Day 2: River
27 December 2017


Like A River Flows
Adriana Aida binti Che Ismail

We met in an alcove of a library. Immediately I was astounded by how jovial he was. How infectious his childlike optimism was. He introduced himself simply as Oscar. He oozed charm, wit, an inexplicable ability to brighten even the quietest of libraries. Upon asking why he decided to major in ecology like me, he had answered “Nature forms the veins of life without which man cannot survive. Only when we understand the dynamic between nature and man can we hope to be able to keep these veins alive.” His answer had shocked me. Honestly, it scared me a little.

Because after spending so long thinking that profit was the be-all end-all, his opinion gave me a new perspective. The more I talked to him, the more I considered the idea that I was part of something greater than myself. After despairing so long about the future I had decided to pave for myself, I was excited about the notion of fulfilment. Feeling content.

But of course, time had its way. Oscar and I drifted apart, and without his vivacious demeanour I once again felt trapped in the choices I had made.

Until, that is, we met again on a project to clean up a local river. Gaze at the river, and you would see only mountains upon mountains of discarded waste. A foul smell would assault your senses. Look closer still and you’d see, well… absolutely nothing. No life whatsoever. And certainly no hope.

The truth was that this river was biologically, utterly and totally dead. To clean the river would involve cleaning it of all the toxins that had plagued it for so many years, and building new habitats for aquatic life. It would be a difficult task.

“It’s a dump now,” He admitted, clambering over the rocks to reach me. “But think about the future. Imagine how beautiful it could be when it’s reborn.”

There it was- the fiery optimism that I had missed. At a time in my life where I could not see the importance of my work, he had reminded me that just maybe I could do something that mattered on a larger scale. Once again, the prospect excited me.

So it comes as no surprise that when our project was cancelled due to lack of funding, I felt lost. Thinking of all the social and biological good that would disappear because of money made me feel like I neglected my responsibilities. Slowly but surely, we worked on finding organisations that would take on the project. And soon enough, we found one.

It will take years for the river to be fully cleaned. It will take longer for me to truly find my place in the world. Humans, not unlike rivers are not static. We can rid ourselves of all the toxins that plague us deep down. Sometimes, we doubt that it will come to fruition. But, like a river flows, we can be reborn.


Tragedy That Doesn't End
Chloe Yeo Lok Yee

I have no idea how we got here. I used to be really proud to call the river my home. The crystal-clear river water never failed to amaze anyone who saw it. Calm. Breathtaking. I always had fun swimming in the water freely and swimming away from humans who try to catch me, which was considerably fun because the adventurous side of me loved taking risks. Father used to always tell me that the enormous tree by the river is a wise old man, who was also known as the guardian of the river.

He certainly gained respect from fishes like us. But I never understood why he was important. I merely thought of him as a boring, old man who loved to nag and afraid of adventures. Whenever my friends and I played, he would tell us off, claiming that it was too dangerous for us to play. Clearly, we did not favour him much.

It wasn't until I lost my home that I finally realized he was a lifesaver. One morning, we realised he was gone and everyone responded to it like it was the end of the world. Day after day, we started to realize the changes happening in our river. More and more mud sunk into the river bed, and the crystal-clear water turned muddy-brown. Somehow, one day, this foul smell erupted from the river and I saw men throwing barrels into the river.

And that was when I lost my friend, Jaden. Jaden thought the substances in the barrel would be perfect for a hiding spot when we were playing. I could still remember him swimming into the area stained in black and never saw him coming back. He suffocated and his body floated to the surface. I wanted to approach him as grief filled me but my rational told me I shouldn't. Because I might just end up like him.

I started to think maybe the tree we used to hate was right. Till today, it kept me wondering, he may just be the guardian of the river. Since he was gone, bad things started happening to the river.

Jaden dying was not the only incident. That was just the start, and it lasted till today.

When is it going to end?

Not now. Not too soon.

Living Water
Ling How Ken

Willy, Gus and I met near the edge of town one fine Saturday morning. We planned to follow the river that flowed through our town to its source. We had always wondered where this river originated from and we were determined to find out that day. As we were going uphill, we met some villagers. They were wondering where we were heading. We told them our intentions and they wished us luck. We walked along the river, but the trail was narrow and muddy, which made our journey much more difficult.

Just then, something floating in the river caught our eyes. It was a fish, barely alive, surrounded by a layer of black substance which gave out an unpleasant stench. We were wondering what could have caused it when more dead fishes came flowing down the river.

We called the Department of Environment (DOE), under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, immediately to lodge a complaint regarding the river pollution.

As we continued upstream, the area around the river reeked with dead corpses of deer and wild boars, which drank from the poisoned river. We realized that the polluted river is a threat to wildlife as it is their only source of water. Not far ahead, a mysterious person was pouring waste products into the river from a large barrel. We called out to the man to stop his act. The man was shocked to see us but he quickly came back to his senses and pulled out a shotgun from his back pocket. The cold black gun stunned us in our tracks as he pointed it at us.

“Put up your hands, now!” the man shouted at us.

There was fear and anger in his eyes. His hands were shivering as he took out a long rope from his backpack and tied us up.

“What are you going to do with us?” Willy asked.

The man said nothing and continued pouring the rest of the waste into the river. After that, he sat down a distance from us and took out his phone. It kept him occupied. Gus quietly took out his trusty hand knife which he kept hidden. Suddenly, the man looked up and saw Gus cutting the rope. Before he could react, we tugged ourselves free. Without hesitation, we ran as fast as we could towards the village.

The man tried to chase after us. He even took a few shots at us but missed every shot. We were overjoyed when we saw wooden houses right ahead of us. As we approached, we screamed at the top of our lungs for help. The villagers came to our aid swiftly and caught him within seconds. A short while later, an enforcement officer from DOE arrived and arrested the man. In the end, we did not achieve what we aimed to do but we were thankful to be alive. We were also glad that we did save the river and the lives of wild animals from pollution.