Fifth Course: The Sweetest Taste
As we leave the jerk center, Darren asks if we have time for one more stop. I groan, unable to eat another bite, but he assures me that his is a lagniappe - or what we island folk call "a little something extra" - and this one is of the mental kind. He wants me to meet a master fish-pot maker in St. Ann's Bay, west of Boston Bay.
A traditional art, the fish pot is an ingenious, rigid net used by local fishermen that allows fish to swim in but not out. We pull onto a dirt road abutting the water. Small wooden huts are clustered together, and in a clearing near the shore a young man is winding chicken wire around a polygon made of bamboo sticks that will eventually be a fish pot.
Darren calls out to one of the huts, where a squat old man wearing a fishing cap sits inside on a small stool. I am introduced to Mr. Mack, a retired fisherman, now a master pot-maker. The boy outside is his apprentice. I glance inside the small hut at Mr. Mack, sitting among wire bales and bamboo sticks. I am reminded of my students back home and how I must faithfully record for them all I have seen here. I must share the smell of smoke from the roadside stands where fish, jerked meats and breadfruit are slowly roasting over pimiento wood fire. My words must convey the rise and lilt of my friends' voices standing a few feet away. Through my eyes my students will see young men sitting on a log close to shore, taking a break from making fish pots, laughing and chatting in patois, with the bottles of Red Stripe at their feet and the sea glittering beyond.
"Come inside, darlin'," Mr. Mack says, breaking my thoughts, reaching out toward where I stand on the threshold. Grasping my outstretched hand and drawing me near, he greets me in the old way: "I hope, now, we are not strangers?" "No, sir," I say, squeezing his hand. "No, we are not."
Photos by Shelly Strazis