as I obediently fumbled about for my uncle’s bag among the fishing gear in the boat. Those who could hear me from the deafening sound of the engine all laughed. My uncle also smiled, not even knowing what we were laughing at.

We arrived at ‘abohi’ an hour later and all the boys jumped in pairs into the water. Each person in the pair is either the torch holder or the shooter. The person with the torch is often called the ‘spy’ and he is usually the one who is able to stay longer in the water. He will dive deep down to the stones about ten to fifteen metres below and search for fish in the caves, coral stones and see weeds. Once he sees a fish he would make flashing signals in the water and the shooter will immediately dive down to shoot whatever his torch is flashed to. My uncle was my partner and he was the spy.

We fished into the night and each time I shot a fish and called for the boys on the boat to come collect the fish, I see that the boat is getting full and there were lots of splashing and banging noise from the large half dead fish in the boat.

My uncle’s torch flashed about in the water as a signal and I quickly dived down to see what he saw. There was a large school of fish swimming calmly around in a cloud like form that his flash light revealed. The size of the fish and the school itself startled me, but my uncle ushered me on. I slowly swam up close enough to one of the fish which was more than half of my size in length and aimed carefully on its head as per my uncle’s instructions. He had pointed his finger to his head before and I knew that he was telling me to shoot at the head for a quick kill.

The movement of the water rocked me about as I tried to steady myself and the spear. With all my strength I pulled the rubber as far as I can go. ‘Swish’ the spear rod jolted forward as I ejected it from my hand holding on to the rubber. The spear pierced all the way through the fish but unfortunately it was not a quick kill. My spear has been driven through its gills. The fish struggled viciously and I bravely pushed the other end of the spear against the seabed so that the fish is between me and the seabed. My uncle swam up to me and grabbed both ends of the spear with the struggling fish in the middle and swam upwards. By now I was almost choked with the water myself and I quickly waded upwards for air. We swam to the boat and boarded it to fix our spear which was by now totally crooked from the fish’s struggle.
“Hey come over hear, a big school is down here,” my uncle called the others who were scattered in pairs all over the reef. Everyone started swimming towards us wanting to be the first one to come see the school.

On the boat my two cousins who were the boat paddlers sat on each opposite side of the boat to have the boat balanced. My uncle and I also did the same until he started to become so excited when he saw all those in the water struggling with their own speared fish. He ran over to my side and jumped back into the sea. I wasn’t aware but the boat was slowly tilted over to my side and in a second I was under the boat with my two cousins and all the contents of the boat. The boat has capsized.

I was terribly shocked and groped around for anything I could save or hold on to. All the fish that were half dead swam freely away and those that were dead were either sunk into the bottom of the sea or carried away by the current.

The divers came up to the surface only to see the rail of the boat and the engine’s propeller pointing up in the air.
“What the hell!” uttered my uncle realizing what he had done.
Everyone panicked for a while until one of my older cousins took charge and we eventually turn the boat over. In less than an hour we had all the water baled out off the boat. We then all boarded the boat quietly and decided we should go home. My uncle’s attempt to start the engine was hopeless and we started paddling for the ten kilometers distance back home.

To make things worse, there were only two paddles in the boat and since it was way past midnight the current was by now getting stronger. We took turns with the paddle and it was very labourious and tiring paddling against the current.

The sun has risen up again on horizon behind us when we eventually make it to our village without a single fish.
“What happened?” my Aunt asked me on our arrival.
“It was a disaster and you don’t want to know” I replied trying to hide my bitter feelings for her future husband.

This event is significant to me because it taught me not to be over excited in any event in life and to be careful in whatever I do or I might later regret it. In this story my uncle was very excited about his wedding and given another exciting situation in the fishing ground where he saw a lot of fish he could not control his excitement that he forgot about the simple rules of balancing a boat. As a result he made the boat sink and we ended up paddling it against the current on a ten kilometer distance back home and worst still without any fish for his wedding party.


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