It’s 8:45am. The fishers sit silently, some studying the floor, others gazing out to the still waters visible from the hotel’s balcony with a (real? imagined?) longing for a day’s lost wages. All are dressed neatly, shirts tucked in, hair arranged in perfect symmetry. All have sweat forming glistening rivulets on the nape of the neck and behind the ears. None speak.
The workshop should have started at 8:30. The night before, as we finished one hour and fifteen minutes overtime, one of the project team had gently admonished the participants: we start right on time, ok? So everyone be here ready in the morning. There had been weary nods and muted smiles, as the fishers slipped away into the night, back to wooden shacks and wailing babes.
I’m sitting on a rickety wooden table in the back corner, legs beating time to my growing rage. The facilitator of the first session is nowhere to be seen. Our other teammates bustle around, moving pens and butchers paper from one side to the other, manoeuvring awkwardly around the fishers, still as statues.
My always limited stock of patience gives out. I march across the room and down the stairs, ignoring the protesting hands that raise in weak gestures to stop my path. Halfway across the hotel’s sandy courtyard I run into another young student facilitator. ‘We were meant to start 20 minutes ago’ I hiss, ‘Where the hell is he?’. Eyes downcast, shifting uncomfortably ‘he’s coming, you don’t need to go to the room.’
I pay no attention. His culture does not condone confrontation, especially not between peers. It will be as shameful for me as it is for him if I reprimand him, it’s not my place. I know this, and throw it away.
My knock on the door has all the restraint of a oyster catcher smashing shellfish, the wooden frame creaks in protest. The facilitator opens up, wrapped in a towel. If his chestnut skin had allowed it, he would have been the colour of a sea anemone, blushing crimson.
I wag my finger, another cultural taboo. Our invited guests have been sitting there sweltering for almost half an hour, I seethe. This is so disrespectful. If you’re not up there and presenting in less than 5 minutes we’re skipping your session. Cod-like, he gapes at me. ‘That is all’, I turn and flounce down the stairs.
The workshop creaks into action at around 9am. Everything else goes smoothly, all local and imported controversies kept safely locked away.
Later, inevitably, double-barrelled regret unloads. I’ve once again lacked skill, finesse. The collapse of cohesion, fingers of blame, point towards a collective failure of professionalism and efficacy. It’s the final workshop. We may have no more chances to impress the world with our demonstrations of tools and techniques.
Life wriggles back into comfortable contours. The fishers go home. We stay a couple of extra days, go out on a tourist boat to visit the ghost reefs. The film crew is pleased with the tiny colourful fish. The scientists stay silent. I return to the capital burnt and peeling.