Fishy memories

Older people have a lot of stories to share. But listening to them, especially after being repreated to us at least a dozen times, might not be very interesting, if not to say annoying. When changing our view about what is happening during these ‘story telling sessions’ however, we might end up feeling guilty for not listening better.

During these interactions, we make the mistake of focusing on the novelty of information provided to us. This is why we only regard a story we hear the first or at most second time, assuming of course the content is appeals to us, worth listening to. This is especially true in the information age, where a relatively unknown addiction started to affect many people around the globe: the internet addiction.

Because our brain craves novelity, it produces happiness hormons whenever we encounter information of the same type we are interested in. With the internet, there is abundance of new information and therefore novelty, which is a cause of overstimulation of our brains. Infotainment, social networking, gaming, and many other industries cash in on this characteristics of our brains. Modern minds find old stuff, repeated stuff, mundane stuff more difficult to resist than before.

However there is more to these story sessions than the content of the stories told. If we focus on the background information, or the style of how the story is told, new things can be discovered. And if we go meta, and change our view about what is really happening during these sessions, and why older people are telling their strories, more compassion and respect is to be expected from us.

They story of how my grandfather as a young person used dynamite to catch fish is a story I have heard at least two dozens times within the last three years.

At his times, it seemed that there are two ‘fast’ approaches to catch fish. One of them was through a specific poisen that works on fishes (and sadly other water creatures). The fisherman would basically throw poisened grain in the water. This approach would kill masses of fishes for the fisherman to pick up from the water without much effort.

The other appraoch was through so called  dynamites. As it is known, dynamite is used to blow up rocks, often to create roads and mines. The dynamite bombs for fishing however were handmade, where people would buy the explosive material, wrap it in a specific kind of paper, and add a type of thread similar to the ones used in explosives and fire crackers. The fishers would  light it up and throw it water. The explostion would injure the fishes inside the water, which would make them float up and be picked up easily from the water. What happens is that the blast casues the swim bladder, an organ that enables the fish to to stay at current water depth, ascend and decend, to burst. When this happens, the fish does not have control over the level of its swimming anymore and floats helpless on the water surface. All that a fisher has to do is collect them from the water.

Now, the poison was a legit way to fish, but the dynamite approach was forbidden, basically because it was dangerous and because the explosives, if used in larger amounts, could also be used to create small bombs.

Almost 7 decades ago, my young grandpa and his friends throw lots of grain the water and wait quietlty next to the river. After a while, when lots of fish gather arround the grain, they would light up their bomb and throw it into the water. The explosion would be pretty strong, so that people on the other side of the river would feel the ratteling. It only takes a few second before the poor fishes would slowly float up. One of the fisherman in the river notices the blast and approaches with his boat. He asks “Did you use explosives?” They answer “No, we used poisen.” Of course the fisher man knows they used explosive. The only reason he approaches them is to get his share. So he asks for permission to pick up some of the fish, and the guilty feeling boys allow him to do so. But then a police patrol approaches. Two police men on the motorcycle have notice the blast and want to have their share as well, instead of imposing the law. The terrified boys gladly, almost thankfully, let them choose the two largest fishes they have caught. After everybody has taken his share, there still is abundace of dead fish. What they boys do is that they line them up on the river bed, for anybody who wants fish to take from them.

Now, the story and the details loose a large amount of the appeal after being told twice. And I really wasn’t intersted to hear about it after the fifth time. However today when I heard to story for at least two dozens of time, I felt guilty for being bored.

For starters, this story tells lot about my granfather’s time in Iraq. One of the things that is really intersting is how Tigris was full of fish. Today, this is not the case. Especially in the part that goes through Baghdad, Tigris is pretty polluted and not a save enviroment for fish to thrive. Today fish farms supply Baghdad’s unsatisfiable hunger for Masgoof, one of the most favored dishes in Iraq. Masgoof is basically grilled fish. The word Masgoof is derived from the word Saqof, or Sagof in Iraqi accent, which means roof or roof top. The reason why it is called so is because the fish are put on sticks or specific grilling nets over the open fire in a way that immitates a roof, similar to that of beduin tents.


Another thing that comes to my mind when I am thinking about it is how unaware people were about the consequences of their actions on the environment. Whether poison or explosive, this was a massacre. Lots of animals get hurt. Grandpa reports one of the time a turtle being hurt in the process. Thankfully it seems that these practices have been abandonded, especially the explosives thing.

Aside from critism however, my grandpa was living in great times, and he had great time. What hit me most about the repreated story is that grandpa was sharing the most precious things he had left from those times: memories. And sharing your most precious things with somebody else is an act of love. Therefore I appreciate that he repeatedly is doing that with me.


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