Slimy, Stinky Fish

Though I’m not actually in Pakistan now, I had a number of posts which I wrote while I was there and didn’t have time to post. As a result, I will be writing about my time there for a few more posts, which might be interrupted by others in between. Thanks for reading!


Slimy, Stinky Fish

Wet covers the ground as men, wrapped in shawls, make their way around the piles of fish that lie everywhere. No one has time to stop and gawk at the three oddly-placed foreigners making their way around the press of people. All are busy doing their own business, rushing to buy their fish and get them out to the public. Carts make their way through the crowd, their pushers shouting at whoever stands in the way as they stop constantly for the men squeezing through the small gaps in the mass. One man makes a loud wailing sound, like a siren on an emergency vehicle, as he pushes though. It works for ambulances, so he figures it can’t hurt to put it to use for his fish cart. Others are almost ploughed over as they stand around the piles, only just dodging the carts as they check the mounds of fish. One wheelbarrow, left unattended, is knocked over in the hubbub, but thankfully manages to keep its fish from sliding out onto the ground.

The fish are all so varied. Some of the piles are full of bright pink fish, with yellow streaks colouring their fins like an early sunrise. There are huge fish too —tuna maybe (I’m not very knowledgable when it comes to fish) that look like it would take the full strength of one man just to lug one of the slippery bodies to wherever it needed to go. There are sole, and other fish that look like they spent their lives lying flat on their side at the bottom of the ocean, staring up at the strange world above them. There are others that have large red balloon-like bulges sticking out of their mouths, as if their stomachs exploded out of their bodies on the way up from the water. There are long eels, brilliant blue parrot fish, and barrels of shrimp and prawn, with their tiny black eyes and long wispy appendages. My brother and I glance around at the different fish, having to constantly keep moving, for fear of being run over by the traffic of carts and wheelbarrows all around us. It’s like being in the Sea World of Pakistan.

I’ve never been to Sea World, and I won’t even pretend I know what it’s like. I know its nothing like the Karachi fish market, but all the same, it’s an amazing experience to see the display of sea life — dead. It’s kind of an oxymoron when you think about it. Dead sea life. This is the kind of fishing my dad likes, where everything is already caught for you, sorted in nice little piles. My brother seems to be the only one of us blessed with enough patience to enjoy fishing – though I’m not sure why that patience can’t be put to use in any other areas of his life. I really don’t mind fishing, just like I don’t mind sitting, with my feet in the water, watching and talking, while my brother does all the fishing. I think I would enjoy it even more if I could have a pot of chai with me as well.

While we walk through the market, a wheelbarrow of stingrays passes me on my side, just giving me a glimpse of their flat, grey bodies and long, thin tails. I remember the time we found a stingray on the beach —tired and half dead (or half alive, if you’re being optimistic). Scooping it up with a shovel, we waded into the water and tossed it into the waves, making sure we bravely screamed and ran the other way, so the all-but-lifeless stingray didn’t manage to get us while we stood there in the water.

In the fish market, everyone carries a slimy wicker basket — on carts, wheelbarrows, rickshaws and by hand. A man goes by us with a slimy basket in each hand, a giant tail sticking out of one end, as his shoulders droop with the weight of his fishy cargo. I wonder if there is a special supplier of these slimy fish baskets. I wonder if the fishermen are outraged when they get a new one, because it doesn’t come slick and slippery like all the ones they are used to having.

Stinky, slimy, noisy and busy, the fish market is a must-see for anyone wanting a display of ocean creatures. Roll up your jeans and slop your way through the a raw museum of the Indian Ocean’s dead sea life. For anyone security conscious, this is the place for you. No terrorist would ever look for foreigners there, or even follow you in, for that matter!

My brother, Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut
My brother Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut

A Night with Turtles

Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2013)
Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2013)

Every year my family goes to the beach near Karachi, for a week of rest and escape. We stay in a small and rustic beach hut with weathered and peeling blue and white paint. Away from the phone and doorbell, this week is a time for my parents to kickback, relax, and mostly to read. In the past, for us kids it has been almost a week of non-stop digging in the sand and getting seriously browned – or just sunburned. This year it was the first time, since my high school graduation, that I was able to join our family beach week. And though my sister couldn’t be with us this time, my brother and I did manage to keep ourselves busy.

Our very first night at the the hut, my brother, my dad and I decided we would take a walk after dark, up along the beach, to enjoy the waves and the stars, and hopefully to see some sea turtles. At this time of year female sea turtles, laden with eggs, will make their way out of the water, up onto the sand, and dig a nest for the eggs. With their strong flippers they will scoop sand out from around them till they are deep enough to lay their precious cargo.

As we made out way along the beach that night, we came across turtle after turtle (close to a dozen), coming up from the dark ocean. Some halfway up the sand, others having just made their way out of the the water. Each time my dad would tell us to be quiet and coax us past, trying not to scare them. And each time my brother and I would be desperate to stay and catch a better look at the turtles up close.

With sea turtles, it’s important to make sure you don’t scare the females as they come up to make their nests. Tired and heavy, the last thing they need is to be scared back into the ocean. We always try to stay out of their way until the eggs are laid, and only after they begin their trip back into the water, do we try to get close to them. When we made it back to the hut again, my brother and I decided to stay out, quietly watching two turtles nearby, only a few huts apart from each other. A couple times we had to throw stones, as the dark shapes of dogs moved along the sand, some below us toward the water, and others up further, almost attacking on of the poor mother turtles as she dug her nest. Each time, the turtle would move a few meters from where she had been been, frightened by the dogs, and would begin digging again in the new spot.

Back and forth, my brother and I would patrol, toward to the water, making sure the dogs stayed far away from both turtles. It was just after checking on one of the mothers that a dark mass further down the beach caught our attention. We stood, and squatted, trying to see in the moonless night. Between the black bunches of seaweed on the shore, we could see the silhouette of a head and shell, making its way down toward the water. Quietly we walked up, standing close behind it on either side. Softly we ran our hands along its large smooth shell — such a contrast to the small shells of the newborns, with their minute ridges. We felt the mother’s large flippers as well, thick and leathery beneath our fingers, whispering to each other in excitement as we followed her along. I wanted so badly to swim in with her — to see her in the water, but in the dark and with the water being so cold, going in deep seemed pointless. Instead we walked with her, resting our hands on her shell.

Soon we reached the wet sand, where the little waves washing up onto the sand began to catch the turtle’s body, pulling her as they washed in and out. Her slow and steady crawl continued as the water swirled its way around her. And then there was a moment — with one wave carrying a little more water than the last — where her body rose slightly, and her thick front flippers found the room they needed to swim. When a turtle gets into water, one quickly learns the difference between bodies made for the ocean and bodies made for the land.

My brother and I splashed into the dark surf, trying to keep our hands on her shell. But after that single moment, there was nothing holding her back. In seconds her dark, glossy shell disappeared beneath the surf and she was gone, leaving two boys grinning at each other in the dark, knee-deep in the water.