Friday, August 28, 2009

Loyalty, Fasting and Fish

Loyalty is very important here. At the beach near where we snorkel, there are several Omani men, teenagers to old men, who operate little motor boats that take (usually) tourists to the islands off the coast for a small fee. It's not much, but it's part of their livelihood. We have our own boat driver, Etham. He took us to our snorkeling island the first time we went; we got his number, and now we call him before we arrive to see if he's there. That way he gets dibs on us when we arrive.

At the island, I saw another Omani man (they are sort of beach-bums, only not really by choice). He was cleaning the underside of his boat while a boy no more than 5 years old was catching little fish. We greeted and Salim made me an offer to take us back. Cheaper than Etham he say. Only 1 riyal! No, I said, we go with Etham. When he's here, he takes us. That would be betrayal in this social system. Not only would things be awkward from now on at the beach for us, if Etham was the only guy around later he would charge us a lot more for switching on him like that.

After I declined the Salim's offer, I made my second Ramadan faux pas of the month. When he showed me the little fish they had caught, I said, "That's lunch!" Salim's expression turned grave. La, no, he said, Ramadan Karim. I kicked myself. They fast all day. I brushed it off though with an aasifa, sorry, dinner then! That evidently was not enough to make up for my assumption that they didn't fast. Salim seriously told me, Yes. We must fast. Laazim as-soom. We must fast. The boy looked at me and asked very simply but very seriously. Do you fast? No, I said. He turned and walked away. Not much to say but "oops" for that one. I went back to my side of the island.

When I called Etham to come and get us, a different guy showed up. Pulling up to shore we saw that Etham was busy untangling big silver fish out of a net.

How often do you get to buy fish right off the boat, fresh out of the net? "How much" I asked.

We took the fish home, packed in ice from the gas station. Mike, our new teacher friend here, has some experience cleaning fish. I've never been in such close contact with the food I've eaten. Guts all over the sink, scales popping all over the kitchen, on my nose and in my hair. It was gross, but fun. We wrapped it, head on, and baked it in tin foil with lemon, olive oil and garlic.

And it was good.

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