the streaker’s defence and the foot massage

He hottun Saint Martin’s Island,
It was the American band The Eagles who penned the aphorism, “Call some place Paradise: kiss it goodbye”. They were absolutely right about that.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has ever been in a beautiful place and been mystified by the propensity of some predecessor to leave their rubbish there. Linda struggles with the concept just as much as I

I remember going to a beach in Chorini, Venezuela which looked like a tropical paradise. The sand was fine and yellow, the surf was clean and rolling, the headland gave a neat protection from the breeze, the sun was shining and there was a line of coconut palms roughly parallel to the shore. On top of all that, there were very few other people there at the time. Everything was perfect except for the rubbish on the beach.

possible explanations

What goes through the mind of someone being at a magical natural place and deciding to leave their plastic refuse there? Is it some kind of warped affirmation of humanity’s progress? Is it a selfish act to ensure that no-one else can enjoy what they have just enjoyed? Do they think that all rubbish is biodegradable?

Linda thinks it may stem from the caste system which entails the enculturation of servitude ie. the expectation that someone else – someone lower in the pecking order – will always pick up after you.

Saint Martin’s Island

We have wrestled with this question here on Saint Martin’s Island, the southern-most point of Bangladesh. The island is a three-hour ferry ride from Teknaf and is an atoll, or more correctly, two atolls joined by a sandy isthmus.

The island is about seven kilometres from north to south and lies deep in the tropics, just north of the equator. This afternoon
we achieved the complete circum-ambulation in about four hours. This was one of Linda’s impetuous ideas for which she later invoked the streaker’s defence (at the same time as demanding a foot massage!). Said she: “If you’re staying on an island, you have to walk around it, don’t you? (I think I’ll leave her behind next time I visit Kangaroo Island.)

St. Martin Island
7000 people

Like most places in Bangladesh, it’s teeming with people. 7000 people eke out a living here even though there’s no electricity, no hot water, no banks, no lighthouse and no hospital. It’s a car-less island, with rickshaws being the only means of transport. The ethnic influence from neighbouring Myanmar is stronger here than in the general population, there being a semi-permanent Rohingya refugee camp at Teknaf on the mainland.


We were met at the pier by a young bloke who rejoices under the nickname of Friday. (Can you believe it?) Friday told us that his grandfather was Burmese. Chow Wing cooked us breakfast this morning and told us that he was a refugee from Myanmar. This evening Enobi – who’d cooked us a barbecued red snapper – also informed us that he was a refugee from Myanmar and his parents have been living in the refugee camp for six years. (The snapper was delectable.)

The ship in the distance is a hospital ship.

Saint Martin himself was apparently banished from some European country and dropped on this island, hitherto unknown to mariners. He is said to have started some kind of settlement here and lived here until he died. It’s very flat (showing unmistakable signs of suffering from rising sea levels in some places) and has coconuts, bananas and mangoes


Today, the local people largely comprise a fishing community but they also grow much of their own produce, including rice, wheat, vegetables and chilies. The temperature at this time of year is perfect both day and night. The island bears all the properties of a tropical paradise, but there’s rubbish everywhere!

collecting bait

Why would someone come to a paradise and deliberately soil the place? How do the locals – some of whom say they want to entice international tourists to the island – tolerate the rubbish being strewn in the gutters and paths? I’ve come to the conclusion that appreciation of natural beauty is a learned behaviour, rather than innate. If you are used to
rubbish being in your own place, you won’t understand the revulsion felt by others who have come to marvel at the beauty of the natural world. Your frame of reference is different; your standards lower. Open for debate.
Balosala hottun Saint Martin’s island in the Bay of Bengal
(Both the greeting at the beginning and the sign-off above are Burmese.)


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