A raw document from the field: 5 reasons to love Madagascar
As an additional document, I present here the entry I wrote for the blog of the program while I was still in Madagascar. It is a good example of the experiences, feeling and perceptions we were experimenting during our time in the island. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Here I am, answering to the call to arms from Cara, who has already got exhausted of trying to convince us to write something for her blog about our Malagasy experience. And yes, I do really think that I have waited too long before writing something. Specially now, that most of my friends are connected to this webpage from various and remote places of the globe (because everywhere is remote from here, which is almost the same than saying that we are extremely far away from the rest of the civilization).
For all the readers, I think I should start by excusing myself for the poor prose, grammatical faults and wounding vocabulary poverty. But I am Spanish, not an English native speaker, and since I am equally proud of my English skills as of my accent, I will try to do my best.
I am writing this text in Farafangana, a small and charming city in the Southeastern coast of Madagascar. We have spent the last few days surrounded by the sweaty rickshaw drivers, the fleas and the mosquitoes; with our feet always half drowned in the sand that floods the streets; looking for the mysterious man that sells delicious bread with chocolate in the afternoons (which I have never seen personally, reason why I am starting to believe that it is merely an urban legend, opposite to the girl’s statements); having our sugar with coffee in the extremely chaotic market of the city under the always-aware looks of the locals and, in definitive, enjoying of our short three-day resting break in just the middle of the program. During these days I have had a few moments in which to think about what could I write for Cara’s blog, blaming “this damned girl has already taken the best things and wrote about them, what the h*** am I going to talk about?”. So, a bit demoralized, I have finally seen the light in the end of the tunnel. I am aware that my idea is not precisely original, so keep that commentary to yourselves, please. Nevertheless, it gives me the opportunity to show you some of the things that are making our time here so interesting and enjoyable and have still not appeared in the blog.
Hence, without more preambles, I proceed to show you my selected five reasons to love Madagascar, its people and its nature!
1 – The children
“Bonjour vazaha!”. This is the constant cry that you hear absolutely everywhere you go. And, of course, even though you have heard it already a thousand times, even though you know perfectly what is going to happen next, even if you have just arrived from a long walk under the justice sun of the tropic of Cancer or just woken up in the morning, it doesn’t mind: you turn your head with delight, see the expectant faces of a group of small boys and girls with widely open eyes and crystalline smiles, who try desperately to hide one behind the other, timidly, and answer “Akorabe!”, showing your most friendly face with and your best smile. Of course it is nothing new, and it happens 25 times a day, but you cannot help that you face shines a bit when you see their nicely surprised face after hearing your answer in Malagasy and answer, timidly and excited and the same time, “Tsara be. Akorabe”. And you all laugh in this very moment of connection and complicity.
By this moment, I am sure everybody has realized that I really like children, and concretely the Malagasy kids. But I cannot help it. They are absolutely charming. Maybe it is because their curiosity towards strangers, maybe for the way their smiles fill their dark and colorful faces, or maybe because of the intonation they use when they pronounce “vazaha”. But their never-ending joy, cries and looks make our work way much easier and nice.
This reminds me a funny anecdote. During our “three musketeers” time in the village of Vohimary Nord (a moment when only Ranto, Cara and me were still in the field, due to different health problems that took place), we spent the beginning of an evening exchanging songs with the children of the village, all sat down in a big circle around us. After a long series of songs, in which we sang one, and the children followed with a demonstration of a traditional song of the area, we finally arrived to one song that we all knew: the Waka Waka, by Shakira, which is really popular in the island. We finished improvising choreography and dancing this song with them, in front of the astonished look of the WWF agents and the parents of all those kids.
2 – The breakfasts
Probably one of the things that we are looking forward most to when we arrive back from our adventures to Vondrozo is not sleeping in the comfortable bed of the hotel. Is not a meal in a restaurant, or the taste of meat after three weeks eating rice three times per day, nor simply having rest for a while. Not. All those things are good, but they are not up to the wonderful breakfasts of Vondrozo. Every morning, when we all are finally awake, we meet together and walk until one of the small street shops in the nearest corner, where we have coffee and just made “mofo-akondro”. Black coffee with a ton of sugar on it, and the delicious fried bananas that are making us addicted: the perfect combination!
3 – The color of the soil and its unexpected consequences
For a person that was brought up in Europe this is something absolutely new, whereas for the Malagasy people is something absolutely obvious and natural: “Really? What’s the color of the soil in Europe, then?”. So you answer that black, brown or even yellow, but never like this! The soil of Madagascar is red. Red like and oxidized metal, or a brilliant ferruginous orange, and its powder spread over everything-
This everything includes the air. Hopefully my lungs are already red, and all that ruddy dust won’t make a noticeable difference down there. Most of the time you don’t realize of this fact, you are simply wondering how can your clothes earn that color so fast, making your laundry a never-ending business. But under some circumstances you can perceive it. This was the case of the first electric storm that we attended, in Vohilava. It was so unbelievable that when the lightning struck, all the sky was painted in red!
Or, for example, one night back in Vondrozo, I felt so suspicious: “I’d swear that yesterday the moon didn’t have that color”. But, effectively, the satellite had turned orange. In opposition, the following night it was tinted in a fluorescent yellow, like the one of the highlighters.
All this phenomena have trapped all my attention on the last days, and keep me looking forward the next and non-expected change in the color of the things. But I think none of them can beat the sunsets. Seeing all the skies painted in the most vivid bloody red color you have ever seen while the sun sinks beyond a horizon silhouetted by the contours of the ravenalas (a widespread tree known in English as the “traveler’s palm”)... is simply priceless.
4 – The continuous challenge
Maybe for other people that wouldn’t be a reason to love nothing. But for us, it plays a key role in our experience. Challenges help you to develop your personality, to test and expand your limits or to discover new facets of your skills and abilities that you previously ignored. And in this country, everything is a challenge.
Eating rice three times per day is a challenge, for not speaking of the rest of aspects of this new diet: lack of milk and lactic products in general, small rations of everything (but rice), not much variety...
The living conditions are a challenge: living in a tent built up in the middle of the village, having the woods as toilet and the river as shower and washing machine, having no clock but the sunset and the sunrise, having to walk from village to village either with an infernal sun or an inclement rain, discovering that your boots, that have survived to several trips and hikes, are not up to the task...
The weather is a challenge: the sun, the rain, the humidity of the air, the fact that it is almost impossible to do nothing useful from 11 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon (half of the time you spend awake) due to the merciless heat...
All the animals that are trying (and generally succeeding) to feed on you...
Surely, this experience is not for all the audiences.
5 – The smells
This is one of the first things you realize from the very moment you land in Antananarivo: the innumerable, diverse and hypnotizing smells that flow over the country, trying to overcome over each other towards your senses. In the big city, the perfume of the air changes every two or three meters, ranging to the smoke of cars, the flowers, the food of restaurants, the barbecue or the infinity of unknown particles that float in the air of Tana.
Out in the field, the smells become less varied, but immensely more intense: the smoke of the tavy (slash and burn culture), the fabrication of bricks, the pepper seeds drying under the sun in the streets, the zebu, the sweat, the forest, the soil, the food on preparation, the market, the flowers of the coffee trees that suddenly appeared one morning and vanished barely five days after, but flooded absolutely everything with their perfume...
Sergio Rejado Albaina, volunteer in Vondrozo, Madagascar (September-December 2010)