Sunday, August 03, 2008

August 1, 2008 - Kupang

Last night we had the standard island experience of going to see local kids dance while eating bland, overpriced food. But today we had the brand new experience today of being interviewed on a local radio station, Sahabat 95.6. We, along with Brian and Brenda, two young cruisers from NZ, and Greg and Nicholas, two travelers from France who bummed rides to Indo on rally boats, spoke about our experiences traveling. Towards the end of the broadcast a listener called in and asked us about our first impressions of Kupang. After days of being saddened and disgusted by the amount of plastic waste washing up on the beach where we land the dinghy and floating through the anchorage, I grabbed the opportunity . . . and mic.

Everything here has so much packaging on it. At the market stalls, the vendors wrap your food in a banana leaf, a piece of heavy construction paper, and then put it into a completely superfluous plastic bag. We always turn down the bag, saying "no plastic," but that has little lasting impact. Excessive packaging is a problem in developed countries as it wastes space in our landfills, but in a developing country like Indonesia, it is a disaster. The foreshore here is coated with plastic refuse. Last night I saw a toddler playing with a plastic syringe that he had found on the beach. If that had happened back home, the beach would have been shut down to determine the source of the biomedical waste. But here, the syringes are just a part of the scenery.

Like every island people we've met, the Timorese either burn their waste, or simply throw it into the water. Tossing rubbish into the sea is fine if it degrades, like paper, egg shells, tin cans, vegetable and animal trimmings, or coconut shells; but, plastic doesn't break down. It floats around forever, eventually washing up on otherwise pristine deserted beaches or strangling sea turtles and sea birds. Albatross, and other sea birds, can starve to death as a result of eating so much plastic that they have no room left in their stomaches for food. The plastic that we throw away today has a huge impact on our seas, and will continue to do so for generations. So when the opportunity to educate a few people about the impact of throwing plastic into the sea was handed to me on a silver platter, I grabbed it . . . and the mic. The interview is going to be posted on the radio station's blog.

After the interview we headed over to an orphanage run by the head of the radio station. We met many of the two dozen kids who live there. Most are from around Kupang. They seem happy and well adjusted. But several are refugees from the conflict in East Timor. As cliche as it is, the only way I can describe their expressions is 'haunted.' They've seen much too much in their short lives.

Back at the anchorage we were faced with a true cruiser's dilemma: to go ashore for a free meal at the Governor's reception or to stay on board to avoid the possibility of flipping our dinghy in the sizable surf. After our full day out and about, we were content to stay aboard and watch other dinghies attempt the surf.

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