Teo Lopez Bernal
However, it was not until I was sitting on the plane heading out to Madagascar that what I was about to embark on, really sunk in. A very busy first year at university had given me no real chance to stop and think about the adventures that were to follow. I sat there and thought about what I was likely to expect, trying to visualise what it was going to be like…but nothing prepared me for the experience I had there. It’s almost impossible to describe but I will do my best to briefly express what WWF YVP in Madagascar meant to me.
After I arrived, acclimatized myself and met up with the other volunteers, we made our way down from the capital Antananarivo to the south western Mahafaly plateau where I would be working in villages encouraging the locals to manage their very limited water resources in a more sustainable manner. Ejeda was my first stop, and from here Mark and I travelled by foot or charette (cart pulled by two zébus) to various surrounding villages talking and working with the locals. A typical village’s work would be as follows (taken from a letter I wrote while in Madagascar):
‘We threw our food, clothes and cooking utensils into the back of a charette and set off on foot on the 25km journey to the village of Farafatse. I spent most of the journey in the back of the charette because I had loads of blood blisters on my foot from playing basketball barefoot on hot sand the day before! After a 4 hour bumpy ride, through the typical dry forest that surrounds this area, we arrived in Farafatse. Soon enough the Chef de Village was summoned and, along with various other villagers of high standing, he came to greet us. With the aid of our interpreter and with our basic Malagasy we explained what we were doing there and set off to visit the water points of the village (water pumps, wells, ponds and rivers). This village only had ponds which had all dried up as it was the dry season. The villagers therefore had to travel the 25km back to Ejeda to get water from the river Linta each day. Our job was to encourage them to use the water they had as sustainably as possible; so for the ponds we explained, with the aid of drawings, how to dig them deeper and to fence them off to ensure certain ponds are kept solely for the human population and not the animals. This may seem very obvious but you’d be surprised how often animals and humans were using the same water supply! That is just one example; each village has different requirements and different amounts of water etc. Once we had finished our visits to the water points we were shown to our hut for the night and, as is custom here, we were given a live chicken to go with our evening meal! By around 7pm it was time to go to sleep, as by then it is pitch black and there is little else to do. At around 6.30am we were up again and the river water coffee and sweet potato (bageda) was out ready for us. After gladly eating our breakfast, we rounded up the village and began our meeting, explaining with the villagers in more detail possible ways of better managing the scarce amount of water they already had! As a white vazaha whatever you said was listened to with utmost respect and the villagers took it on board and promised to work towards more sustainable water management. However, ensuring that they continue to work towards this is another hurdle!’
From Ejeda we moved to the stunningly beautiful fishing village of Itampolo. Here our work on water management continued. We walked to more villages through more and more amazing landscapes, met and worked with more and more amazing people and learnt more and more about the fascinating island of Madagascar. It was not only the work we were doing which was rewarding, the surroundings, the people and the wildlife added massively to my experience in Madagascar.
- Waking up most mornings in Ejeda with Mark and heading down to our local ‘Café et Boku-Boku’ (a round spongy, cake) vendor… while being stared at by everyone!
- Hearing this very loud, strange buzzing sound coming from outside our room in Ejeda, going outside and being surrounded by an enormous plague of locusts, covering every ounce of the sky. Possibly one of the strangest experiences of my life!
- Trekking into the dry forest to see both Ring-Tailed Lemurs and Sifakas right next to me!
- Waking up early most mornings in Itampolo with Dom and going for a run along the deserted white sandy beaches followed by a swim in the, at this point, extremely enticing turquoise sea.
- Going out in a pirogue and seeing massive humpback whales swimming dangerously close to our tiny, sailing boat!
- Making a fire, cooking and eating freshly caught fish every day in Itampolo. Most desirable catch: either squid or king mackerel, both sublime!
This is all just a tiny insight into what went on during my time in Madagascar, I could go on forever mentioning the different things I did and the other amazing experiences I had, but the only way to really understand it all is to live it yourself. The whole experience was unforgettable and whenever I look at all the photos and remember my time there I almost can’t believe it ever took place.
The only way to really understand it all is to live it yourself!