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Like a Hermit Crab in Search of a Home

My Pursuit of Identity and Place

   Growing up in Durban, a sea-side town in South Africa, I thought I knew about crabs. I had watched them scuttle to and fro on the beach. It fascinated me to see how they retreated into their shells at the first hint of danger, how they never advanced in a straight line. I watched them burrow into soft, wet sand until only an air bubble remained. But my preconceived notions broke apart when I moved to the United States and heard about “hermit” crabs, odd little creatures with odd behavior that populate the coastal beaches.
   Self-preservation is the motivating force in hermit crabs’ existence, but it is self-preservation with a twist. Other crustaceans start their lives with a hard, calcified abdomen; hermit crabs come into the world naked. The soft, curved bodies that house their digestive and reproductive glands are exposed and vulnerable. If they don’t find protection quickly, they become prey to birds and anything wanting a tasty morsel for lunch. This need drives them to search for a suitable home and safety.
   They are named “hermit” for a good reason. Like wanderers who carry backpacks around the world, these creatures seek out “mobile homes,” castoff empty sea shells of varying sizes and shapes. The ideal shelter has no holes and provides adequate space to retract the whole body. Strong pincer claws function as weapons against attackers and a means of gathering food, while spindly legs provide the ability to move around while dragging the “home.”     Fights can break out between them over desirable real estate, leaving one crab happy and the other shell-less and vulnerable. Life is extremely uncertain. Seagulls are a menace with their habit of swooping down on an occupied shell, soaring, and then dropping it on rocks. The poor occupant is ejected, accessible for instant consumption. Desperation sometimes drives the tiny crabs into bottle caps or other odd-shaped coverings, which results in a malformed body and a short life.
   The pursuit of a desirable home is endless. When one shell home no longer fits or suits, they abandon it and move on in search of another.
   With surprise and sadness, I realized I could relate to the funny little hermit crabs.
   I was one.


Off to America!

1. An Exciting Adventure
2. My First Floating Shell
3. A Huge New Shell

South Africa and Canada

4. A Safe Cocoon
5. Two Claims to Fame
6. Sundays Are Us!
7. School – An Inconvenience
8. A Restricting Shell
9. What’s Apartheid?
10. Smashed Shell
11. A Lonely, Solitary Shell
12. An Odd-Shaped Shell
13. Escape to a Big Shell – Canada
14. Trying to Fit into a Bottle Cap
15. A Climate of Fear

A New Country, a New Life

16. Ups and Downs in the U.S.A.
17. Withdrawing into My Shell
18. A Shell in Fragments
19. Who Am I?
20. First Volcanic Eruption
21. Reader of Moods
22. A Time of Calm in a Protective Shell
23. An Act of Desperation
24. Rerecording the Tapes
25. Only One “Dossie”
26. Looking Way, Way Back
27. The Final Clue
28. Forgiveness, and Compassion

Home At Last!

29. Moving On
30. An Appealing Shell
31. Dealing with the Holes
32. A New Perspective
33. Feeling Cramped, Again
34. My Own Custom-Designed Shell