Archive for April 10th, 2009

Old Rope, New Jam

April 10, 2009


The sea isn’t blue.

Its hues are touched by the paintbrush position of the sun and the lengthening and lowering of tides.

Now, right now, as I write early morning with a first cup of tea at my side, I am staring at sea glazed silver by a sun that leaves a burnished wake upon the water’s shallow surface; the tide is seeping out. The sand island rising slowly.


By mid morning the island will be wholly visible and the water around it will be dappled jade and aquamarine and turquoise and aquarium green and gin clear at lapping edges. It’s only blue beyond the reef. Deep, dark cobalt.

And as the tide rises with later afternoon winds, white horses will gallop across the ocean but bolt before they reach the beach. There may be rain which will blow heady sea scents through my window and stain the water slate. Sometimes the azure blues or the hot whites or the glowering greys of the sea stretch to link hands with the sky and you can’t tell where one ends and another begins.

I have tried to capture the ocean’s changing moods and shifting shapes and softly morphing colours with my Canon. I was seduced, by the commercials of my childhood, to believe Canon Can. It can’t though. Not always.

Yesterday my son and I tipped into the water with aqualungs. I haven’t done that before. I spied a moray eel almost as big as myself and curled crossly between coral heads. And the crocodile winking eyes of manta rays that thought I could not see them buried beneath the bone white sand at the bottom. I breathed as I had been told to. As you would on land, the instructor said. In. Out. In. Out. Slowly. Don’t be alarmed by all the bubbles, he said, there will be lots. There were. Accompanied by the reassuring wheeze of my regulator. In. Out. In. Out.

It’s a long time since I have done something I have never done before. It’s a liberating, empowering sensation to know you still can.

A family of dolphins attached themselves to the boat on the way home. I wished Hat was with me. Have you ever seen a dolphin, she has asked, I’d like to see a dolphin, she has said. There was a baby that stuck closely to his mother’s side and mimicked her dives so that we could see his small snout alongside hers; the slickly glossed arch of his back bent in perfect synchronization with mum’s. Their dance about the bow so flawlessly choreographed that there were no shrieks or whistles to order an errant performer back into line. Silently, perfectly, beautifully choreographed. Flashes of white beneath a cerulean surface that broke as polished grey.

I took a picture for Hat. I’ll send it to her – even though it does not do the spectacle justice – and try to describe the experience, one of peace juxtaposed peculiarly against sheer exhilaration. I hope she won’t mind that she missed it. Another time, I will say, I promise. Mum assures me she is happy, she met her classmates, the invisible ones, no longer faceless strangers. As if she went to school with them every single day, said Mum. Which she does. In a way. I have bought rainbow shoes, Hat told me in a text message. Rainbow shoes to wear to meet her old-new friends.

One day this will be our home. This little place beside the sea. It was my husband’s mother’s, grandmother’s, my children’s great-grandmother’s and grand-uncles. In times of turmoil this small family has come for cover here. To swim, to eat mandazi (which we buy from a mama who arrives bearing them in a bucket on her head) and mango for breakfast, fish and chip and too much Heinz tomato sauce for lunch, to sleep, to read, to lick our wounds or count or blessings or simply to watch the sea. My children’s dad grew up on the same verandah I sit on now. He played cards where we do every evening. Transient African lives – for the nomadic spirits here touch all our souls – need anchors. I think this is ours.

And our responsibility.

I know nothing about marine conservation. But those who do are willing to share their knowledge. It’s about communities and sustainable fishing and education, they say. It’s about reminding visitors that spangled lime-green and fiery-orange star fish as big as dinner plates will not look like that once plucked from their ocean beds and displayed on mantelpieces back home. Death will dull their brilliance. And make them smell awful, I add. Visitors drop their quarry quickly then, and sheepishly.

Are you using a spear gun? I demand of a young lad who dives beneath the surface after a furtive glance around.

Yes, he admits.

Not here, I say and I indicate two buoys, not between those, I gesture.

What did you tell him Mum, demands Amelia who urged me forth (taunting Call yourself a conservationist?!) and then dove beneath the surface before I opened my mouth. Marine protection is all very well providing it’s not some woman spelling it out to a fellow teen who may just guess she’s your mum.

Go mama! She says once we are safely out of earshot of anybody in the sea.

I walk later on a beach ironed white smooth by high water, white smooth and perfectly clear of the flotsam and jetsam tossed up by waves. No bottles or plastic bags, no discarded thong-less flipflops or old rope.

Just new jam.