Moses Iten: Because I Was Brought By The Road (1)

12 May 2003
“Now the time had come to kill them”

One boat remained out in the ocean, beyond the rock. The other twelve boats had pulled ashore before we arrived. Not a single little fish had been in their nets today. The fishermen of the whole village would have to eat crabs from the lagoon. Scrape together some pesos to feed their families. So we headed to the lagoon nearby for some crabs.

Don't call me foreign
because we heard stories in a different language
don't call me foreign
because with the love of our mothers
we took the same light
with which we dream the same dreams
don't call me foreign
and don't think about where I come from
better to know where we will go
because your bread and your fire
calm my hunger and cold
I shelter under your roof
your flour is like my flour
don't call me foreign
because I was brought by the road
because I was born to a different people
because I know other oceans.

(Alberto Cortez and Facundo Cabral)

Whilst a man was using a pole to push his crude wooden canoe around the shallow lagoon, his little son pulled up the traps to check their catch. On the shore two men were setting more traps; one-metre across wire circles with a net stretched across its interior, like tennis rackets. The crabs get stuck on the net, staying there until pulled out of the water the next day.

“This is what we'll be eating if we don't catch any crabs,” cackled one of the fishermen, taking a yellow chicken's foot from a pile and holding it up like a prize. The bait. I was praying the crabs are attracted to chicken feet more than I. Chicken feet are sold in vinegar as a poor man's delicacy in Mexico; and the cartilage is slurped off the bones with gusto. The tiniest crab is a chunk of beef fillet in comparison.

Stepped into the muddy shore-water to help upturn their canoe. Large crabs scooted in all directions. A boy who had helped gently stepped on one of them to stop it, then looked at us with a what-the-#%@&-do-I-do-now look.

“Well pick it up!,” answered his dad. The boy checked which end had the finger-chopping claw and picked it up from behind. “Here you go,” he said to me. Hang on: to ME? I looked around at the circle of smiling fishermen and grabbed the thing. Proudly paraded around with the wriggling monster a bit, until I found a bucket to throw it into.

Now the time had come to kill them. I watched a fishermen pull the shell of a few crabs and throwing them onto a pile where they sideways-walked their last sideways- walks. Then grabbed one myself trying to copy his trick of hooking your finger under a spike behind the claw to pull of its shell. It wriggled like crazy and I just snapped off the spike. The fishermen laughed. Feeling like it was my turn to shoot in a pirate-pistol duel, quickly grabbed the spike on the other side and pulled off the shell. The fishermen stopped laughing.

Moses Iten is a Tasmanian-Swiss writer and producer. He recently joined SBS Radio as international music contributor and co-producer of the Monday Alchemy show, after returning with a tonne of stories from a year in Mexico, including this one.

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