Monday, July 23, 2007

Samana Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10 knots

Karl speared his first fish today, a pretty blue one shaped like an angelfish. There are countless of them down there, and they look impossibly easy to spear, but Gregory told me not to bother with them. I don’t know if it’s because they’re poisonous or just not good to eat. Karl’s going to use this one for bait, since we still have heaps of fish in our icebox, but I’m proud of him for bringing home something. We could eat them if we had to.

The diving’s a blast. I haven’t really been brave enough to go out with my spear by myself yet, what with barracudas and rays and sharks and all that, but I know I will. The worst thing about it isn’t even so much diving with the spear, but diving attached to the dinghy. It’s so unwieldy. You do need some place to put your fish that are vibrating in the throes of death, though. Otherwise you’re sure to draw the sharks.

Last night a group of the crew and fishermen came over to hang out on our boat, which was a blast. Sometimes it’s just nice to be around other people. They were telling us about the crazy dives the people on Sea Hunter do, diving to 200 feet with tanks. The mate in charge of the dive boat was telling me that he’s dove every day for the last two months. I don’t remember much from my PADI classes, but from what I remember, I don’t think that’s very smart. Still, if Peter does it and he’s lived to be 78, it can’t be that bad.

I feel that same way about all the Bahamians. We’ve heard crazy stories--people free-diving daily to seventy feet, people spending four hours below the surface if they’re lucky enough to have tanks. Karl was told a story by his friend Elvis in San Salvador, who said that he and his brother used to dive so deep that coming up their masks would fill up with blood. That can’t be wise.

Diving is a strange occupation. It’s so enthralling that I can see how you can get sucked into it. If I was on a dive boat and everyone was diving to 200 feet four times a day, I probably would to. Especially here in the Bahamas, the divers are the rich ones. You can tell by all their bling--their fancy watches, their nice earrings. Diving equipment is Bahamian gold. The ones who have scuba gear can probably make thousands of dollars a week. They don’t need to dive that deep and for that long to make a good living, though, and that’s what’s bizarre about it. Most Bahamians are pretty well off, definitely not in the depths of poverty, unlike the Nigerian divers I read about today in my New Yorker. Divers in Lagos, Nigeria, go down forty feet to pull up buckets of sand from the bottom of polluted reservoirs. I can’t imagine: diving blind, in murky black water filled with industrial sludge, to pull up sand to earn seven cents a bucket. I wonder how often their masks fill up with blood. It’s beyond my comprehension, the kind of thing that makes me ill to think about. One of those statistics about our diseased global economy that we can’t quite look straight at. We can only look at them out of the corners of our eyes as we eat our KFC with a plastic fork as we drive our SUV to the gym.

It reminds me of the Nicaraguan lobster divers Erica (my sister) met in the Corn Islands. She’s an anthropologist, and met another anthropology grad student who was studying their diving habits there. As an anthropologist, you’re not supposed to influence the culture you study--you’re only supposed to record it. But she, and the grad student, both knew that the divers were going too deep for too long. How can you not say something, even if you’re not listened to? And how can you argue with their poverty? Even if they die at forty (which happens regularly to divers who go too deep), at least they’ve provided well for their families.

I always try to talk to the Bahamians I meet about irresponsible diving, but I’m rarely listened to. I don’t have hard evidence anyway, and can really say little other than, “Isn’t that dangerous?” I’ve seen photographs and obituaries posted already, at Kaye’s on Rum Cay, of divers who died in their thirties. The pictures show them young and hale, in wet suits with regulators. It’s dangerous, but oh, so seductive. Both wealth and the beauty of the deep.

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