From memoir series JLeahy. Part 2
Click link below for Part 1.
We had split the number of holes we saw on the creek beds as early as 8am this morning. Grandma took the right and I took the left. Each hole we dug into would have at least one eel. I was very excited. Sometimes I would find the eel and try to grab it before it knew what was happening. But they all got away. I knew Mother was waiting with our nets for them, so I was not too worried. Most times, the eels could sense the vibrations and make their way out very quietly. The eels were 20-30 centimetres long and had yellow and white bellies. Their backs were pale grey, dark green, mouldy grey and sometimes greenish black.
After at least two hours, Tinang, my grandma, called out to Mother in Bukawac.
“Have you seen any eels?”
“No! Nothing came down”, mother called back. That did not sound right and I peeked through the leaves at my grandmother.
“Keep digging Kalem”, Tinang said and pointed to the next hole.
We both worked our way upstream. We needed to at least catch a dozen baby eels so my two uncles would throw their lines for the ocean fish.
If we had gone to the river, the eels wold have been too big and hard to catch. The creeks were the best place for baby eels. Three hours later, I had exhausted every hole.
“Ok grandma, I am at my last one”.
“Good girl, finish and wash, we will sit down and have a betel nut”, Tinang promised me.
I tried to reach into the last hole and the eel quickly went out the other way. I saw it with my own eyes.
“It’s coming, I yelled out to Mother”.
“Ok, I am waiting”, Mother said.
I sat into the creek and threw the cool fresh water on myself, removing all the mud, rubbish and wiped the insect bites. There were red and swollen. I could not take all the dried leaves and rubbish out of my hair, so I left it there. I cleaned up, and walked out to the side of the bank. Mother and Tinang were seated under a shade. No words were spoken.
“Where are the eels?” I asked. I was excited to see how many we had caught. Mother was very quiet. She had no expression.
Tinang looked at Mother and then me.
“Would you like a betel nut?” Tinang finally said.
Mother did not respond.
“Yes please”, I said. I wanted to chew and warm up, the water had cooled my body temperature.
I turned and looked at my mother. I searched her eyes and she looked ashamed.
“What happened?” I asked Mother.
Grandma was silent. I could see that “I knew it” look in grandma’s eyes and it was like, she could almost laugh.
“I am sorry. I lifted the nets and let all the eels get away”, Mother said.
“Because I could not bear the thought of touching them”.
It was too hard to get angry. I popped the skin of my beetle nut and sat down with grandma and gave her a hug. I knew how she felt. We sat awkwardly together. Then, I reached for the lime pot and the mustard to add to the betel nut. I had already mashed the betel-nut with my teeth. I began to chew. Grandma reluctantly reached over to mother.
“Here!”, she said, offering her daughter a beetle-nut and mustard. Mother relaxed and accepted the peace-offering.
In the South Pacific Islands eel farming is quite common. In Papua New Guinea, eels are farmed and also treated like pets. Here in New Ireland Province Cathy’ Larabina’s eels are some of the biggest pet eels. They have become well-known in the PNG tourism industry.