Wasini Island, Kenya’s South Coast – He looked at his empty hands, as if they were responsible for the lack of fish that afternoon. He was waist deep in the warm, salty waters of the Indian Ocean. His wet hands had just finished running through a large ten-metre net that four fellow fishermen, together with him, had left in the ocean to trap fish.
‘Lililoandikwa halifutiki,’ he muttered under his dry breath as his calloused left palm wiped sweat from his wide brow. Literally translated, these words mean that ‘what God has written cannot be erased.’ In other words, if God had pre-determined that they would not get fish on that particular day, not even the best nets in the words could deliver fish to them.
Later that night after the Isha’a prayers, Mzee Hemed (Mzee is Swahili for old man) was expressionless as he sipped kahawa tungu (Swahili espresso). It was his favourite beverage and ordinarily, its very intake would have put him into a cheery mood. But tonight, just like the previous night and the night before that, fish was on his mind. Or rather, lack of fish.
‘I have been fishing for more than thirty years now,’ Mzee Hemed tells me in a voice so low that I find myself leaning forward on the small wooden table in order to catch his words better.
Musa the restaurant’s owner and waiter shouts from the counter a few metres away if we need refills of kahawa tungu.
I shake my head, eager to listen to the ageing fisherman.
He started fishing in the early eighties when I was less than ten years old. He is still fishing. But the similarities end there since back then, the Indian Ocean was bustling with fish.
‘I always used to find fish in the net.’ He has a faraway look in his glazed eyes, ‘always.’
‘But these days, it is as if the fish are playing hide and seek with us.’
Mzee Hemed is saying in simple words what science is now concluding through hard facts unearthed from years of research. Last year, scientists from the US, France and France wrote research paper that shed further light to the hide and seek game that Mzee Hemed is referring to.
The Paper was titled, ‘A reduction in marine primary productivity driven by rapid warming over the tropical Indian Ocean.’ The paper’s abstract noted that, ‘future climate projections suggest that the Indian Ocean will continue to warm driving this productive region into an ecological desert.’
To be continued…