Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Warehouse

The flourescent glare of the 4 am fish warehouse. Long sluices of dirty ice bearing the load of trawling nets slide down the industrial channels of highly polished steel. A man in black rubber gloves hoses beneath the chutes, barely missing the feet of the women in pink aprons who scatter the fish into many baskets.

The filing system of their fingers, the steady rhythm of their darting hands. They draw the fish glacé toward them with green spatulas with a long sweeping draw, followed by the thud of cold flesh on the conveyer belt.

White wellingtons dart about everywhere. Here a pair throws red baskets of herring toward a truck, while another pair waits to load it amongst the sardines and perch and grouper. Another pair of boots is weighing two large mackerels on a pal green scale, streaked with crusty streams of blood.

Water everywhere. Rinsing baskets, dousing sorting trays, the enormous mound of ice. And everywhere, carefully orchestrated, fish suffocating.

Broken chunks of ice sit like burgs against the garish reflection of neon light now swimming across the floor. The women stack while the men haul, baskets perpetually in motion.

The sun begins to pour in, between the tangle of halogen lights atop the trawler boats, which prematurely crafted dawn for the confused cephalopods who drifted calmly into their expectant nets. Those same bones now jumble the alley next door, where street dogs fight for a share of the clutter of cuttlefish. The halogen bulbs reflect the neon of the warehouse and everywhere the murky water catches the many lights.

Nobody is smiling. Crouched amongst many crates of cuttlefish, an old woman slices them open, scoops out their chalky bones from the translucent flesh, tosses the remains for her don to disembowl across the room. The heads of milky jellyfish bob in bubbling buckets of sea water, def by the full whirr of the motorcycle engine pumping from the ocean below. The floor vibrates from the hum of the motor, shaking the baskets of fish heads, peering out with glassy eyeballs, slapping against one another.

A cat sits by, anticipating earnestly the thud and the splatter of the next knife load of fish. The rare, poorly aimed fish tail hits the wooden floorboard and it pounces, scurries away. It barely misses the grimey wheels of the sardine laden dolly pushed by a pair of white wellingtons stained crimson on the heels.

Somewhere in the warehouse, a child is calmly singing, an unsettling sort of melody lain over the gutteral symphony of morning fish.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sea salt, surf landings and scarves

It's hard to capture the past twenty four hours in words. They can't do justice to the multisensory elation that evolved in every moment. They can't paint an image of the malleable skies which cloaked us as we lay cradled in the sand. I think these words are bound to fail for, ultimately, they are static and explicit and permanent. They are pinned to the page and they clutch a moment beneath them which is infinitely bigger than the flimsy paper or the spidery slivers of ink.

And yet, though I see their essential inadequacy, I am compelled to try to convince them, through the impertinent proddings of my single pen, to sketch a hazy silhouette of the moments which led to this at hand.

But where to begin? The twenty four hours I spoke of is relative - I have no watch or measurement of time, but for my experience of it, (which after all may be more accurate.)

Let's start on the beach.

The sand was bright and squeaked when we trod, though remained silent beneath the scuttle of infinite crabs. Ghost crabs, hermit crabs, orange, teal and purple crabs; horseshoe crabs, samurai crabs, rock-clinging, sand-slinging, runaway crabs; crabs which dove deep in the sand and crabs which threatened to bite my hand. A resplendent rainbow of crabs. I sat amongst the many crustaceans, knowing many more scampered in the beach below me, and lazily picked at a cheap guitar, trying to piece together China Doll, before failing and falling back into the surf. I threw myself into the waves time and time again, though perhaps no plunge was more joyous than that I took at the end of my essay. Six hot hours and ten messy pages; conclusion: sprint toward the sea.

Somehow the salt of the churning ocean swept away that of my furrowed brow and held me aloft in the gloaming sunlight, troubles ebbing with the vanishing of the day. Before the light pulled itself under the horizon, I rose out of the waves to sit by my tent and tease that guitar with the few chords I know, feeling the strings' sigh in the resonance of dissatisfaction. I let it fall into more capable hands. I'm more adept at losing myself in the swirling palette of the sunset horizon.

