Buying fish in Africa without using language

Skeletal fishing boat shells were marooned on the sand, desiccating under the sun on the Mozambican coast. I took photos of them as they lay, serene and beautiful. The coast of Mozambique was a gorgeous aqua blue, the beach was perfect. Completely unexpected for a country I usually just associated with war. 

Further down the beach we came across a group of fisherman, their catch of the day (which they intended to sell to nearby hotel kitchens) lined up on the sand. There was an impressive array of squids, crabs, and all kinds of huge fish of different sizes and colours, and we wanted to buy one for our dinner that night. We sat on the sand and negotiated with the Mozambican fisherman. Without a word of Portuguese between us, we drew numbers in the sand for the amount of Metical we wanted to pay.

After agreeing on a number, we had bought two fish, which the fisherman scaled and gutted on the beach. The fisherman’s son ran down to the water and washed it clean of sand and scales in the lapping waves. Wrapped in plastic bags, the son and his friend carried the fish back to the camp for us. We tipped the kids for the effort. With fish in our car fridge, and a pile of tiny bread rolls bought from a local baker, we had dinner ready to go.


Later that night, we braai’ed the fish over a campfire, cooked to perfection, despite a few crunchy grains of sand in the meal. Wessel had mentioned earlier that he didn’t like the idea of the fish washed in the sea, for hygiene reasons. Until he said that, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the fish might not be as clean as I hoped.  

I woke up at midnight feeling sick, but nothing came. It might have just been psychological. I still think the fish was fine. I sat in the Mozambique night alone for a long while, looked at the sea, and thanked my lucky stars I was here in Africa.

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