Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paying to sit under trees

As of last Saturday, you are asked to pay $5.00 to sit under this almond tree and two others that border Cassava Beach. But only if you sit under it for the whole day. I saw a group of bikini and board-short clad visitors sleeping under the tree, but as they were asleep could not ask them whether the mysterious and well-anchored sign had been enforced. If it had, whether it had been enforced with cheerful hospitality. I wonder.

For the last few weeks, we've been seeing signs of life at Cassava Beach. The road, an overgrown path crowded high with elephant grass, was cleared. Areas around the trees were burned and small grasses now grow between the char. There is a wonderful little umbrella thatch on the sand that I'd love to copy for our campsite, and even a little changing area shelter made of bamboo. All wonderful and thoughtful. But I wonder how they decided to charge people who sit under the tree--and how that will work for them. There are quite a few trees on the beach in Robertsport--one of my favorite is the less-photographed giant cotton tree that borders Cassava Beach.

To me, the remarkable thing about this sign is that it's on a tree. At the Robertsport Community Campsite, we encourage our day guests and picnickers to hang out at the shade trees and hammocks next door. Our friend Aaron, who we're always giving our watermelon seeds to, runs a picnic site there. It works well. He makes a little money for helping out with tables and chairs and keeping the place clean. Our campsite guests get their peace and quiet. Everyone shares the pit latrine (or sneaks up to Nana's Lodge--we don't ask).

I've thought about it, and I'm happy in both cases to encourage people in Robertsport to charge people for services. I coached Aaron on how organize the picnic in a way people would pay him for it. Nate and I have worked closely with Wallace and T-Boy, who now work full-time at the campsite, on how to cheerfully request a $5 overnight campsite fee. All three men (two of them young--Wallace is a retired police chief and has the relaxed energy of someone at least 70 in my culture; a story about him later) collect a reasonable income from their mostly-weekend work.

I think the guy at Cassava Beach might have a hard time though, and not because people don't value the work he's put in. Paying for a person-to-person service seems fair and reasonable in West Africa--the people in Robertsport are happy to lend a hand no matter who's visiting. I think Cassava Beach's attempt to get in on the action would do best if if they focused on being there as "security" for the car or actively doing something. Anything! But asking me to pay to sit under a tree and I balk: trees are nature, part of our makeup, for relaxing. No one--not any one--should have to *pay* to sit under them. Looking at that sign makes me oddly offended.

This is either a sign of the industriousness of the people of Robertsport or the kind of impact all this dry season's visitors are having on people in Robertsport. If it's both, that could be good news. But on principle, I'm not paying $5 to sit under that tree.

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