The Catch Of The Day

A Zanzibari 'ngalawa', carved out of a mango tree.
It was a peaceful morning in Jambiani, a small fishing village located on the southeast coast of Zanzibar. The birds chirped merrily. The waves whispered softly amongst themselves. Even the Colobus monkeys from the nearby Jozani Forest Reserve were in a state of contemplation rather than jumping up and down on the mud-tiled roofs. The morning didn’t start too well for Ali though. He woke up feeling feverish and couldn’t join the rest of the menfolk to fish in the high seas in their ‘ngalawas’ or boats carved out of mango trees. But since he had a family to feed, he considered the options before him – head out to the beach or hang around the resorts selling ‘village tours’, ‘dolphin tours’ etc. to tourists. He quickly discarded the second option. The season was yet to start and there were hardly any tourists to be seen. He also didn’t feel like faking a smile and indulging in a sales patter when his entire body was burning up. There have been many occasions when tourists have feigned interest only to back out at the last minute. He had more faith in the sea. Or, rather the beach, on this occasion.

During low tide, the sea in Jambiani recedes almost 3 km exposing a wide swathe of beach. While the men head out to fish, the women of Jambiani wait for the tide to recede so that they can rummage in the tidal flats for clams, sea cucumber, moray eels and shellfish. With ever depleting fish stocks, there’s no guarantee that the men would return with a good catch. So every little bit helps.

Ali walked quite further than the rest, under a blazing sun, ignoring a persistent headache. He knew a
coral rock pool right at the water’s edge. Often, fish get trapped in it while the tide receded. As the pool came in sight, Ali muttered a quick prayer. If someone had put a madema or a baited basket trap in it, it’s quite likely whatever fish was there in the pool was already inside the trap. And he obviously couldn’t help himself to a fellow villager’s catch. He really hoped nobody had got to the pool before him. He waded into the pool, eyes expertly scanning the clear water. No madema. No sign of any fish darting around. A bit anxious, he went deeper; the water was up to his waist now. And then he spotted a big ‘pweza’ or an octopus lurking at the farthest edge of the pool. A largish octopus means he could sell it for a good price at the Red Monkey beach shack.

Ali smiled with relief. His family won’t go hungry today.