Blog from MBP Volunteer, Abby
Photo courtesy of Abby
Being back in Tana 1 year after arriving is slightly surreal… there’s so much everything I haven’t been able to access easily for so long, i.e. all sorts of foods. With a few days until I fly, I am very much at a halfway point between Kianjavato and home, with Kianjavato not so far (and still getting children scream “SALUT VASAHA” at me wherever I go) but home just round the corner, plus access to the internet and hot showers. I feel it’s helping me adjust a little, at least I can get over the food excitement and have my ice-cream for breakfast and lunch here and not force my family to cater to my cravings too much. But it’s already difficult looking at photos of KAFS after investing so much in it over the past year and knowing it might be some time before I can see the place, people, and of course P. Simus again! It’s been particularly difficult saying goodbye to the team in general, Maro, Theoluc, Hery, Mamy, and Rasolo. Without them the work just wouldn’t get done and they are the experts with 4 years of experience in the field behind them. Their help and advice throughout the year has been invaluable and I couldn’t have expected such great characters to work with.
Looking back over the year it’s had some definite ‘phases’, mostly dependent on the weather season. I can’t say I miss wet season, which was my introduction to Madagascar, but I already feel a bit nostalgic thinking about it. It made working in the field afterwards seem a lot easier at least, and I won’t forget my ‘aye-aye’ nests built by Marolahy, one of the P. Simus guides, to keep us dry (or perhaps just drier) during behaviour follows. Beware of the infections that seemed rife in these months though, where an over-scratched mosquito bite (which means you might have only yourself to blame in the first place for not being able to resist it!! Tiger balm was great for keeping the itching at bay) became infected and could spread quite easily through not being kept dry. Get the pharmacist to clean it for you since you probably won’t be able to clean it well enough yourself since it’s quite painful but she’ll have no mercy. Keep it dry, take a day out if need be to stop it spreading, and don’t scratch those bites again!!
The drier season was a relief after being wet for so long. I particularly enjoyed the cold weather in June/ July – perhaps it was just a nice reminder of Wales, but being able to sleep with blankets and wear fleeces and coats was luxurious. And then a whole new set of volunteers to get to know, which was daunting at first as everything becomes so routine but looking back I think I would have gone mad without an infection of novelty. Every volunteer brings with them new ideas for food treats (at the risk of sounding a little food obsessed by now) from making a sweet rice pudding style dish with leftover morning rice (thanks Zack) or just bringing along some new herbs to jazz up the meals. ‘Yoghurt man’ is great too, he bikes about with his case full of cold, delicious yogurt. I’ve been adding Strawberry Bolo to mine (a strawberry/chocolate biscuit you can get everywhere). In the past week the shop down the road, ‘Joseffs’, has introduced cold puddings which are amazing on top of the cakes, sandwiches and pizza they make. Mazotoa!!
There’s lots to learn but my advice would be to take your time, get to know people, and invest in yourself! After months of being ‘tight’ with money on my Fianar trips I realised that treating myself was much more worth it than saving a small amount of money here and there. Get a cheap phone, mine was 35 000 Ar and has lasted me the whole year with no problems, and you won’t be too upset if you have a mishap like dropping it down the long-drop (not mentioning who did that…!). I didn’t have a bike for my time year but do slightly regret that as a couple of new volunteers got some in Fianar. Weigh up the cost of it but if it is affordable to you, it really does make life a bit easier and I do wish I’d got one at the start. And lastly learn some Malagasy, it’s easier than it looks to pick up a lot of vocabulary, and you get a lot out of it.
Good luck to the new volunteers!! I hope they enjoy their experiences as much as I did.