I remember that from nineteen seventy-six to nineteen seventy eight, Saturdays and Sundays were days we looked forward to because those were the days we visited Lake Chamo in Arbaminch to catch the famed Nile-perch! The Nile-Perch used to be a rather large fish growing to a hundred or more kilos. I remember Ethiopian Fishermen carrying rather large fish on poles carried by two men. They were perhaps more than fifty kilos in weight and had to be carries strung to poles supported on the shoulders of two men! The Nile-Perch was a rather venerable fish growing to a large size, often feeding on smaller fish like Tilapia. The fish is renowned for its solid meat which comes in large chunks. The thrill for fishermen lies in reeling this fish in. This often takes time where the fisherman takes a lot of time in tiring out the fish. Often when the fish is really huge, it results in the breaking of the monofilament fishing line!
On such trips we were accompanied by Aunty Vera, and uncle Pastukh, Russian teachers who were also my parents’ colleagues. For me and my younger brother, these picnics were what we waited for with a lot of anticipation, having promised of course to complete our home work and assignments! I was eight or nine years old, but the memory is sharply etched in my mind. The day before the trip was passed in preparing for the picnic. Aunty Vera prepared Blineys and Mom prepared Indian food. We left early in the morning, with my Dad driving his Vaux-wagon variant car, a rather sporty car! and immediately after reaching the lake, Dad and Uncle Pastukh first caught the smaller Tilapia with fishing rods. These were then transferred to a tin container with holes in it tied to a rope and submerged in the water to keep the Tilapia alive. The Tilapia, unfortunately for them, were the bait for the larger Nile-Perch. They were threaded on to a larger hook in such a way that they could swim and move around, attracting the larger Nile-Perch. The Nile-Perch would take a bite, and they would then be hooked on the to the larger hook on to which the Tilapia had been threaded. The early part of morning was spent in catching the Tilapia, bait for the larger Nile-Perch. My brother and I would fish with our fishing rods, often catching Tiger -Fish and Catfish.
After catching enough Tilapia, Dad and Uncle Pastukh waded to the platform to which the steamer was tied and then they proceeded to hook the Tilapia to larger hooks which were tied to a stronger line which they whirled and cast into the water. I remember that my brother and I were worried while our father and uncle Pastukh waded to the platform to which the steamer was tied as the water was was infested with crocodiles which submerged their entire length with only their heads poking out of the water, looking like floating logs! By evening both, my father and uncle Pastukh ended up catching three or four Nile-Perch weighing twenty to thirty kilos each! The Nile-Perch bit into the Tilapia that had been attached to the larger hooks. There were times when my Dad and uncle Pastukh told us that the Tilapia had been grabbed by a crocodile, and they had to let the line go, as this meant catching a crocodile a rather cold-blooded predator!
My brother and I spent our time rowing boats, and catching Tiger Fish and Catfish. The Tiger Fish had the propensity of biting off half of the Tilapia hooked on to the larger hooks in such a way that they didn’t touch the hook. Often they would bite off the rear end of the Tilapia, that was when we tried to emulate the elders by trying to catch larger fish by hooking the Tilapia to larger hooks tied to lines! The thrill lay in feeling the tug of the line and the feeling that we had landed a large catch! Sometimes, when Dad and uncle Pastukh had caught enough Nile-Perch, my brother and I were treated to a boat ride on the American power boats. Once, I remember that their was a storm and the waves were so big that the boat’s prow would dig into the water trough! Sometimes we saw crocodiles basking in the sun on the banks, and my, were they really huge, often thirteen feet long. Our fear on stormy days was that the boat would capsize, but the Ethiopian pilot was highly experienced, and we always returned safe and sound!
The entire evening after returning home was spent in skinning gutting and cutting the fish into manageable pieces which would then be sent to the Russian Embassy in Addis Abeba in return for Russian Vodka and Chocolates. The Nile-Perch carcases were hung from the overhead beam in our kitchen and then cut into manageable pieces and the skeleton was thrown into the jungle outside our house. The Hyenas then devoured the skeleton at night accompanied with a lot of grunting and howling! Unfortunately, we didn’t have digital cameras then and so there were no photographs of the Nile-Perch that Dad and uncle Pastukh caught. All I know is that those were good times which I will cherish all my life! The last that I knew, when we met uncle Pastukh and aunty Vera in Addis Abeba was that they were living on Cosmonaut street in Moscow, Russia.
Today, when I look back at those times, it is as if it was a dream, a time when things were different. I treasure those moments which brought me close to Nature, and taught me to respect the bounty of Nature! On these picnic trips my brother and I learned a lot about Nature.
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