Where fishing is a spectator sport

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July 27th 2008
Published: July 27th 2008
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After a somber day at Cape Coast, this morning was much more pleasant in Elmina, a neighboring town that is smaller and centers around a crazy fishing industry. I don't think I will ever lose my fascination with the long, sleek wooden fishing boats you see across the world in small fishing towns. I love the angles, the simplicitybut sturdiness of the construction, the colors painted bright and randomly with flags from all over, Ghana, US, UK, Japan, Italy, and the huge crews of fishermen riding aboard the long ones. And the harbor in Elmina on the Ghanaian coast may be the greatest one for boat-watching I've seen.

The coast bends around to a long channel, protected by a jetty, with stone walls on either side, teeming with people watching the ships come back ashore. All of this happens as ominous Elmina Castle (another former slave-trading fort) looms behind, surpassed in height only by the palm trees that line the beach. As the boats make it through the channel they pass under a low, arching car and pedestrian bridge, which is filled with hundreds of people, sitting on ledges and standing on the walkway. As the fishing boats pass underneath, if it has a good catch, the space between the seats filled with small fish, then the people on the bridge applaud and cheer the haul, and then some break off to head further into the harbor, where the fish market is, to buy the fish they just watched pass underneath. It is the rainy season now, and so, according to some people from Elmina I watched the boats with, this is when the best fishing happens, so everyone is working like crazy to make their money, and the boats go in and out constantly, even on a Sunday. Past the bridge and inside the fish market the boats are all tied up in huge knots of wooden masses, pointing out in different directions, just like the little vans and taxis at the transport stations I use so much here.

There is a special hierarchy to the fish market, the people watching continue to tell me: Men can enter for free, as they are the ones who do the fishing, but women, do buy and then trade the fish, must pay 10 peshwas to access that part of the docks, since they will make money off the fish they take from the boats. Walking along the edge of the stone channel's walls, careful not to fall into some of the grossest water I've seen in a long time, seeing fishermen dry their nets and put away gear, I can't help but htink of Pablo Neruda, the poet whose obsession with the sea consumed him, but who never dared venture aboard wooden boats like these, content just to sit on the shore and watch the boats confront the waves as they head back to sea, eulogizing their journeys on his pieces of paper with a mix of awe and envy. But to tell the truth, I don't want to be Neruda, I want to jump aboard and pull the nets with them, to be cheered when we cross under the bridge on the way home, belly of the ship full to the brim with little snapper and tilapia.


29th July 2008

Rafe, I know you are a smart cookie and I thought I knew you pretty well - but you've been hiding the soul of a poet. You realise I'm going to be lobbying you to keep this blog going when we get back to NC - or at very least to show me the pictures from Elmina Port. This is wonderful stuff. P xoxo
29th July 2008

Aw, now I'm blushing. Thanks Pia, that was a nice little mid-afternoon boost as I write, write, and write some more of this darn report. As for keeping this going post Ghana, I don't know if writing about a policy paper or our intramural sports conquest will be interesting enough in comparison, but I think I like this approach to staying in touch with people for future travels, so much easier than mass emails or total silence.
30th July 2008

rafe, i totally agree with pia. although i knew this side of you, it doesn't come out nearly as much when talking about focus groups or access to housing. so, your last two posts have been so dreamy in that "taking me there" way. i can almost smell the fish market or the damp dungeon walls. thanks for sharing. i love it. when do we get to read the novel?
31st July 2008

Re: agreed
C'mon Kate, you know you love Focus Groups. Glad to hear the Lonely Planet type entries are appreciated too. Hopefully I'll see a few more sights before leaving that I can tell you about.

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