Over the hedge

Beware of the globefish

ON A RECENT TRIP through Mali, Africa, the sun was boiling hot and the temperature was 120 degrees F. in the shade.

We were following the Niger River east from the port city of Mopti, heading toward Timbuktu.

Even though the river was quite muddy, it looked inviting enough for a quick cooling swim in the brutal heat. But when we asked our guide if it was safe to go in, he shook his head no.

"Globefish," was his reply.

Not wanting to admit that I had no idea what a globefish was, I just nodded in agreement and looked it up that night at our hotel.

I learned that a globefish was the local name for what I knew to be a puffer fish. When the fish is threatened, it inflates itself with water and doubles in size – sticking out its barbed scales that are somewhat toxic and very bad news to whoever encounters one. In Japan the fish are called fugu, and are a highly prized delicacy, demanding top prices at the best restaurants.

I had no desire to eat one or step on one, but as our trip progressed, the oppressive temperature made us long for a dip in the river.

Each day our guide would wade in the river a little bit. Then, he would come out and shake his head with the same refrain, "globefish."

On our final day in the country we were in a very shady spot having lunch when our guide waded into the river, shuffled his feet a bit, and called out to us, "No globefish!"

My friend and I, not wishing to waste this rare opportunity, doffed our shoes and waded out into the river, long pants and all, up to our waist.

Our guide was up on shore at this point, sitting under a tree, and I called up to him asking, "How come there are no globefish here?"

"Crocodiles," he replied.

James Michael Dorsey

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