Cooperatively Blurple

In his sixth instalment, our aquaculture intern Nathaniel Maekawa looks into his different experiences of cooperation, and especially the cooperative living at ReefDoctor…

“Home is an ambiguous term for me. It has come in the form of different apartments, houses, cities, states, and countries. It has been synonymous with names like Camp Algonquin, Mich Haus, and EcoQuest. For me, home is constituted by the memories and people that have left ripples on who I am as a person. It is often a place where I can rest and be at ease. A recharging port of sorts. For nearly two months now, ReefDoctor has been my home. It is certainly a place of inspiring work and adventure, but it is also a place for community. With people that arrive from all over the world, speaking different languages, and embodying different lived experiences, the community at ReefDoctor is one that is diverse and full of unique perspectives. While a shared passion for environmental conservation and community development is a notable unifier for ReefDoctor’s inhabitants, ReefDoctor’s cooperative infrastructure is the platform for each of us to pursue our nuanced interests. Whereas daily activities and tasks are constantly fluctuating, ReefDoctor’s cooperativeness is a reliable consistency.

My first experience with cooperative living happened when I opted to live off-campus at my university in the states. Nestled in the middle of North State Street, Ann Arbor, a purple house sits adjacent to a blue one. They are connected by a wide river of gravel, flowing between them towards a shared shed that has been appropriately painted alternating stripes of purple and blue. A part of the Inter-Cooperative Council, the houses abide by a constitution and governance that is agreed upon by residents from each house. Since no one profits from the rent, the blurple house tenants hold the responsibility of house maintenance, food acquisition, and community building. To promote communication and representation, meetings are held to give voice to ideas and allow for changes to be voted upon.

It was a wonderful experience to be a part of, and it has been equally as wonderful to recognize ReefDoctor’s own cooperative nature. Whether it be taking turns to feed the dogs, water the veggie garden, or simply clean up after oneself, ReefDoctor’s operation runs on a respect for living together. Community is strengthened by things as subtle as walking into Ifaty to share a cold beer at Jose’s (local bartender, general store manager, gym owner, movie theater director, and budding pharmacist). As new volunteers and interns arrive, people who have had more time onsite can help them to acquire their bearings with taxi brousses, restaurants, and wifi zones. Meetings occur every Wednesday to provide a space for announcements and updates. At this time, reminders are also shared to uphold a standard for communal living. Jurassic Park in the main office (funded by pooling money together for extra electricity), singing Bohemian Rhapsody by flashlight (encouraged by copious amounts of communal rum), rejoicing when its Tuesday and bolognaise is served (accentuated by a ubiquitous love for bolognaise); living together brings about many shared experiences, and approaching them cooperatively creates for a more positive outlook.

Cooperation was a theme in aquaculture this week as well. As a leader for overnight trips to Ambolomailaky and Andrevo, I helped my fellow interns and volunteers by imparting knowledge on village navigation and sea cucumber sales. As the weeks have passed, I’ve begun to feel accustomed to my role as an aquaculture guide and reference, and the responsibility of providing information to my colleagues so that they can continue to work towards the progress I’ve seen in my time here, is one that I take seriously. Following the sea cucumber sales, many people from ReefDoctor went to Andrevo to the community-driven mangrove reforestation project. In celebration of World Mangrove Day, a cultural performance kicked off the event, many officials came out to commend the community for their work, and then in a mass movement, the community marched to the site and planted 4 hectares of mangroves. The enthusiasm and festive atmosphere of the planting made it a lot of fun to attend, and served as a source of inspiration. It was incredible to witness a community’s cooperation propel a project to improve the environment. Not only will it provide benefits to the people that call Andrevo home, but it will also create homes for a wide array of flora and fauna.

With one week left at ReefDoctor, thoughts of friends and family in the states have been floating through my mind. While these thoughts often bring me a smile, there is still a way to go before I can give them much heed. Next week, two new aquaculture interns will arrive on camp, and I will be working my best to leave them feeling confident in their abilities, and confident in their new home. It’s amazing how fast time is passing out here in Ifaty, and as I’ve said before, I am ever grateful that it has passed with a purpose that I believe in, a purpose that is fueled by cooperation.”

Written by aquaculture intern Nathaniel Maekawa

Photo credit: Inter-cooperative Council, Ale Fruscella & Karin Moehler