Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Interview Wednesdays: Papi Martinez

Abraham "Papi" Martinez, on the right
Cover of September 1968 Skin Diver magazine

When I was in the Dominican Republic, I attempted to ask questions to a few friendly faces. They spoke such little English that I really couldn't communicate with them. I was in their country after all. (Mom, I really want to take Spanish from you this summer).

I wanted to tell them how nice their smiles were, and when I asked how to say "smile" in Spanish, I was told the word is contento. My Mom told me that means "content" (as you may have guessed), and she thought that was sweet because in Mexico for example, the word for smile is sonrisa.

On my way home from the DR, I had a long layover in Miami. I decided to go find some dinner. I ended up sitting near an older gentleman with a nice face, a cream colored guayabera shirt, and a beautiful shade of brown skin. I wish I had my camera with me so I could show you. We ended up acknowledging one another, and then we started talking. His name is Abraham, he spoke a little Portuguese to me and quickly determined I couldn't speak it. ('Bufa' doesn't count, right Barb & Lesley)?

Abraham is known as Papi Martinez and he is 73 years old. He has been skin diving for 60 years and is from the island of Curaçao (Coo-ra-sow). He said I should go there someday, and I should learn to dive. He said diving keeps you healthy. Abraham looked very healthy. He told me that his country is beautiful, that it's south of the Dominican Republic and it's easy to remember where his island is - just think A, B, C. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao.

I asked him if he'd been to those islands nearby and he said Yes, he's been diving at all of them and since Curaçao is near Venezuela he's been there too. I asked him if Venezuela was nice. "Oh yes" he marveled. "They have everything! Of course you wouldn't want to go there now, because of the problems with their government. They produce lots of oil. Curaçao doesn't have any oil, but we refine it and send it to the United States".

We spoke about his diving some more. In 1956, he was on his country's dive team and they beat out all the other international locations in that year's diving championships. He said it was like a miracle. He also did a stunt for television, driving a car into the water.

Abraham was on the cover of the September 1968 Skin Diver magazine. Around this time he became well known in the skin diving community and was invited by another diver to come to California. They dove off the coast of Catalina Island. He thought it was so beautiful and he couldn't believe the bulbs on the kelp, as he had never seen kelp before.

Now, since he is mostly retired, he does some business dealings. Sometimes he and his team of divers catch tropical fish to sell in saltwater tanks all over the world, like Germany and Japan. He said they are very expensive. All the time he was speaking, he had a twinkle in his eyes.

He handed me his red & white diving card and said that if I ever make it to Curaçao, I can call him to go diving. He then stood up to shake my hand and sweetly said that he must stand up for a lady. (Jay he was not hitting on me)!

I walked away feeling like I was very lucky to have had this encounter. There are remarkable people around us at all times, just waiting for us to find out.


Clare said...

What a remarkable man. I really loved this post. It made me happy to learn all about Abraham.

Ana said...

Hi Jamie, I really think you are a great interviewer! Keep em coming!

Laura said...

I love this Post. :)

Laura said...

I know Papi Martinez.. He is my uncle. :)

Jamie Watson said...

Laura, no way! That is truly amazing. I feel so happy knowing this! Please tell him the next time you talk to him - he left a lasting impression on me. Thanks so much for saying hello, it made me so happy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie...

I'm Laura, and I'm back on the island. My uncle Papi Martinez is still waiting to send you a mail. He is always trying to contact you.
But he is not a computer minded. He is busy trying to make a biography of him self. He will mention you in his biography.
Can you send me your email address to


Laura & Papi Martinez