The backpacks feel heavier than when I arrived, full of dust and sand from neglect these last few months. It seems strange to use shoes again, let alone to prepare for the readjustment to the once familiar surroundings of basic civilization. I find my mind filled at once with a flash of three months’ worth of activities and memories, from my arrival to today. I took stock of the various challenges which I now recall fondly, as they improved my character and my mindset, from the obstacles that were overcome to the fears enriched the soul.
In a fraction of seconds, the many faces which became familiar, the warm smiles and the simplest dialogues (due to my poor Malagasy!)… each sifted through my mind. I wanted to hold on to each memory in detail. Unable to recall every moment, I opt for holding on to the wisdom that they provided. Despite the lack of formal education, I appreciate the many skills which this community have acquired for reading signs of Nature, and the amazing discovery of recognizing one’s own footprint on the find sand.
Within the 3 months placement I always tended to picture the day of my departure as a joyful moment where, after all, I would strongly desire all the amenities which I missed in this challenging setting. But life has shown me otherwise. My mind filling with memories, expressing promises of return, exchanging honest hand shakes and pure hugs, with eloquent watery eyes filled with heartfelt meaning. Unaware of my change, I had grown a vezo within.
To be a volunteer one needs to be able to acknowledge that there’s no right or wrong, but different ways to perceive issues. A volunteer needs to be able to learn more than teach, and become an eternal chameleon. He/She needs to be able to weep, get attached to people that they’ve never imagined being attached to—simple strangers on arrival. You need to be able to survive after this experience, knowing that somewhere in a tiny hamlet, where neither electricity nor mobile networks are available, there are people which somehow made you by simply showing how they are. And while these people were eager yet reticent about learning, after a while they would demonstrate pure acts of compassion which would blow you away. That’s just the malagasy way, it’s never enough just to throw money at good causes and go away. We need respect, face-time and tolerance in order to achieve things together. That’s the foundation which true friendships are built. Obviously to say good bye to these people, who became your extended family, community and only source of human connection for some months may be much harder than it sounds.
The hours dwindled to minutes, minutes to seconds, and soon I would be seeing Maromena, my “field home”, for the last time—at least for the time being. Slowly I realize that whatever has been shared about Conservation and Sustainability, whatever impact was made on the ecosystem, would have had no meaning if at the time of my departure I didn’t feel the bitter salty taste of tears. I would have needed more than guile to be drifted totally intact.
And walking through the fine sand, I leave footprints after me. Reaching the warm shore, where waves break knee high, I felt the sea weeds interlacing on my legs. In some way it felt comforting and familiar, so I faced the turquoise lagoon one last time.
As we are bound to return to the source one day, I left Maromena through the same lagoon which to a certain extent brought me here. Riding off on a high tide, waves splashing on my face, drops of sea mingling with tears, my footprints somewhere in the sand may be erased by the same waves. Hopefully those footprints are remembered by some--after all, they recognize each other’s footprints, so why not mine then? I will always recognize theirs, anytime I look within, for their footprint has somehow shaped the man I am today, a former volunteer in their hidden world.
Ramon Moraes Sales Moura