I looked at the red hues of the fish and frowned. It was a curiosity frown, one that spreads over my forehead the dozens of times that curiosity strikes me on any given day.
“Huyu ni red snapper sir!” This is a red snapper sir!' Magoma told me in his loud booming voice. I had told him a million times to stop calling me sir but he had persisted. He was our lead fisherman and handy man. Magoma was born in Faza Island and knew everything there was to know about the ocean and the sea life that inhabits it. He is one of the few human beings who have actually walked on the ocean floor.
“Poa!” Cool! I said as I took hold of the red snapper fish and pulled it closer to me. It looked healthy and yummy. Good to look at and judging from the two times I had tasted it, good to eat. It had medium-sized scales and was almost three feet long. Grande! I thought as I looked at it admiringly.
“Hii ni kubwa sana Magoma,” this is quite big Magoma. I said as we placed it on a scale. Three kilos.
“Hii si kubwa sana sir! ” This is not that big, Magoma insisted, “mi nimewahi kumshika red snapper wa kilo ishirini!” I once caught a red snapper that weighed twenty kilos.
If I didn't know Magoma, I would have thought that he was exaggerating. But as someone who has spent at least twenty of his thirty five years doing ocean-related activities, I knew his knowledge of marine life was probably more than that of many marine professors. I think the tragedy of contemporary education is that it often treats people like Magoma, whose indigenous knowledge is monumental, as illiterates just because of their scant formal education.
I gingerly placed the red snapper on top of the freezer and poked it cautiously.
“Nieleze zaidi kuhusu huyu red snapper,” Tell me more about this red snapper, I told Magoma.
“Yuapenda sana kula shrimps na aweza kusihi miaka mingi sana!” He loves to feed on shrimps and can live for many, many years! Magoma answered enthusiastically, his Swahili laden with a heavy Lamu accent. He always finished his sentences with exclamations, as if every word he spoke needed emphasis.
Magoma’s enthusiasm for the red snapper inspired Bwak the Bantu poet to write a red snapper poem whose opening line was, ‘They leave a trail of red thrill in their trail as they roam Lamu’s deep sea waters.’
What do you leave in your trail as you go about your life? Do the footprints of your life leave hope and help wherever they tread?