She is often little more than a despotic queen. Demanding and unpredictable yet maddeningly indispensible, she ascertains man’s heart of fear and his soul of dependence. She is a moody monarch: one day deceptively sweet, honeying man out to her depths, the next roaring with insatiable anger and destroying whatever be in her all-encompassing path. She knows he can do nothing against her and will merely wait for the squall to pass before re-entering her enslaving waves to search for a few fish to feed his family. For without her, they will starve.
It is the story of all fishing villages, of all the world, of all ages.
Life is found within her watery swells. She yields kilo after kilo of shrimp and fish, putting food on the table and cash in the pocket. It keeps the economy running: women stand huddled around large wooden tables, sorting, processing, dying shrimp for many hours and happily arrive home with a few extra pesos tucked into the top of their shirt. Trucks arrive to haul loads all the way to Mexico City. They can buy their kids’ shoes, finish stuccoing their house, take the Virgin for a spin in their boat to thank her for their success.
Except it’s not always like that.
Men go out in the early morning, a few to a boat, loaded up with gasoline, nets and high spirits. All morning, the hot tropical sun beating down on their leathered skin, they throw the nets this way, then that. Nothing. They head back. Again in the evening, another try. Nothing.
What will their family eat? Never mind meat and vegetables. Just a few pesos for some tortillas, a few fish to fry and share. They have no choice but to try again.
They go all night, all the long, dark night. Nothing.
Desperation strikes. They head farther out to open sea, farther from the relative safety of the bay. Out to where there is possibly some hope.
Far, far out on the eastern horizon the clouds are rising, cumulating into dark, frightening masses. They are out too far, there is so little hope. Some make it home, some do not, their little fishing boats tossed like little toys on the violent sea. Her rage hardly mitigated even for the desperate cries of desperate men.
But the ones who make it home have no choice. It does not matter they have almost lost their lives. Their family has to eat.
Out they go, again and again. Searching, hauling, mending. Ceaseless, driving force to provide at least something.
They head out, just as the bright red sun sends its final rays flickering across the rippling sea. It’s just two of them this time. The boat is fully loaded, ready for an all-nighter. They wave good-bye to the family on the beach who watches their boat when not in use, and off they go. Gone for a few kilos of fish.
They go and night falls, the sea rocking to drowsiness her unsuspecting dependents as a mother lulls her baby to sleep.
Days go by and they don’t return. Not on the first, nor second, nor the third. The families begin to get desperate, but who has money to pay for the gas to go look for your husband, your father, your brother? The fourth, the fifth.
Some men finally go, out again to the depths of the sea.
There! Finally one cries. There, oh, there they must be! Oh, the grief, the disillusion! The demolished fragments of what had once been a fishing boat, floating all alone on that azure field of waves. Struck, no doubt by a large ship, unseen in the blackness of midnight. Farther on, what had once been a man, now recognizable only by a chain he wore. The other, lost. Completely lost.
I am at this moment at a loss for words, for these are true stories. The men lost in a sudden storm happened 3 years ago, the two men just last week.
They lived here, they worked here. Their wives and children are up the street, grieving.
There was no option. For all the danger, for all the uncertainty the life of a fisherman affords, there is little choice but to go again and again into those murky waters and hope for just a little catch. The sea, like an abusive relationship, can burn their skin, can steal their sleep, can take their very lives, but man will always go back to her again and again. Civilization demands it, the economy demands it, their children’s empty stomachs demand it most of all.
And what can one do? I suppose my three year old said it best.
Mommy, I hope God saves all the fishermen.
So do I, little man. So do I.