7 January 2013

Example 2: Djibouti to Yemen. Mareen’s lemon fish

Mareen wanted to see a lemon fish, on the waters of the Gulf of Aden. Traveling to Yemen from Djibouti for 2 days, the crew of the boat and me ended up fishing some tunafish and at the second day, in the morning we caught a lemon fish, which the chef of the ship cooked and served it for all of us on Midday for lunch.

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…, was listened through the megaphones of the mosque of the port of Djibouti. It was the prayer of the Maghrib – just after the sun fell down-, when the Muslims are reminiscent of God once more before the day comes to an end. It’s 18:15 of January 25 2009, and listening to this sounds I prepare myself to take this boat that will bring me, through the sea of Aden, to Yemen. It is a very different culture from ours, the Islamic, but very interesting. It is as if the propaganda made by the Western countries towards this society of different customs intoxicates us of fear, but, at the moment to hear and feel the chants directed to God felt an immense tranquillity, peace, “God is great”, “God is great”. Food smells cover the dark and dirty entrance of the port of Djibouti, lit only by a few lanterns of dim yellow light that with difficulty  let you see the faces of the future passengers, or not. The people was getting together to get a place in one of the boats that were heading for that country at the other side of this sea full of dangers. I already had the ticket; I bought it the day before to one of the adjacent offices of the port. Eight thousand Djibouti francs, about fifty US dollars.

Kept on waiting, eating up a few lentils with bread in one of the ambulant shops, while I was the attraction of all Yemenis, Somalis, Djibouti inhabitants. They approach me and asked where I was from, in French, English, Arabic… With their look they undressed my integrity, I was noticing certain mistrust towards the white man, towards my person. They were asking me if I was Muslim – I am not – if I was Christian, – I am not – so, what are you? They said. I answered them that I was not a believer and they could not imagine it, I told them that in what I believe are people and what surrounds us. I tell them a phrase I’ve learned in Arabic: “Alah a mana”, God is between us. They nod with the head.

A man comes calling names in Arabic, I listen attentively if he calls mine, but instead of this he does a gesture to me with the hand and I understand that it means that my ship is ready, – come with me-. I go to the food stand and turn back the very clean lentils plate to the seller. Everyone with whom I was speaking, conversing, doing mimicry, crossing complicity looks, wish me a good trip, they say – “Alah Maak“ – God be with you.

I take the motorbike and pushing it I begin to follow the man who had done the gesture to me with the hand. We cross the

Map: Gulf of Aden

Map: Gulf of Aden

entry of the port holding my passport carefully between my fingers. Before embarking, I have to go thru customs to stamp the “Carnet de Passage” and the document of international identity. The bureaucracy it’s always a pain in the ass and this time even more. I was alone, inside the port were almost all the lights were fused and looking for the fucking customs office. I saw a few soldiers, they were western, German. I asked them -Wo sind die Zöle Büro? – Where is it the customs office? Nächste ecke rechst. And so, with the worry that I would miss the ship, I turn around the next corner to the right. There were two doors, one empty and the other with two locals playing cards.

They were quite surprised to see me there, their eyes were saying, who is this guy. I park the motorbike just outside next to the second door, where the guards were. Came into the office, concerned, because they were not giving me to much confidence. My subconscious was telling me, you will miss the boat, you will miss the boat … After the twenty longer minutes of my life I had the stamp on the two documents! It is difficult to know what people think or what not, you can imagine it but never know the truth. The implicit understanding that everyone has, very much depends on the intuition of the individual, its ability to interpret the signs from the situations lived. In this sense, the intercultural relationship of two people of different folks, ethnic groups, countries, hemispheres, it may be affected by the cultural difference. In the end we understood each other!

I will miss my boat, I will miss my boat … I start the bike, the port is very large and with her I can find faster the ship that will take me to another country, after searching for ten minutes in the darkness illuminated by the lights of Amandla ( my motorcycle) – powerful in Zulu-, I found the ship. They were still loading some goods. The boat wasn’t what I expected. A wooden boat, about fifteen meters in length and about six of full beam, more resemble a makeshift raft than a ferry to cross the Gulf of Aden. We were quite a few passengers waiting to embark on the ship of goods; from Yemen mainly, a girl from Somalia, and I, from Barcelona. While I light up a cigarette one of the Yemeni passengers approached me and we started a conversation in English, which he speaks quite good. Murat is his name.

The lampposts of the wharf illuminate the ship, it is half past eight of the evening, and all the goods are on board. The captain speaks to me in Arabic and the intuition says to me that he wants me to shows him the ticket, I do it. But, pointing the motorbike does the universal gesture of money. He asks me to pay hundred dollars for the motorbike!!! Fuck, here, in this situation, my persuasion condition is very limited! If I don’t pay him, I don’t get on the ship. If I don’t get on the ship, I am caught one more day at least in Djibouti, although the lentils are very tasty. In the end we agreed the same price as one person, I, fifty dollars.

