So I’m sat on my bed, surrounded by the detritus of last minute pre-holiday packing, and remembering the day last year when I came back to my house from a lecture, and excitedly told my flatmates about this amazing opportunity my professor had told us about at the end of a Marine Vertebrates lecture. It was the possibility to work alongside one of his friends and colleagues at the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, in Kuala Terengganu, to help collect and process data including that from dugong, cetacean and sea turtle cruise surveys, which are aiming to provide a record of how richly biodiverse the seagrass meadows and reefs off Malaysia’s coasts are, and hence how they require protection. It sounded absolutely amazing.
And it is happening right about now.
That’s me, my lovely friend Jessica Taylor, and a friendly dugong statue at the Natural History Museum in London. We’re heading off to Malaysia for five weeks, to learn as much as we can about the work being done out there and to help as much as possible.
Our flight leaves just after 9:00pm tonight – we jet to Abu Dhabi, from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur, and from Kuala Lumpur to, finally on Thursday, Kuala Terengganu, where we will rest our weary heads for two days before our work begins this Sunday. I’ve done big long flights before – such as the one to Florida where my family and I swam with wild manatees, including that lovely bloke at the top of the page, in Crystal River Springs, which is without a shadow of a doubt the most amazing and wholeheartedly magical experience of my life to date – but really, this one blows that out of the water. I’d tell you the precise amount of time we’re spending on the plane, but the itinerary is in The Folder, and when important documents enter The Folder I don’t particularly want them to leave.
(I am the bearer of The Folder. Until we touch down, I am going to take this responsibility very seriously.)
This is an absolutely amazing opportunity – throughout the many months we’ve been waiting and working out the details, Jess and I have spontaneously grabbed and shouted excitedly/unintelligibly at each other more times than I can count. And though my writing style could probably be summed up with the phrase ‘entirely far more commas than necessary’, I will do my best to tell you all about it.
I have a necklace. It was my late grandmother’s – my ‘Gran Gran’s’ – and I’ve worn it every day since she gave it to me on my 18th birthday, except for the three or so odd times I’ve taken it off to go diving. And on those days, after I’ve crawled exhausted through the door, flopped face first onto the giant beanbag in our living room and refused to move for an hour before eventually hauling myself up the stairs for a shower, I’ll look in the bathroom mirror. Something will seem really off – I’ll stare at myself for a good minute, puzzling it out. Do I have bags under my eyes? Is it the awful, quarry-water-post-diving hair? Did I do something weird the last time I plucked my eyebrows?
And then I realise, no, it’s not any of that. It’s the fact that I don’t have my necklace on. I’m so used to looking at myself with it on – with how it sits just so on my collarbone, framing my face – that I think I genuinely look weird without it on.
(Say nothing regarding how I look weird regardless.)
But I haven’t brought my necklace with me – I didn’t want even the slightest chance of loosing it. My dad instructed me to bring his old Saint Christopher – patron saint of travellers – medallion instead.
So – hopefully without getting too sentimental nor reaching too far – this trip will be something shiny, new, and lucky for us all.