Nameless hues of the sun's farewell splashed on the clouds and the kayaks and our cheeks. Yet kindred colors soon reappeared as a campfire was encouraged to roar while feasting upon dried and drifted branches. The lingering scent of smoky mackerel, the crackle of branches alight. Sand shook onto my shoulders and returned to the beach as I spun dizzy, eyes hooked upon the evening's spangles, trying to launch myself vainly into the stars. Ever terrestrial, my mind soared skyward and amongst the confusion of clusters of constellations I drifted, rocked by the cacophony of the waves' crash.

Upon waking, I found the morning quiet and the cirrus stretched faintly o'er the periwinkle light. Tents were stirring all around, a few already collapsing in on themselves and packing into carefully labeled sacks. My clothes were damp from unexpected dew, on the tree where they'd been drying for hours the day before. They too slipped themselves into my pack's reeking compartments, as bags all around ushered in those sandy vestures of their own. Soon even the drowsier tents vanished, their zips and cords filed into bags, which slipped into barrels, which stacked neatly on the deck of the eager boat.

The sun rose over rows of herded possessions. A stack of lifevests, lines of kayaks, each equipped with tidy sprayskirt and patient paddle. A barrel for breakfast, duffelbags of dinner, containers of snorkels and fins and masks. We arranged the equipment in careful lines like the tiny crabs who push spheres of sand in radial patterns from the nexus of their home. In the low tide, the whole shore is embroidered by their labors. By early morning, we left them in peace to weave.

Making our way over open waters, out boats sought the shade of a thickety mangrove. We paddled quietly in the calm of morning. As if we were strolling the Champs Elysées, its precocious trees towering o'er passers by, so we sauntered through the wide mouth of the mangrove. The brackish waters slapped the heads of our kayaks while mosquitoes permeated tiny strips of exposed skin. We moved steadily through the calm mouth of the mangrove before turning down a narrow alley to the left. There were signs at every fork in the tangle of sea trees; the sign we chose was pale blue and peeling like birch bark from its waterlogged wood.

The passage was thick: thick with color, thick with roots, thick with insects, thick air. No one spoke as we navigated slowly around the spidery root systems and gnarly, snail-studded branches. Tiny crabs scuttled about in the gritty umber mud, held aloft by the cage of roots. I thought of the men weaving together crab traps of their own on the beaches. The light was dappled and cast curious shadows on our faces as we tried to absorb the engulfing environment. But it absorbed us. 10 meters away, a stranger could never see us. We were hidden by the dense and determined vegetation, which camouflaged us quickly as slapping roots and snapping branches coated us in mud and salt and twigs.

We emerged in to the sea once more and were dazzled by the noon time sun on the labyrinth of jutting karst before us. Everywhere on the horizon, craggy outlines of cliffs and the frothy excitement of the ocean dancing around. We cut the waves with our paddles and headed toward the largest cliff, streaked cream, charcoal, sienna, beige, tan and infinite shades of ancient cockles and cowries. This Jackson Pollack painting of a rock loomed above as we clumsily attempted surf landings. We bobbed amongst the waves and crashed into the sand as the village before us busied itself in preparation.

The deep gouges we left in the sand when we dragged our kayaks framed the faded scraps of wrappers and shoes scattered along the beach. They led up to the grove of pine beyond, where we lined up our boats and lifevests and selves to wait for our families to collect us all. Salty and sunned from days on the ocean, we glanced at one another's kayak attire, as our Mother's approached in long skirts, best shirts and delicate veils. The judgement in the air was palpable. I tucked my three day braids under a bandanna and smiled as a woman claimed me. She took me by the hand, led me to the shade and I mounted on her scooter: backpack on, snorkel in one hand, PFD in the other.

