A few lovely folks, after reading my interview, have been like, “Wha—? Fishing? You… fish?!”
Some people have a hard time believing that I do some of the things I claim—maybe with good reason, seeing as I’m a storyteller—and one of those things has always been fishing. Local Alaskans don’t have much trouble buying it, since they all know how to change their own tires, start fires in the snow with sticks and gut a moose. But oftentimes I meet with a big ol’ raised eyebrow when I tell people in the Lower 48, or in Europe—or even in Africa, where women are tough as machetes—that I commercial fish for salmon. They just can’t believe I would—or could—do something like that. One time in Cameroon was the funniest, when my husband and I were living in various African fishing villages for a year.
It’s taboo in the tiny fishing village of Ebodje, Cameroon, for women to fish—in fact, the men there don’t believe women are even capable of fishing. One young man, a particularly garrulous guy named Felix, called B.S. on my stories about fishing in AK and demanded that I prove it.
Here’s Felix (trust me, he wouldn’t mind me posting his picture… in fact, he’d be downright tickled):
Fortunately, we actually had picture-proof, which is a handy thing to have when living in remote areas without the Internet. This is the picture, in fact:
After I convinced him that was actually me and not a boy, he looked at me skeptically, doing the raised-eyebrow thing, and said, “You could have just been lying down in those fish. How do I know you actually caught them?”
I couldn’t exactly prove my fishing skills by slipping into one of their dugout canoes on the beach (see above) and rowing out by myself because: 1) Have you ever tried rowing a carved-out tree trunk through crashing surf? It’s HARD. 2) I wasn’t allowed to do that anyway because it was taboo. (Easy way to claim someone can’t do something, right? Make it off-limits!) And I couldn’t go leaping in the ocean and pull out a fish with my hands and teeth, Gollum-style. I’m not that skilled… even if I have caught a salmon with my bare hands. (That’s right! I have! Can I prove it? Hm… not really. It was probably a one-time-only deal.) But to prove I at least knew all about the requirements of fishing, I started hanging a sardine net that we had draped over a tree in the backyard of our hut.
Now I’ve hung a few salmon nets out in Egegik, AK, and the principle is essentially the same across the world for diamond-mesh nets: you attach weights to the bottom end to sink it and floaters to the top, thus creating a wall of fishy death once it hits the water. But there’s definitely a subtle art to it. So I started weaving my hand-carved wooden needle (they’re plastic in AK) between the mesh diamonds of the net, tying on the weights, and Felix’s jaw just about fell off in the dirt. He found it so unbelievable, in fact, he figured no one else would believe him, so he had my husband take a picture of me hanging net, print it in the small town three hours away down a treacherous, bumpy dirt road, and give it to him so he could show everyone else. Here it is:
Funny thing is, anyone he showed it to could say, “She was probably just standing next to the net! How do I know she was actually hanging it?”
Such is the nature of proof. Now, how do you know I didn’t make this entire story up? You don’t! So you’ll just have to trust me. Such is the nature of trust.
That was sort of a story about telling stories, but the point is, basically, that I like fishing. And telling stories. Wait, what was the point, again? (Maybe that’s why I call this “Ramblings”…)
I’ll make True Story Time a regular feature on this blog, because it’ll be fun and new for me (and, I hope, others), since they’ll all be factual stories, for once, unlike the rest of what I write. Then “Ramblings” can both mean my wanderings with words and by foot.
P.S. There are plenty more stories to come, filled with all-too-real ants, bats, cockroaches, giant spiders, stomach distress, muggings, knives, my cooking, and did I mention giant spiders?