I watched, day after day, as he set up his shells on the same rock. I watched as he sold his wares to tourists each morning then disappeared each afternoon for hours on end into an endless ocean. What a life, I thought to myself. I asked him his name, which he said is Dedo, and I asked him his story – he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident at age 19. He’s cuarta-y-tres, same age as me, and he too is his own Jefe (boss). He’s known as “the fisherman of Kite beach.” Seven days a week, 365 days a year, he does the same thing, day after day, year after year. When I asked him if he had ever been to America he said he’s never been off the island, and then with a broad gesture he claimed “The beach is my home, why would I ever want to leave?!”
I thought about how different his life would have been had he been born in the U.S. There is no disability given when you lose your leg in the Dominican. It’s eat or be eaten. It’s beg or get up on your one good leg and do something about it! And Dedo used that leg to put on a flipper and go out into the ocean to find enough food to eat, day after day, year after year. Even with one leg he grew strong and was able to dive deeper than fisherman with two legs. He caught more than he could eat so he began selling his excess. He was in business.
I asked him if I could join him on one of his afternoon jaunts in the search of shells, langosta and octopus. I’m very comfortable in the water but he was a fish with one leg and three lungs! We caught a few octopus and I was very proud when I found a large king conch hidden in the sand that I knew would earn him a few hundred pesos.
For me, it was a day in the life; for Dedo it was his life and what a way of life it is! It’s not what you do that matters in life but doing something that matters. Fishing started out as a way to survive for Dedo but now he earns a living from it. As I was saying goodbye to my new friend he asked me if I was coming back next year, and if so to come by the rock and say hi. I don’t know when I will be back to Kite beach but it doesn’t matter when I return, something tells me Dedo will still be doing something that matters.