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Published: March 2nd 2011
I remember my first dive as if it was yesterday – the sense of awe and wonder that filled me as I was entering this other world of unexpectedly intense colours, unusual shapes and serene stillness. At the time I did of course see the different fishes around me but only in the way one might perceive flowers in a field or birds in the sky – beautiful and exotic but essentially anonymous. And it has remained that way ever since – until now. Over the past few weeks I’ve learned to identify and name around 120 species of fish. It is a little like being introduced to 120 strangers who you consequently recognise and acknowledge and I cannot dive without thinking out the names of the now familiar fishes –a pair of coral rabbit fish grazing in harmony, big-eyed soldiers gawking at us suspiciously, a solitary thumbprint emperor scurrying for safety . It is compulsive, even addictive but most of all a lot of fun. I feel a certain affection for my new found friends, and the other day, when I ordered grilled fish and it turned out to be a peacock grouper, I couldn’t eat it.
a volunteer with GVI Seychelles, a marine conservation project that works in conjunction with, among others, the Marine Park Authority and MCSS. Our task is to survey the reefs around Mahe which were badly affected by the 1998 El Nino. The data we gather is then passed on to the various organisations to get a clearer picture of the rate of recovery of this fragile ecosystem.
The surveying is great fun but to get to this stage has been hard work. After breakfast at 6 am it’s “duty time” which means either filling tanks for the day’s dives, cooking, cleaning or getting the boat ready before we go out on our survey dives. During the first 5 weeks we had numerous fish lectures, exams and assignments for our BTECs (in “Supervision of Biological Surveys”) in addition to the usual schedule and sometimes it seemed that there were just not enough hours in the day...
We are based at Cap Ternay, a stunningly beautiful bay fringed by mountains covered with lush vegetation, whose emerald colour oddly clashes with the intense turquoise of the sea. At low tide the boat is unable to get close to shore, which means we have
to lug our equipment, tanks and all, about 150 m through razor clam infested sandbanks... The accommodation is in a former youth village/summer school. Most of the houses are falling down (including, it seems sometimes, our own...). There are 3 dorms for the volunteers and a kitchen/dining room in a separate building. It’s all quite rustic and there are very few creature comforts (no hot water, but at least there are a couple of showers). One of the biggest issues is the food – or the lack of it. We all take it in turns to cook, and feeding 29 hungry mouths is quite a challenge, especially when towards the middle of the week, before shopping day, there may be only a handful of potatoes and two cans of beans left. Thankfully there is plenty of flour (at least most of the time) and we’ve all learned to bake bread, which so far has averted any looming food mutiny. The nearest shop is half an hour’s strenuous walk away and it does not stock much more than crisps, a few cans of meat or fish and the odd bar of melt-deformed chocolate. So most of us are looking forward to
a Saturday morning food shopping trip to Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, which is an hour’s white-knuckle bus ride away.
Victoria must be the smallest capital I’ve ever been to – 25000 inhabitants, and the town centre is easily covered within a 5 minute walk. But as towns go I am very fond of this one. It’s friendly and colourful; it has plenty of small, pretty shops, a couple of restaurants, a “News Cafe”, a very good internet cafe, two cinemas and three or four supermarkets. What else do you need? I admit that getting up early on Saturday morning after Takamaka rum and Sey beer during the Friday night party is torture. But the shops and banks in Victoria close at 12 noon and there are always things that need to be done or bought, so we have to catch the early bus or wait for another week without essential supplies. I like my Saturday morning routine – exploring the little shops in hidden alleyways, visiting the market, catching up on emails before a leisurely lunch at either the Pirate’s Arms or at Le Rendez Vous. Little luxuries...
Recently I was lying in one of the
hammocks outside the main building, gazing at the full moon; the voices of the others wafting over from the kitchen, the wind playing with the leaves above me, fruit bats squabbling in the tree before taking off and gliding soundlessly towards the sky. I was contemplating my life – then and now – and how the past seemed nothing but a distant dream; painful memories becoming indistinct and fading gradually. The door to my old life is closed; I have exchanged my big house as my personal space for a narrow bed under a mosquito net. Crazy? Maybe. But I am content. I have fulfilled a dream that even two years ago seemed entirely out of my reach. Of course it’s not all plain sailing and there are days when the present seems difficult and the future too uncertain to focus on. But when I worry and wonder where to go from here I remember my friend Kat’s advice, “Follow your dreams – they know the way”
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