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An Encounter with AIDS in Africa

BY Lisa Lindblad

May 17, 2011

In 1990, I was traveling through Tanzania with my family.  On a long drive up from Ruaha National Park in the Southern part of the country, we stopped at a gas station for petrol.  As is commonplace in Africa, children and hawkers crowded around the vehicle, curiously eyeing the mounds of provisions and, even more curiously, the blond children inside.  Hands reached out dangling seed necklaces, beaded keychains, the odd “would be” ebony sculpture in the style of Makonde.  “Hapana, hapana,” was the automatic response, not for lack of interest or empathy but simply to prevent hurt feelings and what could easily occur, a scramble for coins.

A skinny little arm angled up through the window and thrust a wooden statue in my face. Glancing quickly at the  figure of strange proportions and angles – who was not unlike the human one that proffered it – I said, “He’s ugly..he looks sick!”  The boy became very agitated.  “Shillingi moja,” he said – one shilling. We tussled verbally some more until I heard him say, “Adees! Adees!”

I looked at the figure which he dropped in my lap, and it suddenly clicked.  This man had AIDS, the “thin disease” as it was often called in Africa in those days.   I had not yet heard locals mention AIDS,  and this was the first time I saw it in East Africa’s vernacular art.

Of all my treasures collected around the world, this figure is my most precious.  And I often think of that little boy and what he must have already seen.

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She tangled with ghost nets and lost her flipper.  The pain we cause to other creatures, through thoughtlessness and arrogance, is tragic.

When we travel, we expand our minds and open our hearts, breaking the unconscious rhythm of our daily lives.  And when we become aware of the world around us, we are compelled to stop our foolish ways.

  When I was last in the Maldives, I visited Coco Palm, one of the islands in Baa Atoll.  There is a resort here but, up a sandy path thick with tropical vegetation, is a one-room structure that sits next to seven large tanks shaded by tent-like tarps. The Olive Ridley Project and Coco Collection opened the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in February 2017.  It was all made possible by an official partnership formed between Coco Collection and ORP in 2015, as well as very generous donations from guests at Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resorts and other partners. The first fully-equipped marine turtle rescue centre in Maldives has laboratory and surgical facilities as well as a full-time resident turtle veterinarian, Dr Claire Lomas. The rescue centre can accommodate up to eight turtle patients at the time in seven tanks. Mohamed Didi, Chief Engineer at the Coco Collection, developed a fully-automated water-flow regulation system, which allows pre-programmed procedures for the tanks. When I visited the center and photographed Coco Chanel, above, who is missing one of her flippers but doing extremely well, another turtle arrived by the boat from the Four Seasons Landaa resort. She will be added to the turtle patients who are in various stages of recuperation, some doing better than others. Not only do the turtles lose their flippers - oftentimes more than one - but in dragging these tangled ghost net masses along with them, they tear their lungs which, ultimately, prevents them from being able to dive.  Bouyancy becomes the killer. Dr. Claire, who had arrived only a few months prior to my visit, was hand carrying medicines from England in her luggage. She is not only the sole turtle vet, she tells me she is the only vet in the Maldives.  She operates alone, a brave and capable woman.
The Story So Far
1,200+ GHOST NETS AND GHOST GEAR FRAGMENTS REMOVED FROM THE INDIAN OCEAN
426 ENTANGLED TURTLES REPORTED
27 INJURED TURTLES TREATED AT THE MARINE TURTLE RESCUE CENTRE
7 FULL FLIPPER AMPUTATIONS PERFORMED
10 TURTLES SUCCESSFULLY RELEASED
2000+ SEA TURTLES IDENTIFIED
11,000 + SEA TURTLE SIGHTINGS DOCUMENTED

http://oliveridleyproject.org/

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Meditations #84