‘My family is from here.’
‘From Bagawai?’ I said in reference to the port from which we’d first embarked.
He looked down into the waters. ‘My parents were born here, before the park. But in 1969, the village moved. Government orders. No people allowed in the park.’
‘Good move?’ I asked.
‘Bad move. My family are not farmers. They lived in the forest - good for hunting. In the new area - no good. Then the government say we cannot stay there. We move again. They give our land to an oil palm company. My brothers work in the plantations. No good - no money, no schools, no clinic. Some people do mining near the river, and now the river is poison.’
‘Is that why the main river is so brown? Mining for what?’
‘Gold. Illegal operations. They use cyanide.’
‘But I saw people fishing on the way upriver.’
Feizal looked dejected. ‘Some do, no good.’
‘Wow,’ I said, reeling from the turn in the conversation. I ran my hands through my hair, wondering how desperate you have to be to eat fish from a cyanide-polluted river.
‘The logging and oil palm have taken the land. Now we need a national park. It's good,' he said, wide-eyed, 'we must save the orang utan. But my community is not bad. But they make our lives bad.’
What an irony. The real story here was that Feizal’s family was caught between the forest’s destruction and its conservation, forcing their relocation. But instead of writing about that, I was producing something that would be called ‘Orangutan Paradise’. Kill me now. My editor wanted the gloss and veneer regardless of the reality it obscured or carefully photoshopped out of the final product.
‘Sorry, is that an impoverished villager I see? Hello! No, no, no. I want wilderness, vast expanses of pristine, untouched nature … white linen … and candles! I don't care where they live, get rid of it - get rid of it!’
I shook my head.
The world has become so complex, so difficult to understand, that even when you try to do the right thing you end up trashing something beautiful.