September 25th was International Beach Clean-up Day. Meeting time was 8:00 AM, which apparently translates to 11:00 AM Mozambican time -- when the young kids from the local school finally arrived.
We watched a very strange video in Portuguese which was, I think, about proper trash disposal. Yara then separated the forty children into five groups of eight with a corresponding 1 km section of beach assigned to each group for cleaning. Despite not speaking a word of Portuguese, the only language spoken by the kids, I was the leader of Group Azul (Blue). We departed the lodge and headed to our transects with instructions to pick up any garbage lining the beach for an hour and twenty minutes, keeping track of what type of rubbish was gathered. The group with the most trash would be awarded a whale watching trip for the following day.
After trying to toss a couple coconuts and rocks away, the kids of Group Azul began to understand the types of trash we were seeking out and took over. They quickly moved down the transect – way ahead of me – and began making piles of all the rubbish they found and leaving a guard to stay with it and help me quantify and load it all in the bag (I was carrying the trash bag and recording paper). Keep in mind that I couldn’t speak a word to give them any instructions; they organized themselves and carried out their own plan, which was about as efficient as a plan could be. When they reached the end of the transect, way before me, they took out a football and began kicking it around while one of the girls stayed behind with me and absolutely insisted on carrying the trash bag part of the way. The discipline and work ethic of the kids, especially the girls, was unlike anything I’ve seen for people that age.
When our hour and twenty minutes were up, we met up with all the other groups back at the lodge. The kids ate lunch and played in the water while data was organized and all the piles of trash (we had to empty the trash bags into piles on the beach once they were full) were collected by tractor. The final results had Team Yellow (Steve’s Team) in last place and Team Blue in first by a long shot … well … at least that’s how I remember it. The other leaders may remember it differently, but that’s irrelevant. So we handed out prizes to all the teams and the kids seemed to like their prizes … but when it came time for the coolest prize, the whale watching trip, the first place team didn’t seem excited at all. In fact, the kids turned it down because they were all too scared! It was a problem nobody saw coming, so we had to do some prize-swapping. It all worked out because there were a few children willing to trade in their newly won t-shirts for a trip out on the water. In total, we collected well over 350 kilos of rubbish over a 5 kilometer transect in a little over an hour of work. Sort of disgusting to see it all put together, but at least the beaches look nice … for a couple days at least.
On the following day, Sunday, we took two divers out for a dive and the kids did some whale watching. They were fortunate enough to see a few whales but unfortunate enough to have weak sea stomachs. All the kids except for one, a fisherman’s son, kindly offered all the fish in the area their previous meals at some point while we were out, with much of the sickness setting in after the kids implored Jon to drive the boat “really fast.” When we returned to shore they were all smiles and seemed to have enjoyed the day and their prize of a boat trip. All in all, it was a successful weekend on many fronts.