My strongest admiration was always true for those who achieved much in the circumstances of scarcity. It is easy to perform well in an environment of plenty and an acceptance for your mistakes and failures. It is easy and comforting to know that no matter what you do and no matter how you perform there is always a safe haven where you can return to. A security net that will hold you in the case of defeat.
With no such thing here in Ghana and an absolute dependence on personal performance those who are working in dangerous and precarious working conditions face the lowest returns for their hard labor. This is true for those who dig, farm or catch for a living.
During the holidays I spend some time in Busua. A small town in the Cape Three Points area that is an upcoming surf spot and loved by many tourists and volunteers for its lush nature and beautiful beach with a reasonable swell that is nice for surfing.
Nonetheless is the town dominated by the fishing boats lying on the beach and the fishermen who are constructing boats, fixing nets, landing their catch and discussing new strategies for future trips out on the ocean.
The beach is everything. Spatial center of daily life and the local community. Kids run around the beach and the waves. Covered from head to toe in sand their only concern seems to be where their friends are because everybody wants to play some football.
Like high and low tide are coming and going, so do the fishermen. Their boats lie in the cove about a hundred meters away from the beach, awaiting to be loaded with ice and rice, water and nets, fishing lines and gasoline and their crew.
Staying in Busua for more than two or three days is not only relaxing but gives one a great impression how communal life is despite all the tourism around.
In addition I was staying in a house at the end of the beach right next to the fishing boats which made it quite normal to see the fishermen from the front ‘terrace’.
After some days I got into contact with the fishermen which are not really interested in tourists or their questions. Mostly because they don’t want to be exposed to any poverty-porn producers. Taking unflattering pictures and ‘go home and tell everybody how we dey live on trees like animals.’
I feel that the bad experiences with some uncultured swines made them extra cautious concerning their exposure to this kind of abuse. Just walking around without a camera in front of my face made it so much easier to get in contact. If your conversation partner gets the feeling that the aim of the conversation is not to get his permission to take one of the africanized pictures, she/he will eventually open up to you.
Right next to the house where I stayed was the meeting point of the fishermen. Every other day they would sit together and discuss where the next tour will take them.
Equipped with wide experience in the field of fishing and navigating as well as having fish radar they hope to find consensus where the next trip will lead them.
Since the oil platforms started drilling for oil, their large lights and the burning gas flames attract most of the small fish in the night and therefore larger predator fish as well. Since the security zone around the oil rigs has been enhanced from a radius of 500m to a radius of 1km, coastal fishermen report problems with catching fish. In addition comes the fear of oil spills and dangerous chemicals released in the ocean, which might endanger the quality of the fish.
In 2013 there have been several cases of whales and other big fish washed ashore at the coast of Ghana. The EPA (Environment Protection Agency) states that there is no direct connection between oil drilling and the death of the whales, the psychological effect on fishing communities is strong. In addition the gold industry uses lots of mercury that is washed in the ocean through the Pra river in the Western Region.
A different threat to the local fishing industry is the changing weather. Migration routes of fish are indirectly influenced by the weather due to the oceans changing current patterns, making it more unpredictable where to find fish.
In addition there is the whole economic situation of Ghana at present. Prices are skyrocketing while the trust in the Cedi seems to be dwindling. Everything is becoming more expensive and since most of the goods used by fishermen are imported from outside, it has to be bought in dollars. Motors, fuel, fishing line, hooks, spare parts, containers etc. are coming from outside and their prices are going up when the Cedi is going down. On the other hand the income of the fishermen stays the same or is going down due to lesser catch. The captain of one fishing boat told me that a 4 feet swordfish, which cost 120 Cedi today, was 20 Cedi five years ago; An increment of 600%. Knowing that the average wage increment is less than 70% in the same period of time paints a quite unfortunate picture.
After some days I become friends with one of the fishing crews.
Strong men with rock-hard hands. Their boat would leave in a few days and they were sitting together to talk about the how and when of their next trip.
After talking for quite some time and numerous handshakes over the following days with various people of the community I had the great honor to be asked to follow them.
‘We go out for three days. You want to come?’
Thousand thoughts came to my head. Excitement made way to security concern. Where am I going to sleep? What am I going to eat or drink? How will I protect myself from the sun? Can I bring my camera? Will it be safe? There is no rail on the ship and no life vest. Three whole days!? What if I am getting seasick?
I bought a small container and cut it open. By nestling the two parts together I build a floating device where I could put some sun cream and my camera as well as some water. I was prepared to burn my skin and vomit. To poop overboard and to sleep under deck where the fish is supposed to lie.
Waking up the next morning I was excited to go. I felt knighted by the fishermen’s trust.
Five days. I can’t go for five days.
Its 6 am in the morning and large ice blocks are carried down the beach. Provisions are packed and loaded on board.
Women are standing on the beach and having their silent good-bye while their husbands are pulling in the boat from the bay.
The loading is finished and everybody comes to push the boat back into the sea.
I can’t go and ask for a photo instead.
What really gets me is the difference of their facial expressions. Young and confident; Old and experienced. He has seen too much to pretend that this is anything but hard, dangerous and sacrificing work.
The engine is loaded last. Clad in the Ghanaian flag is fastened out boards. A long and flattened pole is used for steering. With a rattling noise the boat leaves the beach and vanishes behind the coastline to the right,
only to come back after three days with a reasonable catch of swordfish, tuna and mackerel.