Loaded barge Gambia with Amandla (my motorbike) in the starboard

Gambia full of groceries

They help me to load the motorbike to the “makeshift raft” with the help of a wooden beam. I was the first one of the passengers to embark. Once left Amandla to the band of starboard I go over to the wharf to help other passengers. One of the Yemeni men was traveling with all his family, wife, elder son of approximately fourteen years old, daughter of approximately nine, and a baby who looked like not more than a month old; he approaches me and stretches the arms entrusting to me the life of his new born. What sensation of confidence I felt in that moment, me, a foreigner, white, westerner, without religion. An action that was leaving aside any difference that existed between our cultures, an action from a human being to human being, beautiful. I felt pleased, yes. While I had him between my arms didn’t stop crying, until his mother took him and had it curled up in her heat, its presence calmed him instantaneously. Nature, what an incredible thing. We all were already on board, the barge started up the engines, released the mooring ropes and we begin moving. What a rest, buff. Leaving the port, the lights of the lampposts, streetlamps, bonfires were reflected to the black and tranquil waters while we were moving away. In that moment, I decided to took out my camera and capture a snapshot of that magnificent picture that, more than an incredible image had a satisfactory meaning of victory. At the moment of taking it out a man approaches me well exalted and makes me gestures, gestures of not doing any photos, shows me his hands wrist with wrist, as if meaning handcuffs, saying police, prison. A very clear gesture, very clear. At the port of Djibouti pictures could not be done, you could be taken by a spy. Is Hussein, a slender man, around one meter and seventy centimetres more or less, with a long and very characteristic face, its body smell determined that he had not showered in a couple of days, maybe that he had been waiting at the entrance of the port for a long time to ensure the return to his country, Yemen.

Twelve at night, we sit down on the deck, Murat, Hussein and I. I take the backpack and pulled out a bunch of “Chat” as they say in Ethiopia, “Khat” in Yemen and “Myrrh” in Kenya, is a stimulant plant that is chewed and after swallowed. Hussein had some as well, so there we are, the three of us, sited, comfortable, chewing and talking without complications, with sincerity, about the world, philosophizing. I was lucky that Murat was there, who translated from Arabic into English.

Merchant sailors of the boat Gambia. Djibouti to Aden. (January 2009)

Crew from the ship Gambia

Suddenly, I hear voices of uneasiness, screams, of all the crew; I knew something was not right. Everyone start to look towards the bow and beyond, in the distance, we make out two lights, two boats … Shit, done, Somali pirates! The first thing that came to my mind, the intuition that I mentioned earlier, we were screwed. The nervousness took hold of the boat, all were moving up and down, was three in the morning, in a worrying silence. You could breath a tense mood of pressure, until suddenly, from the broadcaster of the boat came out a statement in English -boat on latitude 12 º 21 ‘ 11.72 ” N and longitude 43 ° 47 ‘ 34.45 “E do you copy? – We were all silent, then, they focused their looks towards me. With their eyes, were asking me to answer that call. That signal, almost reassuring security, meant that perhaps were not pirates. Was not sure but already was an incentive to be more relaxed. Thus I reach the radio and replied – Here boat “Gambia” going from Djibouti port to Aden, transporting groceries-, looking for the electronic apparatus of positioning, the GPS, to be able to transmit our position. Apparently they had said it, but how could I know that the ones in that position were we?

In the end, our boat, ship, barge, makeshift raft had one of these magnetic compasses submerged in water in this glass sphere, a mariner’s compass, that was moving in all fucking directions! I had no guts to say in which position we were. The lights were moving closer, and continued sending messages in French and Arabic also, we didn’t answer anymore, as soon as they approached enough we could see that were the French and American navy that thought we were the pirates.

Before the sun rose, the clarity was encroaching upon the blue and calmed sea, I had slept only two hours, but was not tired, would it be the Khat? The cook was already on his feet, in the kitchen, at the stern of the boat, preparing a few “chapatis”, do you guess what more? Lentils! People were waking up and the food was served on a tray to be shared between about three or four of us.

Typical of some eastern cultures where they share their food eating from the same tray. Who said that the communication could

Sitting at midday of 26th of January 2009 after the lemon fish meal.

Way from Djibouti to Yemen. Second day. Gulf of Aden

only be made if we speak the same language, wear the same clothes, or have the same skin colour! It’s true that is a bit more complicated, perhaps much more, but, with only a glance, a signal, a smell, a colour, intuition, we can have an idea of the meaning and relationship of what we want to explain in a particular time. A conversation that has been taking place between two people who speak a different language than yours, that you don’t understand, you’ll be able to understand the situation; if it is hostile, gentle, funny, sceptical, warm, cold, with only the body expressions, the voices, with it’s tone, the factions of the face, the hands, eyes, the mouth, gait, the tact…

After an intense and exciting night, that incredibly beautiful morning in the Gulf of Aden it was bringing a smell of fresh breeze of friendship. The sphere of our conductive star of life was half born at the horizon and was leaving a few tones of kindness and reflection in the faces of my trip partners.