Bluebottles To The Rescue
Photo by Marat
Gilyadzinoy on Unsplash.
Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra
was one of the children in our Village in Fynnland, Durban, Natal,
South Africa, in the 1950s. This is an account of an adventure a
group of us had. All of us were in our early teens.
was a suburb of Durban. One of its boundaries was a section of the
shore of Durban Bay on the Indian Ocean. In the second half of the
nineteenth century, our Village grew in a small area of that section.
just about everybody in the Village fished at times, fishing was not
a full-time profession. All adults commuted daily to workplaces
beyond the Village. It was the children who had fun fishing, just
about every day, and sometimes at night. Of course, we ate the fish
the fish we caught, we caught by hand, among the mangrove roots.
mangrove tree grows in ocean salt water. Some of its roots grow in a
tangled mesh above ground under water. At high tide, fish swim about
in the mesh, but when the tide recedes to low tide, some fish get
stranded in the mesh. That is where we caught them.
was not as easy as it sounds. Most of the times the fish got away,
because wet mangrove roots are dangerously slippery to feet, bare or
in footwear; and dangerously tricky for hands to get a grip, bare or
gloved. Rarely would there be an opportunity to stand with both feet
underwater planted on the sea floor while we fished with both hands.
Always, there had to be some bracing contact with mangrove roots.
fish forever had all the advantages even when confined to maneuvering
among mangrove roots. For us, all the difficulties were part of the
fun of mangrove fishing, even the risk of being arrested by police
for illegal fishing.
was utterly ridiculous that adult police persons would spend so much
time trying to arrest teenagers. We looked forward to the police
chase through waist-deep sea water among mangrove roots. It was best
at nights when there was no moon.
police never had a prayer against us. In all those teen years I was
involved, the police never succeeded in catching any of us.
birth, Kalendri had a mental deficiency. At the beginning of her teen
years she could barely form sentences. Mother Nature compensated by
endowing Kalendri with unusual abilities.
one, she was lightning-quick in grabbing fish out of the water. This
was a priceless gift in our fisher-folk community. She never returned
empty-handed when she went fishing. Day and night. The rest of us,
most times, came back empty-handed.
she could swim. We called it swimming because she moved silently and
swiftly through the water, but her speed was out of proportion to the
barely noticeable movements of her arms and legs. She could remain
submerged longer than any of the adult, experienced fishermen.
had competitions. Kalendri won every time. The only payment she
accepted was riding in a fisherman's net. She was light enough for
net fishermen to let her ride in their wood-frame shrimp nets they
pushed in front of them through waist-deep water.
wore trousers and shirt; never a dress. She paid the old women of the
Village with fish for them to keep her head shaved of all its hair.
She loved to fish in the mangroves with us, and to roam the Fynnland
jungles for wild fruit. She sensed the presence of snakes. She would
point, we would step back and detour even when we did not see the
communicated with us mostly by pointing. I never saw her smile or
laugh or giggle.
one time, a net fisherman found a long bone in his net, it caused a
sensation. Everyone who saw it agreed it was not a bone from a marine
animal. Perhaps it was from a land animal that a shark in Durban Bay
had eaten? Durban Bay was notorious for shark attacks on swimmers and
spoke it, but some of us feared that bone could have been human.
had discovered a mangrove pool of poisonous Blue Bottle marine
creatures. The Blue Bottle is a marine organism that at one end has a
thin bluish bubble from which extends, for yards, a thin line of
living tissue bearing highly poisonous sting darts that inject their
poison into a prey, causing excruciating pain for hours. In smaller
prey, the poison is lethal within seconds.
was no way for Kalendri to let us know how long after she discovered
the pool she invited us to see it.
pool was deep among the mangrove trees; encircled by the trees, and
most of it was almost stagnant because of the thick growth of
gestured us to hold onto branches at the side, above the pool. She
clutched at a branch, too. What was striking was the colour of the
water in the pool. Being among the mangroves, the pool could not be
more than chest deep. Its almost calm surface had a tinge of blue
holding onto a branch above, leaned over and splashed the water with
her foot, and quickly lifted herself back up. Within seconds
countless Blue Bottle organisms rose to the surface. Their presence
on the surface made the water breathtakingly deepest blue.
the total beauty, I was more than a little frightened to be that
close. Months earlier I had been stung by a Blue Bottle while I was
fishing among the mangroves. I had immediately torn the tentacles off
my arm. Nothing helped. I was in stinging pain on my arm for hours.
For days afterwards the affected part of my arm was numb.
Kalendri's pool, after what seemed a long while, the organisms slowly
sank to the bottom.
horrified us by slowly lowering herself into the pool. She slowly and
silently walked through the chest-deep water. No ripples were created
by her movements. Then she slowly submerged. We could see her all the
emerged slowly a few steps farther, and continued walking. When she
reached the end of the pool, she climbed up the mangroves. She waved
a giant prawn shrimp at us in her hand.
had found a way to move silently and slowly enough to not trigger a
response from the Blue Bottles, and, while she was at it, to grab a
prawn from the bottom of the pool.
seems the prawns and the lethal Blue Bottles lived in harmony at the
bottom of the pool among mangrove roots.
pool was Kalendri's very own prawn-fishing place. Everyone had always
wondered when she turned up with a few prawns in her pockets.
after she had shown the location of the pool to us, she confided in
us that a long time ago, she had been pursued by a policeman into the
mangroves. She had entered the pool and waded along. She was climbing
out at the far end when the policeman plunged into the pool after
was Kalendri's guess the bone the fisherman had net-surfaced, had
been from that policeman's corpse.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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