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Little stories from my diary...

Posted on 07 July 2008

Awareness raising for myself!
Awareness raising for myself!

“Looking at our water bidon, which contains 50 liters of drinking water, our only good tasting and therefore precious drinking water here in Itampolo…Imagine taking a bath in drinking water in a bath tub and using at least 2 such bidons. What a waste! With every sip of water we take we think: ‘Oh gosh, almost another bottle of water gone!’ ”

“Do not kick the away the canoe which helped you cross the river.”

Shark fishing
"It is five o’clock in the morning. We (us volunteers) have a rendez-vous with a fisherman. He wants to go shark fishing with us, on a pirogue (a canoe with a sail). We are all very excited to have the privilege of experiencing shark fishing on such a small boat. The boys help push the pirogue out in the water, the sea is very calm. There is almost no wind, so “the dude” and his friend (the 2 fisherman) have to row us (4 volunteers and Gaetan, WWF worker) all the way out. Everything is so dependent on the nature; no wind, no sailing; too much wind, no fishing, no food. As the sun rises over the Mahafaly plateau, I observe the very simple but beautifully painted Vezo boat. Gaetan tells us that the Vezo people (fisherman tribe) probably origin from Indonesia. Has anything changed since they arrived in Madagascar some hundreds of years ago? The way they build their boats, their houses? Not much probably; simplicity and the use of natural products is still all they can afford.

Fishing sharks with 7 people on a pirogue was unrealistic at the end; we didn’t catch one lousy fish. But what we got to catch were a few sights of whales, swimming and playing their way through the Channel of Mozambique. It was a fantastic breathtaking experience!”

“Today is Thursday; the day Dom and Shirley went on their trip to the south. It is also the day of the taxi-brousse. The taxi-brousse in Itampolo is a truck that arrives once a week from Toliara overcrowded with people, chicken, petrol, goods and even pirogues. The beach, the streets, the tiny cafés are emptied in a minute when the horn of the truck is heard. Everybody meets at the market, to see who is visiting, what goods are delivered and of course to hear news of the nearby town (one day ride) of Toliara. After maybe 2 hours of sitting at the market and watching the liveliness of the event, the people rumor that the truck is about to leave. We say bye-bye and watch Dom and Shirley squeeze into the taxi-brousse. Another hour later the truck leaves…” 

“Money is like a guest; it comes today and goes tomorrow.”

Celebrating the dead
"In the south of Madagascar it is quite normal that every other day somebody dies you know, especially in the time of hunger, at the end of the dry season. It is part of everyday life. I wondered why there are so many small children in the village, but not half as many teenagers. Until I guessed, that many children just don’t survive the first few years of their childhood. Maybe because of this, Mahafaly people regard death as something very special and celebrate the death of somebody for days or even weeks. It took us a while to find out that the cheerful and enormously loud music that played in the village every other day was a live band playing for a funeral. You can see the richness of a dead man by the number of zebu horns on his huge tomb. The family of the deceased slaughters all the zebus he owned to give food to the people that come to help build the tomb, which can take months or even years. Some families spend all their savings to pay the funeral and the construction of the tomb.

Daniella, my partner in crime, and I are visiting Madame Sily in a tiny village. She is a very beautiful old lady, dressed in a suit that looks like a costume out of 50ties movie placed in Paris. This could appear out of place in a place like Itampolo, where everybody sits on the ground in front of their huts, but as she is one of the only women here understanding French, the dress she wears perfectly suits her western atmosphere. She is very happy to see us and tells us a lot about her life and her family. She tells us that many of her family, her brothers and uncles and sisters have already died but her mother is still with her! She is a hundred and three years old! Her coffin has been ready for ages. Madame Sily’s mother tells us this with a lot of pride and we ask her, where her mother is and if we could see her. Madame leads us to her hut and as we peer into the dark, musty hut I see a tiny old woman in a bundle of sheets on the floor. Madame points proudly to a coffin lying in the hut: “Look at the coffin, look at its beautiful decorations.” Indeed it is a very beautiful coffin (as far as I can consider!), but what about her mother?! And then she kneels down, grabs the bundle, very peppy sits up her mother and tells her that two white woman are here to see her. Her maman can hardly see anything; she smiles and reaches out to touch us vazahas. As if this old-mother-looking wasn’t enough, Madame Sily gently opens up her mother’s mouth to show us her only tooth, which she very proudly says to have grown her at an age of 100 years…” 

The Mahafaly
The Mahafaly, who come from the Mahafaly plateau are the most numerous ethnic group of Ejeda and Itampolo. The name Mahafaly means: “Those who make the taboos.” And this we had learnt very soon. There are taboos everywhere in Madagascar, but WWF staff emphasized explicitly that the Mahafaly were the worst! So before we knew, what our task for WWF would be, we learnt some important dos and don’ts:

  • Do not ever rise to speak in front of men or elders.
  • Never point your finger at your or others head.
  • Never point your finger at a tomb or take a photo of it.
  • Well never point your finger at anything I guess, pointing with your fist though is ok.
  • Do not ask where the toilet is; ask for the “douche”. People do not talk about going to the toilet.
  • When you arrive in a village always look for the chief to tell him that you have arrived. He has to agree on every step you take in the village.
And many more, we never knew…

On the road again
“After 2 months of a really quiet, slow and patient life, without loud noise (except the music out of every hut at night) mobile phone, electricity or a vehicle except bicycle, with no rain, no trees, just the sand, cactuses and spiny bushes, it feels strange sitting in a bus at a relatively insane speed (60 km/h), hearing my mobile phone ring and thus sticking my head out of the window to quickly forget reality again: I see GREEN trees and smell the scent of pines and rain in the air!”

Our group has spent 2 months in the driest area of Madagascar and that means very very dry!). Not until this moment I realized how quickly one can almost completely adapt to a very different life situation. It felt good to know.

[* Malagasy proverb]