From a glass cabinet, a statue of the Christian saint guards the fishing village in Jaffna, the Tamil part of Sri Lanka. With a picturesque blue church in the background, the Saint directs his gaze towards the sea, where fishermen return from fishing. When their boats hit the shore, the unloading begins. Sometimes buckets filled with fish leave the deck, sometimes single pieces fly in the air, intercepted by the helpers at the dock. All fishing alike ends up on the market.
The market is not big. A roof over blue pillars, shades orange-painted floor with meticulously designated places for auctions. Inside is busy with groups of buyers, fishermen, auctioneers and their helpers. At seven o’clock in the morning, only two auction stands keep operating. On their stone elevations, the auctioneer’s assistants display fish, shrimps, cuttlefish, etc. When the seafood touches the floor, the auctioneers shout out its price in a loud, booming voice. The starting price is repeated unchanged until someone raises it. After the complete procedure, helpers load the purchase with metal shovels back to the plastic buckets. Owners will take it to their “hotels” (hotel in Sri Lanka means a local restaurant). Auctioneers scrupulously put down details of each transaction in a notebook. Later, they will send the numbers to the Central Fish Market, which controls all the seafood trade in Sri Lanka.
Wading in the puddles of salt water mixed with fish scales, buyers are shifting from stand to stand. Knots tied high above knees protect their sarongs from getting wet. Those who have finished shopping on the market go a little farther where on the jute string mats fishes dry in the sun. Mouths armed with rows of sharp teeth look with glassy eyes at buyers and crows trying to steal a piece of seafood. Stray dogs chase after the birds, hoping to get some scraps of food for their guard work.
A bit farther from this well-organized market routine, a group of boatwrights carve wooden planks. Rhythmic hammering against the chisels builds spare parts for the damage boats. Tomorrow morning, fishermen will sail off again. A few hours later, they will meet on the orange floor of the market, where the familiar sound of auctions echoes.