We pull up just as the sun begins her habitual descent into the aquatic horizon, igniting highways from west to east of rippling, glowing fire. The gulf laps quietly against the bows of some fourteen fishing boats, resting sleepily after another long day of relentless toil. Gulls soar overhead, searching for one last treat before complete darkness. The wind begins to pick up, merciless in her endeavor to blast billows of sand onto every exposed inch of sweaty, sticky skin. Natural exfoliation at her finest. Delicious, enticing smells come wafting on the breeze, woodsmoke and frying shrimp.
I remember the first time I was given shrimp in a home here in Campeche. They served us up enormous bowls of shrimp broth, heads and tails separated but still in the shell. Except I didn’t really know it was shrimp. I thought the heads were maybe some exotic brand of grasshoppers, six-inch long antennae, beady black eyes and oh the legs. So many legs! I whispered my doubts of horror to David. Shrimp, he assured me. I looked with mortification at my bowl. As far as I was concerned and according to small-town Michigan, shrimp came in vacuum-packed black bags in the freezer section of the grocery store with pictures of cute little curly pink things jumbled around a dish of dipping sauce. These enormous, whitish grey creatures floating in my bowl, of which I was expected to reach in and peel and suck and scramble through had to be of absolutely no relation!
But that was 10 years ago.
Our friends welcome us under a simple wooden structure, topped with dried palm branches. Their daughter is busy in the kitchen, frying shrimp and little fish, cutting limes, making up tortilla dough. They are old friends, dear people we have known for years. We peel our shrimp by the light of a lantern, it’s greenish glow casting just enough lambency to distinguish faces and whose coke is whose.
The talk always turns to the sea.
How do you know where the shrimp will be? Ah, the wind. The wind will tell you were to find them, in close or out far.
Have you ever had a close call? One time. One time, yes. It was night and we were resting, but not sleeping. We saw a light coming closer and closer. Thankfully our engine was still running. It was a huge boat. It would have run us over but we were able to move just in time.
Cazón that we eat, do they stay little or do they grow into big sharks? Oh, sister, those are just the babies. Out there are some seven kinds of sharks, there’s hammer head, black fins….all kinds. Because the oil rigs throw their wasted food overboard, the sharks all crowd around below.
What are those two lights way out there? Those lights there you ask? That’s the Usumacinta oil rig. It exploded about 12 years ago. Those aren’t lights out there, actually. It’s really fire, still exploding from escaping gases. We were here when it happened; not long after a man in a life vest washed up to shore. He was almost gone. An engineer from the rig. We brought him up, washed him, gave him food and drink. We named our son after him. Another man was also found, his leg had been torn off by a shark. Most everyone else died.
It’s totally black now, except for their couple lanterns. No electricity out at the beach. The kids are shrieking and laughing, spinning around and falling in the sand, loving having older kids to play with. We talk and laugh and share. Time doesn’t seem to matter. They hardly sleep anyhow, swinging in hammocks with half an eye open to watch the boats in their care.
Good nights are finally said, they stay to their night long labor and to semi rest before another busy day tomorrow, ourselves gone to fly down the lonely beach, salty air whipping our hair into tangled messes.
It is times like these that one feels so at home. So in love with the people God has chosen for us to live with. These occasions help smooth out the rough ones; they give new life and energy to flagging souls. God help us if we ever think we’re the only ones who can encourage and uplift. A plate of fried shrimp on the gulf shore did more for me tonight than any amount of literary genius scribbled across a thousand pages in Times New Roman ever could.