The revelation this past week that someone along the fresh fish value chain was using body embalming fluid to keep his or her fish fresh shocked many, but it did not surprise us. We will tell you why.
In fact, some of the people who sounded overly shocked with the news were pretending, performing mask dances, and playing the politics of sympathy and shock. Our politics experts call this pretence political correctness. If you really want to understand the meaning of political correctness ask the Tall Man from Zomba. If you don’t know where Zomba is, ask for the home of academic freedom.
You see, many human beings live most of their lives fretting on a theatre stage. They do and say things to please others or to suit the occasion. They pray when they don’t want just to please their spouses or indeed the pastor or the neighbour. They eat when and what they don’t want to just please the cook. They commiserate to please those that are mourning or grieving.
However, we are a class apart. We don’t believe and invest in pretence. That’s why the news that some people used embalming fluid to keep their fish fresh did not shock us, neither did it surprise us. This is because we suspected something fishy was happening about fish in our fish trade.
You can ask anyone. We mean, ask anyone who deals in fish and you will get the answer. You can ask any lakeshore chief and the answer will be the same. Traditional authority (T/A) Nyachikadza in Nsanje will give you the same answer as T/A Kyungu in Karonga. T/A Mankhambira in Nkhata Bay will give you the same answer as T/A Kanyenda in Nkhotakota.
What we, the people, our chiefs and local scientists from the lake and rivers know is that when a fish dies, it rots. When it rots, it attracts flies. This is something we have learned generation upon generation. To preserve the fish we dry it, smoke it, salt it or freeze it. Preservation simply helps people to eat the fish in a less decomposed or Utemba state later. Preservation does not stop the fish from rotting because rot dead things must.
This truism is applies not only to fish but to cattle and goats and mice. Ask T/A M’mbelwa if you don’t believe us. It applies to human beings. Ask the embalming experts at the College of Medicine if you don’t believe us. It even applies to metal. Rotting of metal is called corrosion but it is rotting all the same. To keep metal intact for some time, paint is applied, again and again.
What is surprising to us, however, is that people expected fresh fish not to rot; not to smell; not to attract flies 10 hours after death. What we find disappointing is that people believe dried fish does not rot.
What is shocking to us is that only hospital personnel know and keep embalming fluids but how such fluids fall into the hands of the fish vendors is an intrigue only pharmacy and medical ethicists and their regulatory board can resolve.
In short, when the fish outside a freezer looks rigid; does not lose dark eye colour or red gill colour, run away. When dried fish does not attract flies, run away. When a fish vendor tells you his fish is fresh from Lake Malawi or Lake Kariba, run away. Just run to fish that is rotting and attracting flies because that is unembalmed fish.