Dispatches from Yap: Nightfishing and the Rule of Threes (1)Posted: March 17, 2012
My spearfishing experiences on Yap have been nothing short of embarrassing. Regardless, I wanted to successfully spear at least a few fish before my time on Yap was up. Faced with my poor spear gun aim and the low odds of hitting anything with a Hawaiian sling during the day, the logical thing to do was to skewer them while they slept.
Isn’t that unfair, you are wondering. Yes. Yes it is, but I’ve done plenty of objectionable things to sea life while here, including mangling some unfortunate coral and eating the raw eggs of the endangered green turtle at my boss’s insistence. Plus, if taking your prey while it sleeps is good enough for the superior alien intellects that frequent our planet to examine rednecks’ bowels, it is good enough for me.
Once I adopted my night fishing plot, the next step was to find someone to take me along with them. Water/fishing rights are tricky here; you can swim/snorkel or take a boat across someone’s water, but you can’t fish without permission. So, for a couple of months, I pestered a my friend Ron to take me fishing with him and bought an underwater flashlight to be ready in case I got the call. After a string of legitimate excuses (“I’m too hungover,” “You didn’t pick up your phone,” “There was a thunderstorm,” etc.) he made a firm commitment to take me out on Friday. There was a problem, though: death comes in threes.
In the two weeks before our spearfishing trip, there were some deaths. The first to die was John Sog, the court bailiff for the past 30 years. His death was a bit of a mystery, and the cause is still unknown. In accordance with Yapese tradition, the court staff gathered food and money, and the men of the court went to Sog’s village to deliver the goods to the head of his family. As we chatted in a koyeng, a lot of time passed. Eventually, my boss said, “I suppose we can go now,” and everyone headed to their cars. Confused about whether we were heading to deliver the stuff or to head back to the court because the family never showed up, I asked my boss, “Are you heading back to the court?” He looked confused and responded, “Going back to the court and my wife will pick me up.” Taking this to mean that we had given up, I drove back to the court, only to find out later that I had unintentionally slighted the recently deceased.
When I got home, I told Victoria the story and remarked, “I wonder if there are any more left [to die], you know, these things come in threes.”
After my funerary faux pas, a weekend passed uneventfully. A bleary Monday rolled around, and I began my work week with a hilarious e-mail to a fellow expat. He responded with laughing keystrokes and followed up with a somber “also…Peanut passed away this morning…I don’t know any details…” An already dreary morning grew tragically so with the news of the passing of the AG’s much-loved dog. Victoria helped dig his grave as the cloud of another unresolved death hung over the the island of Yap. Discussing the matter with a few friends at lunch, I said, “I guess that’s number two, but do dogs count?” The week went on as we adjusted to a world without Peanut, and each of us missed the little guy dearly.
Then, on Wednesday, I e-mailed a friend to see if our weekly poker game would go forward as planned. “No,” he said. “Also, Chomed the dive guide passed away last night while spear fishing.” An ominous sign, no doubt. After speaking with the manager of the dive shop, I learned that there was simply no explanation for this death. They found him in only 10-15 feet of water, clutching his flashlight and spear. He’d been spear fishing thousands of times in far deeper spots. Why now? How? This expert spear fisher was ultimately unmade at a child’s depth, thirty feet from shore? Something was amiss, and I began to question the wisdom of my own night fishing excursion. As we waited for sleep on Wednesday night, Victoria told me that she heard a voice whispering in our room*. I told her that I didn’t hear it and, for her sake, suppressed the urge to tell the truth.
Thursday passed without news of any of the causes of death, but a co-worker did inform me that a mass for Sog would take place on Friday night. I couldn’t go, I thought to myself, because I would be spear fishing.
Friday finally arrived and, despite fierce winds and overcast skies, Ron advised me that we would proceed as planned. My excitement got the better of me, and I told my (almost entirely female) Con Law class about my adventure.
“Do I have to worry about sharks?” I asked. They waved off the sharks and said, “Don’t let them bother you.” When class wound down and the students filed out of the classroom, one turned to remind me that I shouldn’t tell any women that I am going next time, as it’s bad luck. I pretended that the warning didn’t faze me and wished them a good weekend.
My heart then quickened a bit. I began to lock the doors and ran into another student. “Is it really bad to talk to women about going fishing?”
“Yeah,” she said. “They’re afraid something bad will happen like you’ll get hurt or won’t catch anything.”
“I’ve been telling everyone!” I said and told her to have a good weekend, wondering if they would be the last words I ever spoke to her.
The wind picked up as I drove home to gather my swimsuit, snorkeling gear, and flashlight. Victoria made me promise to be careful more times than I could count, and I headed to Ron’s house. While I drove, the sea took on the dull emerald color of a BBC murder mystery seascape, and a few brief, torrential rains roared white noise all around me….
To be continued…
* Yap is purportedly haunted. I, myself, am skeptical, but there is no shortage of otherwise rational and intelligent people who have tales of supernatural encounters to share.