Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lombok Lobsters

"Do they bite?"
"Oooh, yes. They'll have your fingers."
Lobsterwoman Yani stands among clouds of fuzzy fishing net and pieces of old boat. "Lobsters will eat anything," she continues. "Fish, crabs, their offspring. Even you, if you fall in...". Hanging from a clothesline behind her are three pink octopuses. Thin as kites, their long, polka dots legs swirl in the sea breeze.

This is Gerupuk, Lombok: known for surfing and seaweed. The air is scented salty and sings with bird chirp and motor purr. One-armed fishing boats dot the bay. Beyond lie low grey hills and the Indian Ocean.
At the shoreline Yani's husband Abin wrests a lobster net from the water. He tips six slick lobsters into a container. They have exquisite teal shells, orange horns, and flame-red legs. Their antennae are thick and whip-like. They scuffle: the skittering sound of crustacean carapace on plastic bucket.

Bare-handed, Yani seizes a glistening green-black monster by the antennae, championing her catch. It snaps its tail fin. Snap! Snap!
"Look," says Abin, turning over a berried female lobster. Thousands of tiny eggs are glued to the swimmerets under her tail, like clusters of caviar. She snaps her flippers.

Abin powders the lobsters with sand and sawdust. Then Yani wraps them in funnels of newspaper, like fish tacos. She sets them in a cardboard box. "They'll stay alive in these boxes for 24 hours," she says. "Enough time to get them to buyers in Mataram and Surabaya." In the box the lobsters agitate their sheaths, punching holes through the newspaper: their spiky, spindly, segmented legs and antennae creeping over the lip of the box.
"How many lobsters do you eat?" Yani asks. I tell her the Maine-Massachusetts legend about lobsters once being so plentiful that servants revolted at being fed them more than twice a week.

"American pembantus eat lobster?" Yani marvels.

I ask Abin if he has ever tried surfing. He hasn't. The seaweed farmers resting in the shade behind him also shake their heads. "I can't swim," says one. "I don't have a board," says two. "I'm scared of waves," says three. Yani's three-year-old daughter says nothing, but shreds a plastic bag between her milk teeth, spitting small wet pieces onto the sand.

***
Originally published in a fuller form as The Daily Catch in The Jakarta Post Weekender, May 2012.  

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