Thursday, December 03, 2009

Communities and Crickets

After two days at Lamin Lodge, we moved a short distance up the river to Bintang Bolong, stopping for a walk and a swim on James Island on the way. James Island is a tiny island containing the eerie rocky ruin of an old fort and trading post founded by the British for trading in ivory, gold and slaves. Throughout its grisly history, it has been destroyed at least three times and has been in the hands of the British, French, Dutch and various pirates. It was finally abandoned in 1829 after being used briefly by the British to suppress the slave trade that had been outlawed in 1807.

The following morning, we brought the dinghies into shore at Bintang and were met by a lone youth who offered to show us around his village. Off we wandered together up dirt streets lined with ramshackles houses with friendly smiling people on the porches. The offered to bake us some bread and we purchased 12 very fresh baguettes and an enormous bunch of bananas. As we continued along the road we gathered children like the Pied Piper. All were interested to introduce themselves, know our names and hear where we were from. When asked why they were not in school they replied that their school was in the afternoon, half of the older children go in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. We were taken to a community run nursery school where we were met by a group of about 30 laughing and excited children (around age 6). The school principal guided us around the four-classroom school where each age group was sitting politely, only childlike in their big grins and their subtle fidgeting. Children start school at age 2 in this village and we were struck by the level of complexity of the subject matter (eg. sums and letters for <4 olds) and the incredible discipline of the children. Children are fed breakfast and lunch and a group of mothers were preparing food behind the school when we arrived. We were kindly offered breakfast but politely declined as we felt we had intruded enough. Overall we were amazed at how welcome we were made to feel and we carefully apologized for the intrusion and interruption of the lessons and left with a real feeling of wonder at how with a little care and cooperation a community with very little material wealth can build such a rich environment. Waved goodbye to the children on the shore exchanging truly happy smiles and headed back to the boats.

Second half of the day was great for very different reasons. Hoisted the halfwinder and positively flew down the perfectly flat river with more than two knots of current with us, beautiful sunshine and huge dolphins (reputed to be the largest in the world) swimming alongside. Arrived in Mandori Creek at 1730 and dropped the anchor amongst the mangroves. Birdlife was bursting from the shores and we saw storks, pelicans, several strikingly marked sandpiper-like birds, green and yellow parrots and several more high flyers that we were not able to identify. The boat was lying completely still and we drifted off to sleep as the sounds of the birds slowly became the sounds of the crickets as night fell.

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