It continues to amaze me how our coast line has changed. Not physically in the sense of the islands’ shape but more that the things that used to be no longer are, and those that now “are” dominate the senses and send history into an oblivion – unless we save it and, saving it is only possible with the use of words.

Who could remember that in the earliest dawn hours – when the waters and the winds were still - when the day was nothing more than a promise. Who could know, that once, two men silently tossed their nets on the beaches where the Holliday Inn guests now loll in the surf? Hard to conceive that once that piece of shoreline was shallow ankle deep water with spindly grass. An underwater lawn at the oceans edge is what it was and it extended about 100 meters out and as much or more wide. Where the edge of this ‘underwater lawn’ ended the sandy bottom was waist deep. It is there at that abutment that the ocean held clouds. Millions of little fish called “Pisketchi” swam in what looked like dark and ever moving clouds in the water. Occasionally one of those little creatures would make a best effort to jump into the air, but the birds had claimed that domain eons ago so the little fish would humbly go back to the water. All you had to do was put on a snorkeling mask and breathing tube (back then they had ‘ping-pong’ balls in the ends) and lie at the edge of the ‘underwater lawn’ to look at and marvel at the underwater clouds. Who could imagine this in front of the Holliday Inn?

Who could imagine that not too long ago, two men stood at the edge of this ‘underwater lawn’ and took the rewards of ‘net-tosses’? Yet – they did and then loaded the Pisketchi into massive wash basins covered with a wet cloth, grasped the handles at the opposite rims of the basin and started their walk. They walked where, today, there are rhythms in the air joined by the smell of hamburgers. They continued their walk beyond to a section that was peaceful – where seeing the sky to the East was still normal. It was clean and the air smelled particularly salty from the inland ponds up wind and not far away. Today that area is full of brave and exciting youth skimming over the waters while tied mysteriously to colorful wings in the air. It would be unfair to ask for that memory – wouldn’t it? They continued their walk to their small ocean side structure were they kept tools and things that make little fishing boats work. And here, they would find families waiting.

The children and wives or any other friends and family so inclined, would wait at the small structures and all the while, start filling separate large bins with the fine silt and sand that is found at the waters edge. This was not a thoughtless process. Shells and little pieces of other debris would have to be taken out. (Imagine that the word debris referred to natural things and not man made. Imagine.) Then the excess water would be taken out by putting this sand in cloth and letting it drain. It was kept just barely moist. This barely moist sand waited for the ‘Pisketchis’ – and when the two men arrived, they dumped their fish into a clean basin and filled it with sand. We (those who waited) would then go to work.

With our hands we drove these recently departed little fish into the sand and created a paste that became “sand balls”. At the end of the process, the sand balls would be put into other smaller pans and covered with cloth then to be loaded into the waiting boats. Retrospectively I see much similarity between those sand/fish balls of those simple fishermen and the well designed business cards of executives today. The only difference being that the executive cards are not as productive (as far as fish go-that is).

While we made “fish balls” the fishermen soaked and hung the nets in the fisherman's huts structures that lined the coast all the way up to Malmok. It was much men building spiders webs – at least that is how a my eyes saw it. When done with the net hanging and loading from the thin beams inside, these same two fishermen went to the shore and removed their clothing. Pants, shirts and any undergarments were taken off and washed through surf waters and then tossed back in the direction of the small buildings. On one of these occasions, Chen (one of the fishermen) turned to the rising sun. It hit him with a soft - natural power and the beads of ocean that still covered him reflected like round diamonds might have. He wiped his face with a large wet hand then pushed his thick white hair back. Then he turned to the sea. His entirety silently yet so loudly said – “Be patient – I am coming for you”. He turned back and went to the structure and put on a dry shirt that had long sleeves and thick khaki pants that were tied at the top with a long brown leather strap. His fishing friend had already changed and waited by the shoreline for him. Their fishing boat was waiting for them as well. The nose rested on the shore and the small motor, in the rear, jutted up and out of the water and into the air. Much like the little fish, that small “Johnson” engine would soon realize that the air had been claimed by birds eons ago.

Eventually the two fishermen would jump into the boat and the women – with skirts knotted to one side – would help push this little boat onto its’ destiny. That afternoon, they would return to tell tales. Tales of how the fish would not bite and how they worried about not bringing food home for the families. And then - far out at sea - they remembered our work and the “fish balls”. They tossed a few over the sides and the fish came. They came because as these balls went into the depths, they dissolved and became sand again and threw into the currents the pungent odor of Pisketchi. And large fish came and mistakenly bit the bait on their hooks. In that way, the two fishermen were able to come home and once again feed the family.

And now – as I lie here in the shadows of buildings and look at this much changed sea, I realize that these men understood their island and the people in their lives. These men lived “with” Aruba and her seas before they lived “from” it. I understand that they might have been without cloth on their bodies for a moment yet were not naked because they wore a natural energy that came fro their surroundings and gave them the strength needed to go into the oceans. And perhaps most important to me, I realize that they included me in their journeys into the deep blue to catch big fish. They took me along and made me a part of it by letting me know that my hands mulching fish paste – fed a family.

I shall have something to drink in a moment and sit on a plastic and comfortable chair and look to the ocean. I will know that something is gained and something is lost. And it will continue to amaze me how our coast line has not changed, in the sense of the islands’ shape, and that the things that used to be no longer are. And I know that those things that “are” today can dominate our senses and send history into oblivion – unless we save it and saving it is only possible with the use of words.

be well