Zé doesn’t know the meaning of the term “global warming”, but he is well aware of the changes in the seasons and the impact this is having on life in Elalab, a community at risk of disappearing in the North of Guinea-Bissau.
“During the days of our parents generation the salt water didn’t reach the village. After plowing the land, all the rice has died. Everything is ruined. Everything”
There are things that Zé remembers from the past, and others he doesn’t. He remembers that when he was young it used to rain a lot, the lands near to his house were bolanhas (rice plantations), the sound of children playing hung in the air, there were various species of fish, and food wasn’t scarce. He doesn’t remember the Rainy Season being so hot, he doesn’t remember the mangroves and the salt water coming up so close to the houses – leaving the land infertile -, and he doesn’t remember a time when the rice store was so empty. He also doesn’t remember having seen so few children and young people playing along the sandy shore of Elalab.
Elalab is a Felupe tabanca (village) on the Northern coast of Guinea-Bissau. It has 435 inhabitants. Zé is one of the oldest men in the community. His recollections represent the collective memories, anxieties and fears. The question that no one can answer and that seems to be going through everyone’s minds is: “Why is this happening?” The inhabitants of Elalab don’t know what global warming is, they haven’t even ever heard the term, but they describe all its effects, against which they are forced to fight, with upsetting accuracy.
Our desire to tell the story of Elalab and its inhabitants grew out of a small documentary that Bagabaga Studios , the cooperative that owns Divergente, produced on the subject for Development NGO Monte in 2015. We knew there was more story to be told, that those people’s voices needed to be heard at a larger scale and with a deeper understanding of their views. So we set the goal of turning it into a Divergente documentary. In the Western world, we are frequently alerted to the dangers of global warming, but are rarely confronted with the hard realities. “Zé wants to know why” shows that global warming is a problem with faces, not just a scientific concept.