Should we leave or stay?

MELUDAM, Betong: Residents of the 7,000 strong community of Meludam face a dilemma of whether to stay or leave the area in search of better opportunities.

DELICIOUS: Meludam schoolboys point playfully at the camera behind a row of salted fish being left to dry in the sun. Selling salted fish is one of the main economic activities in Meludam. — Photo by Chimon Upon

Once a thriving fishing village, Meludam is now struggling to survive as dwindling stocks of fish, prawns and crabs from overfishing forced its young folk to look elsewhere for a livelihood.

The situation in this charming Malay village is not as grim as encountered by our team in Lingga earlier this week, but there is an increasing sense of urgency that something must be done to arrest the community’s declining population.

Despite this, there is a sense of cheerful optimism among the people we spoke to. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with warm smiles and inquiries about where we were from, and what we were doing there.

Meludam is about two hours’ drive away from Saratok, surrounded by swampland and wild palm forests. Village residents survive mainly on income derived from fishing, small businesses and subsistence farming.

A casual stroll around the village offered numerous photo opportunities, much to the delight of our photographer Chimon. The locals were more than happy to oblige his requests for photos, especially primary school children on their way home from school.

Everywhere we turned, there was something interesting to be seen: fishing boats berthed along the banks of the river running through the village; eye-catching red, orange and green coloured keropok drying out in the sun; salted fish and prawns drying on mats; cats basking in the sun; a mother goat and her young crossing the road; primary schoolgirls clad in bright blue headscarves laughing at their male schoolmates hamming it up for Chimon’s photos.

To get to this part of the village, we first had to pass empty wooden shop lots which once housed small businesses but now lie abandoned, as well as mounds of rubbish swept in by the tides and trapped under walkways and houses on stilts, and in every conceivable gap reached by the tide.

The road to Meludam gave us a chance to personally witness development taking place in staunchly pro-BN Pusa and Beladin.

We passed by hectares of jungle being cleared for oil palm plantations. We couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to the local wildlife, especially the wild monkeys we encountered scampering across the road as our Isuzu approached, many of them nursing their young.

We also passed by many concrete complexes built or being built by local Chinese farmers hoping to harvest swiftlet nests. Many of these structures reach as high as three stories and cover the area of a small warehouse.

We came to Meludam from Saratok where we had spent the night.

Saratok is sprawled over a much larger area than Sri Aman town, our pit stop for the previous night. However, Saratok appeared better maintained in terms of cleanliness and public facilities.

Our late evening search for dinner yielded an interesting observation about eating out in own: most of the non-Malay eating establishments here close well before 8.30pm.

In the end, we settled for a small food outlet housed in the compound of a local Chinese association which was packed with diners.

Based on the food we ordered, we were not disappointed.

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