Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tackle Shack

Mohammad Ariefin knots weighted grey beads into a nylon fishing net in the gloom of his wooden house. One foot, long infected, is caked in a sulphurous crust. "Come in! Don't be shy," he chirps, one eyelid drooping. "It's shoddy in here, but do sit down."
Ariefin, 85 years old, runs a fishing tackle shop on Jl. Layur in Semarang's decrepit old town. Today the lane is flooded rat-brown. "It always floods after rainfall," sighs Ariefin's wife Derma. "The drains are blocked with garbage and corruption."
Behind the dirty laundry of an old advertising banner, the shop porch is busy with reels and rods, beads and buoys, hooks and hats. And a stall offering iced coconut juice. Woven bamboo caskets hang from thin blue rope by the old blue door.

"They're called kepis," says Ariefin. "Fish cages." The cages have tapered necks and removable stoppers.
"It's not nice, but come inside," repeats Ariefin. "I already said don't be shy."
"You're very kind."
"In essence, all people are the same," he replies. He is wearing an election t-shirt bearing the slogan Not promises but proof.

Inside, amid the shadows, wispy white nets trail greasily from the ceiling like jilted veils.
"Do you like fishing?"
"Me?" Ariefin exclaims, sucking on a clove cigarette. "Not at all."

Steaming in a bucket of dye are black nets. "For birds. I do like catching birds. Good for racing and singing competitions."
"His foot is sick," says Derma, as Ariefin leaves the room. "He got a splinter in it from that cupboard there. We got some expensive medicine (Rp 50,000) from the doctor, but now the medicine's gone and the infection hasn't."

Ariefin's bare foot is the texture and colour of yellow powder paint muddied with supermarket sambal (chili sauce).

He returns with an earthenware tile. Against grubby cream is a Delft-blue windmill scene. "Win meal," Ariefin and Derma giggle. "A Dutch person gave this to us two years ago." Four days later I see similar tiles decorating the interior of the sultan's palace in Cirebon.
At the top of the road is a metal stall selling recycled cups of rosy grit. Fishermen wearing motorcycle helmets and quivers of rods crowd the seller who tips a cup onto the counter. Pink worms squirm. A pot of 12 worms costs Rp 2,000 ($0.20).
"Do you have worms in England?" the seller asks.
"Of course not!" one fisherman scoffs.
"Yes, actually," I correct.
The fishermen laugh loudly. "Yes! Yes!" they chorus. "Of course there are worms in England! Many worms in England!"

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