Twice a week — on Wednesdays and Fridays — I go to Cilincing with Dan to do circus and clown with the kids. My second visit (on Friday, January 15) is on a hot sunny day.
Now the smells Dan warned me about emerge in full pungent glory. Drying fish and rotting mussels. Mussels are the mainstay of the village with tons shucked everyday. Well, maybe not tons, but many many kilos. They get paid a pittance by the kilo. Halfway through my teaching, my eyes start burning from smoke wafting into the play space. They have started the fires to cook today’s catch of mussels. By the time our workshop is finished, the village is in full gear taking care of the day’s harvest, and walking back through the narrow alley-ways we pass huge piles of mussels surrounded by young and old shucking away (including some of our students, who have already run back to work). The walkways are permanently covered in shells. It’s the stench of rotting mussel-shells that most of all fills the air. Still, it’s not so bad. It’s the smell of the sea. I don’t smell open sewage or garbage as I had feared.
When we arrive again the following Wednesday, smoke lies in a thick haze across the village. The fires are already burning. Fish are laid out to dry. The men are out in the boats fishing and gathering mussels. Kids bop up and down in the water next to them – and wave to me excitedly as I take a picture. The water is very dirty and full of garbage.