Monday, July 13, 2020

Man who loves fishes

As part working remotely, my husband has been doing these Scientists At Home online presentations for the Department of Ichthyology at his museum. He has to put together slides that show the collection, and the curators and scientists at work, and so he's been scouring his photo archives for images he's taken or acquired of specimens and field expeditions over the years. He did a particularly memorable biodiversity expedition in Vietnam over the course of four summers, spending a month in the field with teams of scientists from many different disciplines each time. He slept in tents and hammocks strung from trees, filtered his drinking water from streams, cast fish nets in mountain rivers, and was the biggest human and only black man most of the people in the mountain villages they passed through had ever seen.

The villagers would dress themselves and their children in their Sunday best and bring them out to pose with the big, black, bearded giant who came through. My husband was good humored about it all. One night, his hiking boots, left out beside his tent, disappeared. Fortunately he had a pair of Tevas with him as well. He surmises that people in that remote part of the country simply didn't believe a man's feet could be quite so big and took his footwear as proof. There is also a harrowing story of a local village leader insisting that the scientists drink three-snake wine as part of a welcome ritual. My husband thinks he was messing with them, that there was no such tradition, and he was merely trying to get them shitfaced so he and his friends could have a good laugh at their antics. If so, he succeeded. My man slipped out of the tent after a couple of rounds, but remembers the world swirling at him that night, in that place where only the stars gave light.

When my man was in the field, my mother usually came to stay with me to help out with the kids while I went to work. She prayed assiduously morning and night for his safety in a place where the unexploded munitions of war still pocked the landscape. I was still young and foolish then, my mother's dark sense of the dangers that could befall one's children not yet fully developed, so believe it or not, it never occurred to me to worry about his safety. Let me tell you, that mother worry muscle is a champion now.

Our son was four the first year of the project, and our daughter was two. Many years later our son said, "Daddy, remember that time when you spent a year in Vietnam?" Oh yes, he was missed. Recently, his explorations turned up the photo above. That's my husband, the ichthyologist, aka "fish man," and one of the curators, with some of the department's specimens. The photo was taken some twenty years ago now, around the time he was doing that biodiversity study, during a month that in our child's mind lasted a year.

 He brought back conical palm leaf hats for the kids, including our niece from Jamaica, who usually spent the summer with us in New York. The kids are eight, six, and four here.

12 comments:

  1. What a great story! I am sure that the Vietnamese people did truly think your husband was a magical being. Who wore giant shoes!
    That picture of your son reminds me a bit of August. So serious.

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  2. I'm not sure what "three-snake-wine" is, but I think drinking it would give me pause! What a great story -- a good career opportunity for your husband and some good family memories too. We saw lots of those conical hats when we were in Vietnam a couple of years ago! (In places where unexploded ordnance wasn't a threat.)

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  3. Ichthyology, begins with Ich, for a reason, I suppose, Somebody must do the work of that study and I am glad your Man was the one for the job. Adventurous story, I would like to have ridden along in his pocket. Funny how the absence of a father at age four is so consequential in ones bio. My son thought for a while that Bill
    Cosby of the Huxtables was his
    Dad, too, he saw more of the Huxtables than of the real Dad.

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  4. I so love reading about your husband's journey in Vietnam. What an experience that must have been.

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  5. This is such an interesting post! Your husband has sure led an adventurous life! When my youngest son got married to a Rwandan woman, we traveled to Kigali for their wedding. So many of the guests at the wedding wanted to see Tom's American family and often the women would touch my straight, gray hair just to see what it felt like I think. They were curious about my pale, freckled skin and we would nod and smile and hug when we couldn't understand the language but wanted to make a connection. It was such a happy event and wonderful trip.

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  6. Wow--this is such a good story. My dad spent a summer (I think) in Paris building his company's airline up at Orly, and it lives as a year in my mind.

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  7. That is such a wonderful story about the shoes. That is a nice photo of your beloved and the fish skeleton.

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  8. It's funny how we become more scared as we get older. Wiser, I guess, realizing there are dangers where younger people don't see any.

    I like the photo of your husband and of the kids. Your son is a serious soul, even when he was young.

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  9. Thank you for the portrait of your husband doing the work he is passionate about and the snapshot of your son who grew up to do work he is passionate about. Your son and daughter are fortunate to have, as inspiration, two parents who love each other and are passionate about their work.

    Synchronicity! In recent days I've been looking at images of diverse fish and can fully appreciate why someone would love fish. In Pictorial Webster's are 18 pages of wonderful fish images from numerous editions of Webster's dictionaries, with up to 12 fish on each page:

    http://quercuspress.com/wp/books/http://quercuspress.com/wp/books/

    Thank you for writing about your husband's experience in Vietnam 20 years ago. It is sobering that landmines are still a danger in Vietnam to this day. It is heartening that people continue to do the work of de-mining in Vietnam. I was struck by fact that both issues were addressed in "Da 5 Bloods."

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  10. What a wonderful career. I loved reading this.

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  11. what a great story. I was thinking that they took his boots because sturdy footwear maybe wasn't all the available but then I realized that they wouldn't fit anyone in that country. I have one of those conical hats that a neighbor gave me that they got at the Japan festival. I've tried wearing it but it slips and slides all over the place, usually falling forward. I don't know how they wear them.

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