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Dirty Work and Fishy Business

September 9, 2011

Welding in this climate is something else.  In order to protect myself I have to wear jeans, a long sleeved shirt, boots and leather gloves.  Add a welding mask and you have the full torture suit.  To add to the 90 plus degrees of midday, everything about welding generates heat – the welding itself, cutting and grinding.  I spend the day bathed in sweat.  As well, everything about welding is filthy – rust off the steel, welding smoke and slag, grinding dust.  Since I am always wet, all this sticks to me.  I envy the Haitians their extra melanin; they don’t get burned by the ultraviolet from the welding arc so can get away with much less covering.

My skills are improving, but we don’t have a helmet that works well for me.  That was always a problem when I worked as a welder.  Most lens shadings make it very difficult for me to see.  I have mastered the plasma cutter and can make clean, straight cuts with ease.   I definitely need to do something to improve our work area; it is a maze of electrical cords that everyone is always tripping over.  There aren’t enough outlets to provide power for the variety of equipment we use on a constant basis.

After work I spent an interesting afternoon with Olivier.  I have become known in the community.  As I walked up the mountain many people greeted me by name and knew I was going to visit Olivier and his family.  They asked how I was and asked after my family, evidently aware that I had visited Canada.  After he grew tired of his “why didn’t you bring me the stuff on the shopping list I gave you,” Olivier talked about wanting to find a job.  His family finds our exchanges amusing, and today his father acted as a sort of translator when Olivier couldn’t seem to understand what I was saying.  It wasn’t my Creole that was causing most of the problem, it was his refusal to accept what I was saying.

When I said I had to leave to make myself something to eat, he as usual insisted on walking me home.  Today, however, he chose a different route.  We cut through the banana fields to a little clearing where he showed me a couple of boats under construction.  He asked me what I thought of them, and did I think they were big enough.  I couldn’t figure out what he was getting at.  Then we went down the beach where he showed me the different nets and fish traps and explained which to use to catch various seafood.  We walked a bit further to where several fisherman had brought in their catch and Olivier showed me their boats.  He has talked about taking me fishing, something I would love, but these boats are pretty scary – small and very roughly built.  There is no way on earth he is going to get me out in one of those until I come up with a really serious life jacket.

When we turned toward my home the real reason for the little tour came out.  A friend of his would build me a boat (those in progress were his handiwork) and we could start a fishing business.  I would be in charge of course, but we would share the profits from the enormous catches we would take – fish of various kinds, lobster and conch.  (I’ve watched the fishermen here pull in their nets and only get enough tiny fish to fill a gallon pail.)   When I protested that I knew absolutely nothing about ocean fishing, he assured me that he knew a great deal.  Somehow I doubt that very much.  He wouldn’t hear of it when I told him I was getting a little long in the tooth for such strenuous work.

No amount of telling Olivier will convince him that I am not rich.  I’m white, therefore it’s a given.  Every one of his many schemes involves me being the moneyman.  But I enjoy him and have learned that beneath his bluster is a pleasant young man who is trying to figure out how he is going to make his way in the difficult reality in which he finds himself.  He sees learning English from me as widening his options, and he works very hard at it.  He values me as a friend and lets me know that once in awhile in a tone I know is sincerity.

I’m going to go back to my book now.  It’s turning out to be an uncharacteristically slow read, but somehow that is appropriate.  Hurrying at anything here (with the exception of driving) seems out of context.

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