A tale of two swamps – Meeting in the swamp

We were transferred by boat across to the main island, to a bustling little harbour almost completely surrounded by huts.  We sloshed ashore trying not to get too muddy, and worked our way around some carts (that obviously were high enough to traverse the shallows to transport goods out to the cattle and other fields), along heavily compacted soil pathways between houses to a larger hut. Various people stared at us, or said “Hello”, the children giggled at us like they do almost anywhere in Africa.

The meeting house was a poorly maintained house close to the main channel – during the meeting I kept hearing the noise of outboard motors or punt poles sloshing in the water.  The visitors were introduced to the village headman – the most senior person in the village and representative of the chief for the whole community.  Then several other senior men were introduced to us, mainly the headman’s secretary and seniors from the fisherfolk association.  Gradually the room filled up with men of various states of dress; some in dishevelled t-shirts, torn trousers and sandals, others in overalls and wellingtons.  Our party of eight shook hands with every one of them as they came in,  the left supporting your elbow as you extended the right hand.

The meeting was slow, as many large community meetings had to be; a word of prayer, a welcome by the headman, a lengthy explanation from the Chief Fisheries Officer and Ian about the project.  This was made longer, of course, as every word had to be translated back and forth and Alphart fulfilled most of this role in a quiet respectful manner.   It always takes time for people to get used to translation; either saying far too much and then the translator having to try to remember things, or talking over the translator, or there being long pregnant pauses as people wait for the next element to be said.  Gradually a flow comes together; a dialogue, conversation and finally debate.  As Ian started to ask questions about the fishery and look for people’s opinions, the responses were a little staid to start with, half an eye on how both the headman and their peers react to their opinions.  When they saw some support for what they were saying they grew in confidence and moved on to new topics.  When someone disagreed, the whole room started to get animated.  From the quiet shady room we had walked into there was now a lively discussion.

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