The North Coast of Aruba has pounding waves that do not invite swimmers - on the other hand - it has been the place to do serious fishing. The deep dark and very blue waters and their immediate depth is the home of big fish and the men who hunt them. Early fishermen were serious people. They placed their lives in the hands of the sea each day and as the deep dark-blue waters toyed with their small fishing craft, they picked away at the fruits of this wet orchard – fish.
They sat in small boats on wooden planks. Wide bare feet were flat on the bottom and tilted slightly to the sides of the small hulls and in that way gave them a sense of what it is that their small craft was doing – important information at best. Fingertips that were once soft and touched each other at the tips while praying in church now took on a different character. Fishermen’s nails become discolored by the salt waters and hard crusty grooves develop from letting milliards of yards of nylon slide through them. Hands become sensitive to the lead weights and fish hooks tied to the ends of these nylon lines as they plummeted to the ocean bottom carrying morsels of fish temptation. It was not an easy life.
The sun was an unbearable element. Thick pants and long sleeved shirts were the norm. Men took old t-shirts with them to use as a sort of head covering that left their faces only partially exposed. It was not a fancy time. These were not fishing adventures for the sake of it. It was a serious way to eke out an existence for your loved ones – your family. It is how the fishermen on Aruba once went about things.
In the dark hours of morning, small puttering motors took them a ways off shore and as these tiny vessels left their safe and land locked havens, many men looked back at the huge boulders called Ayo. There the wives might gather to wave small handkerchiefs at their respective fish hunters. "Ayo" means Good bye and "Bini bek dushi" means come back my sweet love.
And there is where the wonder of it lies. These women stood on massive boulders that derived their names from the purpose they served – to say good bye and - while on these masses of stone, they waved handkerchiefs and said to these crusty, smelly and beaten men - these hard faced fish hunters – many ugly in appearance and quite different in heart – Come back my sweet love. And that... is where the wonder was… and the men knew it and mostly came back.
“Chen” Werleman – was one of these men. He was aged when I knew him and I was young then. He smelled salty all the time. Not sweat or honest work salty but ocean salty. There is a difference. The tip of the index finger of his right hand was missing. I was young and asked him what happened. He said he lost it at sea and I asked where? He would look at me and I am sure he felt sorry that my father had brought such a dunce into this world. I asked this same question many times and he would look for ocean and point at it. This was enough to satisfy me until the subject came up again. Chen drank his coffee from the aluminum top of a thermos. The top/cup was dented and scratched. During the mornings he used it for coffee and during the days it was for water as well as for carrying little things, mostly hooks. In the evenings it went back to its original purpose – coffee. His khaki pants were masses of cloth kept together at the waist by a thick and wide brown belt. I remember those pants and the things he wore on his feet. They were thin slabs of leather held together by a woven cloth sort of a thing that resembled a full fronted sandal with a large toe-hole. The color of this weave was black and it had small thin lines of both yellow and red woven into it. His shirts were almost always khaki colored and long sleeved. The white handkerchief in the front pocket of that shirt was a fixture – it was always soaked n some sort of cologne. Bay rum or Florida water – I think.
And I remember him - so vividly - so clearly. He represents something to me but I am not sure what. Perhaps it was a promise. Who knows?
One day, we walked in his yard. The hair on his head was white and the aluminum thermos top was filled with coffee. He held my hand or should I say that his hand engulfed mine and he motioned for me to sit at a small chair. He sat next to me.
Un dia, nos lo bai piska. ---- One day, you and I will go fishing
About a month or so after that promise, Chen passed away – yet he is so much alive in my memories and the countless stories I have to relate about him and his adventures. His tin cup must be somewhere and his hooks are in the cup – of this I am sure. I just can’t seem to find that cup yet. But I will.