Gravel crunched beneath our weight as we made our way home. I was overwhelmed by the distinct sounds of terrestrial existence. I listened to the whirr of the engine, the yelp of dogs, the rustling of branches, the squeak of brakes on the blazingly warm road; engulfed in a shroud of forgotten sounds, I set off for the beloved unknown.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kaow Tom

This may be gonzo at its finest. 6 am, thrust into the back of a beat up Mazda, wedged between an enormous crockpot of meaty soup and an old woman, completely unknown. An hour of stifling smog, the stench of pork, somewhere the sun rising behind the lounging veil of exhaust. The red Mazda pulls into a bank parking lot - surely not here? - but the soup unloads itself and soon is pouring down the nicotine-charred throats of men. Wheels of pick up trucks somehow gleam without the sun but soon fade beside the chrome and spokes of the bikes whose motors growl and slowly turn the bank into a cacophonous riot. Not to be outdone by the smog from the engines, their men breathe forth signals of Camel and LP and Winston. As they mount their metal mares, with the swagger of brackish cowboys, the swirls of smoke dissipate and the wheels begin to whirl. The motors and their men vanish, slurped up by the horizon, much like the soup now lying in dregs in the parking lot.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I got new glasses. Fun!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stars and Scars

Today I was a small child. My mother taught me to weave and fed me small candies as I watched. I sat in the sunshine playing Uno with my sisters and the youngest obviously cheated. She bent the rules and her cards and the mat we sat on as she wriggled and squirmed in delight.

We played football in the mud and got ourselves filthy before each of us was sent off to bathe. We clambered out of the shower and immediately started to play again, before our Mother called us back into the house to eat. We sat with legs sprawled slurping up noodles and each of us splattered our shirts with yellow sauce. I ate with my fingers and licked each one happily to savor every moment of flavor. Then we ran back down the steep driveway to find Da Phoam and To Phay to play. We gathered in a garden and pretended to be animals of every type. First, we were elephants with bellowing trunks, then monkeys scampering up all of the trees. Then we were chickens and dogs and lions and frogs and many other animals I didn't know the name of but still pretended to be, running around the dirt and clambering on all fours.

Then we played a little duck-duck-goose and hand-clapping games as a grandmother silently looked on. She sat with her loom, weaving a bright blue shirt and her husband made fun of my skirt as it kept falling while chasing the other children around. We tired of our frolicking and came back to my house, where the older children were playing Uno once more. Each of the toddlers sat in the lap of an elder and we played until the sun finally set.

Then I say on a blanket in my Uncle's company, watching the moon rise and the birth of the stars. I asked, in wide eyed wonder, the names of the constellations in Karen and he brought out his grandfather to teach us. We sat drinking tea and stargazing for what seemed but a minute but soon I was being told it was time for bed.

So we climbed back up the driveway and I changed into pajamas before saying goodnight to my family and lying down in bed.

I hope tomorrow morning that I don't wake up as a 20 year old again. I like being this small very much.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Colors of Tired Fingers

My 5 year old sister's hands are stained bright blue from the pastel she clutches. Green streaks adorn her wrists and her cuticles are red from smearing the oily shades. My own nails are a leafy green at the tips from stripping pumpkin vines to make curry this morning and the pads of my fingers smart and swell from the nicking stab of the needle I grasped, clumsily, embroidering a shirt with white seeds. My mother's hands moved far more deftly, stitching succinctly, and no throbbing stab wounds emerged on her careful, callused digits. Her nails are short, cut off by her husband this afternoon, except for the left thumb which she uses to cut thread.

We sit on the floor of the kitchen with the wind faintly breezing through the cracks in the bamboo walls, as a daughter slurps on melon, which drips down her face and neck and arms. Its sticky orange residue clings to her tawny skin and almost seems to glow in the fractured gloaming light. Her uncle lies by the fire, his sooty fingers leaving a trail of smudge as he reads his translated Bible, occasionally tends to the coals. His face is so close to the pages, I can't imagine how he reads them, but every now and then he smiles and looks to us, happily around.

Outside, I hear my Father, lazily fixing his scooter, with the grime and oil of engine sinking into his etched palms. The starter isn't starting, the gasline may be broken, but between his thumbs and eyes and skills he'll soon have it purring away. He was working silently as I arrived in the village, nonplussed by the gargantuan truck which bore me and its sweaty palmed owner whose knuckles had turned white as we clambered along dirt roads, up and over the many and rugged mountains. He just stood up slowly and welcomed me, smiling, offering out his hand for me to greet and said 'Da Bleu.'