Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Death of a Gifted Fish

(aka. “The great fish mystery”; aka. “The one that got away”)

So, my language partner, Romaric, has been talking and talking about presenting a gift to me… a gift of fish from his brother, who is apparently a fisherman. Well, the day came and he delivered on his promise. As we were returning from a gathering at the Solvig house down the street, Romaric approached us as we
entered the gate. There, in the yellow bucket that he was holding, were three catfish! …alive! He told us how much these fish were loved among his people group- the Fang, and how we would love them too. Alace and I looked at each other amused and bewildered!

First, a little background: I am not a fisherman. I’ve never personally owned a
fishing pole, however, I have browsed through sporting good departments at
WalMarts and the such, thinking that it would be a great bonding activity for a
family. The few times that I have been fishing have been great successes! I usually caught 3 or 4 fish, but had always given them to the person that took me fishing, saying that they would have to prepare them so that we could get together again at their place for dinner. In this way, we have another time set up to get together, plus, I don’t have to go through the “fun” stuff of killing the fish, filleting it, and coming up with some type of edible meal for us.

So, what do we do with a bucket of 3 catfish? STALL! We verified with Romaric that there was time- we could keep them in the bucket for a day or two. By then, we’d do our research, find the best and most humane way to kill the fish, and then prep it for eating. We left the bucket on the porch and went to bed.

The next morning, I went to check on the fish and one was missing! The mystery starts! Where did this fish go? Perhaps the fish got up a head of steam and jumped out of the bucket!?! I thought this highly unlikely, considering the measurements of the bucket, however, I did some checking around the bucket, the porch, and then below the porch on the driveway- a 4 to 5 foot drop. All those areas checked out clear. I reported this to Alace and we figured that someone had taken one. We have a new night guard, Sosouli, and perhaps he felt this was a way that we “tip” him. In any case, we were not to broken up about the fact that we had one less fish to murder.

We mentioned the gift of fish to our friends, and veteran missionaries, Arnie and Cheryl Solvig. They said that this reminded them of a similar story from another missionary- let’s just call him “Bave Dill”. It was an identical situation where Bave’s language partner gifted him fish. Bave didn’t want the fish and threw them out. Later he was caught off guard when his language partner asked him how he liked the fish and he told him that they were delicious! He could only live with this
lie for about a day or two before he broke down and confessed his lie. Little did Arnie and Cheryl know how this story would come back to assist me just the next day.

So, another day came and went and it was now the next morning. In my normal morning routine, while unlocking the front door, I again peaked at the fish. More bad news… apparently the “expiration” date on the catfish had come and gone! Dead fish. Yikes. What to do. I decided to use the neighborhood “trash can” and dumped them over that back parking lot, down about 15 feet, to the stream and piles of trash that litter the banks, waiting for the next downpour to wash them downstream and, eventually, to the ocean. Sad, right? I’m happy, and sort of sad at the same time, to admit that, for the first time, I used this system.

I stood, briefly, looking down at the stream and piles of trash. The story that the Solvig’s told came to mind. Could I simply tell Romaric that I had enjoyed the fish? Could I outlast Bave Dill and live with this lie meant to keep our relationship on good terms and growing? How would Romaric take the news that I had mishandled the gift that he had talked and talked about to me. He had looked forward to the day when he could give me the gift. Well now he finally had done it, and my response? How did I handle the great display of friendship and gratitude? I killed it! I killed them! … the fish were dead! Well, at least two were dead and one was missing in action.

With all these feelings and questions being pondered in my mind, I turned to walk back to our apartment and looked up to see Sosouli, our guard, walking towards
me. Had he seen what I did? Did he know about Romaric’s gift to me and was now wondering what I was doing? Well, if he did, he didn’t mention anything and simply informed me that he was observing the Muslim holiday “Fete du mouton” or “festival of sheep”. I wished him a good day and a bon fete, as he continued past me. Woah… close call!

I still needed to make a decision regarding what I would tell Romaric. It occurred to me that I should tell him the truth- neither I nor Alace have any history with killing and prepping living fish. In our ignorance, we had let one get away and
killed the other two! I would pour apologies into the dialogue and let him know that his act of kindness made a great impression on me. Yes! This is the right thing- I was sure.

I was glad to have my mind made up as it was Monday morning and I would be expecting him at 8:30. However, I received a phone call that a passenger on one of my flights was missing a bag and needed me to double check that it was not on the aircraft. I had to put my pilot’s uniform on, I texted Romaric on the cell phone
to see if he was close by and could, perhaps, join me on the ride. However, he was not close, so I was on my own. Upon returning home, I drove down driveway to the rear of the apartment and that’s when things got really bizarre.

There, in our normal parking spot, was one of the dead catfish!!! WHAT is going on!?! It was like that part in the old Hitchcock movies when the main character realizes they are in the Twilight Zone. Alace said that it was a little more like the Godfather movie when that guy woke up and realized that… okay, okay… that’s a gory scene. However, strange, strange things were afoot!

A number of thoughts passed through my head… did Romaric find out and leave the fish there to let me know in some sort of passive/aggressive manner? Did Sosouli see me do it and let me know that he knew? Would there be blackmail
involved? Would I be dropping off a gym bag full of money in a locker at the airport? I quickly checked the rooftops nearby for the camera people that were
certainly filming this. Seeing none there, I kicked the fish off, over the edge of the parking area to the murky waters below.

Back in the apartment, I told Alace and we agreed that we should “stay the course”. “Honesty is the best policy”… or is it, “honesty is such a lonely word”? In any event…

Later, after Alace had returned to the classroom to teach the kids, Romaric came and his first question (you guessed it) was about the fish! Would I tell him? It all seemed so simple before, but now I was face to face with my fish-loving, Fang friend! Would this break our friendship? Would he carry on being my language partner? Just how much money did he want me to put in the gym bag!?!

I worked through my feelings of uncertainty and told him the truth. I’m happy to say that he took it all with a smile on his face and his head shaking back in forth, as if to say, “oh Mr. Steve… you are very interesting”- as he is prone to say. He even came up with the solution- for Christmas, his grand-mother is coming and would love to show “Madame Steve” (his name for Alace) how to kill the fish and prepare it in Fang tradition. Later, I informed Alace that I accepted this offer on her behalf… she can’t wait.

By the way, some of you have probably guessed that the fish that was in my parking spot was the first fish that made the great escape from the bucket and flopped its way down our driveway and under my car. When I left in the morning, I didn’t see it and, upon returning, thought that it had been placed there in the meantime. Romaric helped me to figure this out! Conspiracy theory averted, however, this marked the death of gifted fish.

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