Mabul

Face to face, out in the heat

Hanging tough, staying hungry

They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive


Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik

They claw and pull and tear at the small plastic bag of candy. Their eyes are filled with anger. More, grab it, pull it out of her hand, push, shove. "Give me another one damn it you rich bitch" their cold dark eyes flash. Don't take a photo of me, just don't try it. Get the fucking candy, get it from her, if I get it there is no fucking way I am sharing! Grab, pull, rip. Somewhere inside, there is a small beaten child. A 6 year old human, who is already aware that his life is going to be shit. A four year old, that watches the rich tourists pull up in speedy boats and lounge around for days on end, being fed and pampered, while they scratch in the earth for ants to play with and maybe to eat later after their father beats them. And maybe if it is only a beating it will be a good night. The adults look away, tired of being looked at as a zoo attraction.

But they are. They are so like a little tribe of macaques, fighting over a bag of candy. So unable to relate to concepts that first world humans value. And I turn away. I turn away in shame. This is not the first time I have met these type of children. They were there in Agra, they are the ones that live at the big tourist places. They are the ones that have to put up with tourists.
She stands there, tiny, naked. It’s alright that she is naked, I mean, she lives on a beach and her skin is completely tanned a beautiful golden brown. Her hair has never been brushed. Her little two year old dissented belly sticks out. She already has a wary look. She knows that the world will not be her friend, that life will kick her in the shins. Her eyes still have that slight glimmer of hope, that is missing from the older kids. She still has the need to be picked up and cuddled and read a story from a giant glossy book. She needs to trace her fingers over the colourful pictures while squeezing her fluffy teddy bear. She needs to complain because the tag on her new pyjamas is scratchy. She needs milk. She needs rice. She needs love. She needs health care, she needs medicine. She will not get these things. Later, she will find her way back to her hut alone. She will try to avoid her mother and father, who have been working since sunup to find something for themselves to eat, and to fix their hut with. If she gets in their way, they will cuff her, or if she is lucky, just pick her up by one arm and tell her to stay out of the way. She is wary. Sometimes her older sister is nice to her. Usually her older sister carries her around and plays with her. Usually her older sister just imitates her parents and hits her too. But it is ok, because she has learned to hit the new baby whenever she cries. The new baby doesn't cry much anymore, so sometimes when she is bored, she hits the new baby so it will cry, and then hits it to tell it to be quiet. She learned this way, the new baby will too.
The dive resorts on the island try to help, but they are outsiders. Governments don't like outsiders interfering. There is a government school here, but it is only for the people that are legally here. Most are not. So most of the kids do not go to school. There is not a school for them to attend. There are no crisp white uniforms and no one can teach them the mysteries of reading and writing or science or geography. They learn to swim or they die at about the same age they learn to walk. They learn to dig through the resort garbage and find things they can use. They learn how to take a boat out and fish. They learn how to wash rags in the ocean. They learn that they are not the people that come dancing in beside their village with fancy packs and clothing. These tall people with light skin and light hair. They learn that if they do the best that they could, the most they could ever hope to achieve, is to be a servant for them and work at the resort, and clean their bathrooms, or cook their fancy food that they will not be allowed to eat (they will be given fried noodles). They know that they can never have a voice to speak up against one of those people no matter what they do. They know they are third class people.
The village beside Scuba Junkies, with it's beautiful long boats

The floating village of a resort. In front is a sea gypsy houseboat. This boat is their home.

This naked child on the beach, is one of the sea gypsies. He will not be allowed to attend school, his parents cannot have jobs, he will probably never be allowed to have citizenship of any country. Is he Malaysian? Philippino? Indonesian? 
Sipidan Island. No one is allowed to live or fish here - it is completely protected. There is a small army base on it to make sure it is protected. 

The pier onto Sipidan

Beautiful untouched beaches of Sipidan

Sipidan beaches
The boys in the other Mabul village playing their favourite game - rolling a wheel with a stick! The children of this village are legitimate Malaysian citizens and go to school. Many of their adult relatives work for the resorts.

Beautiful beaches of Mabul

This lizard was about a metre if you stretched out his tail

This village is a mix between sea gypsies and legitimate citizens.

The Scuba Junkies resort. Basic and run like a summer camp, but quite beautiful.

The little turtles from the turtle release. Scuba Junkies does a lot of environmental work, protecting and helping.


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