Magazine article New Internationalist

Ropes in the Water

Magazine article New Internationalist

Ropes in the Water

Article excerpt

In her last Letter from Mauritius, Lindsey Collen finds trouble beneath the surface of a picture-perfect scene.

An early-rising tourist could be forgiven for seeing only peace. The sun hasn't risen from behind dark-green mountains yet, but the sky is already a luminous blue and the lagoon, flat as a mirror, is a gentle grey. The Black River Bay, huge and calm, is ever-so-slowly waking up. The police station only a hundred metres inland is oblivious. A fisher's pirogue, newly painted white with its proud red line along each side, its mast tilted back at the perfect angle, is being poled to the edge. Another is being untied lazily from its moorage. Tourists might sense nothing but tranquillity in the air. Two or three people, nondescript they might think, talk quietly, or just sit on the storm drain, gazing at an almost imperceptible reef. Other little groups gather on the beach. A tourist might pick up nothing in particular in the tones of their voices.

A couple of pirogues start up their outboard motors, move into the lagoon and turn them off. The Coast Guard are still fast asleep.

Fishers employed on the big, shiny fibreglass boats and bright orange catamarans that take tourists out deep-sea marlin fishing slowly walk the jetty, carrying the fuel, the drinks and the plastic food baskets aboard. They call to each other nonchalantly.

In all, 22 pirogues, one by one, engines off, line up in the lagoon as if in formation. Between the pirogues lies heavy rope, strung from one to the next. An early-rising tourist might think it was just nets.

But it's a demonstration. A protest. A blockade. The tourist boats can't leave the jetty now. A quiet air of satisfaction sets in all around us, like a smile. Imagine that much cooperation. It's a silent protest. Almost invisible. No posters, no slogans, no shouting. But there it is.

Ram and I are there, invited by the fishers. Witnesses, they said. And if there's trouble, maybe advice.

One day a few months ago, a tourist fishing company had trucks unload huge piles of rocks in front of its premises, between the sea and the high-water mark, which is common land. The company intends to construct something in concrete. Already, no-one can walk past any more. Fishers can't get to where their pirogues are moored. …

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