In February, Adrian and I visited Madagascar for a big event: the inauguration of our NEXUS Centers. This was a special experience for us and an important happening for our local team, the villagers, our partners and the government officials. Given the current COVID-19 situation, it was our last visit for a while – now we are reminiscing about the memorable and the questionable moments of that trip.
The official inauguration of new infrastructure is a central happening that belongs to the culture of rural Malagasy communities. In their tradition, the honoring of ancestors plays an important role. Any new building in their village demands the sacrifice of an animal for it to be accepted by the ancestors. The villagers have cleverly adapted this ritual to their benefit: an inauguration has become to equal a party for the people. Government officials visit, national TV is present, speeches are held, loud music is played, the meat of the sacrificed zebu or goat is distributed among the people, and, most important, there is rum and soft drinks. The villagers cherish such happenings, everyone gets dressed in their best clothes and comes together to celebrate.
The big festivities took place in Beheloke and Itampolo and we cut the ribbons in our five Centers Beheloke, Besambay, Befasy, Tariboly and Ambohibola. The good news for us is that nemaco’s infrastructure is now officially approved, by the living and the dead, which means the ancestors cannot be blamed for bad business anymore.
We seized the moment of being in the field with the entire team to organize a nemaco team event the day after the inaugurations. Despite some logistical challenges (to be read about below) we managed to get all 40 employees together for a half-day event in Itampolo. After a delicious lunch specialty (also detailed below) we engaged the teams in a spaghetti-tower-challenge. In break-out sessions we discussed important topics for nemaco, such as what it means to be a company not an NGO, the importance of conservation guidelines and hygiene measures for high-quality products, and we collected their ideas and opinions. It was great to see the team spirit and everyone’s motivation to contribute to nemaco’s mission. «The event was way too short» – was the feedback we received.
The gallery below summarizes these three packed days.
Now, after this official intro, a replay of the funny moments (not to be taken too seriously)
It was my first trip to Madagascar in their hottest period – and I was not prepared for this. The heat was a constant, impossible to shake off companion and made any hardships even harder. When reading through the stories below please always add 30°C and humidity to the event. A visual representation: working at the office becomes impossible at times as you drown your keyboard with the sweat dripping from your fingers. Yum.
Fantastic contrast to the heat offered the t-shirt of the camera man. Can you spot the print on the pictures below? Such details can put a smile on your face even if the program runs 3 hours behind schedule…
«It will be a very tight schedule»
…said Vola, responsible for organizing the inaugurations, the night before we left for the field. Hence, I appeared at the dock at 5.30am in the morning (as the schedule demanded), to take the boat. Saskia, our farming intern from the Netherlands, did the same, as she also has some Western sense of keeping time schedules when they seem to be important. We were the only ones far and wide (you silly white people taking time schedules so seriously). Calling Vola revealed that she was about to leave her house and did not expect most passengers to arrive before 6.15am. I totally don’t mind waiting around 45 minutes at a smelly pier before sunrise.
Things went downwards from there. Just when we finally took off a passenger decided he must bring along his massive motorcycle. We hauled it onto this fragile boat at another pier and enjoyed a relaxed ride trying to avoid getting our knees and feet smashed while the boat with motorcycle bounced over the waves. When we got to Anakao over 1h delayed I believe any ambition to stick to the planned schedule got blown away out on sea. The official guests traveling with us decided now is a good moment to first sit down for a hearty meal (it was 7am) at the nearest restaurant to enjoy some grilled fish and a few beers – just what you need to start the day / increase the delay.
I realized then that I better forget the time schedule – and sat down at the beach, seeking my inner Malagasy mentality. We eventually did arrive in Beheloke with a 3h delay; all the villagers ready, sitting there waiting for the inauguration to start. Credit to them, they radiated tranquility and did not appear to mind enduring in the heat for hours.
«Yes of course, holy politician»
Awe of hierarchies and the blind honoring of politicians is deeply rooted in Malagasy culture. Their deeds and actions are not questioned. This leads to clashes with our understanding of a politicians’ role. On the first day of inaugurations the district governor was present – a great honor for the local communities. He was already in the village to discuss the procedure of the event but then he left again only to make a re-entry with his car caravan like a popstar to be celebrated by the singing and dancing community – irrelevant if he has done any good to them.
The next day, festivities in Itampolo. The two community chiefs were present for the event – while they are normally living the good life in Dubai and in Tulear, far away from the people they are supposed to serve. They expressed great support for our activities – by demanding that we change our program so that they can be present at both inaugurations together: that of Ambohibola (1.5h drive South) and that of Tariboly (1h drive North). These discussions were held as we were already 1h late to start with the festivities. Their request would have messed up the entire schedule, lunch would have been served by 6pm. «Yes of course we will do it that way», said Vola (you don’t say no to the demand of a politician). «No, we won’t», said Adrian and I.
It was not the first struggle to appreciate a meal served – but this topped every past gourmet experience (and even caused skeptical looks by some of our Malagasy team members). Not sure if it was a local specialty or the cook simply started preparing too late, either way, on my plate arrived pieces of goat. Not goat meat, but goat. With fur, skin and all that belongs to an alive goat. Just chopped up. «Mastoa» as the Malagasy say for Bon Appetit – for which the joke is that it’s pronounced like ‘mange tout’ – eat up 😉
The Malagasy way for solving problems
While Adrian and I left the organization of the inauguration festivities entirely to the local team (quietly accepting certain delays and some chaos), the team event on the third day was in our hands. We went over the program meticulously the evening before and assured us again and again that they understood the importance of sticking to the plan so that we’d have all Center employees of the sprawled villages in Itampolo by 10am to start. At 9.45am we asked if there are news how close the truck gathering the employees from the North is. Vola called the driver, and the answer was «in Befasy». Our Northern most village (check the map). At least a 3h drive on sandy roads away. And the reason: the driver has been waiting there for three hours because one operator was still getting ready. Fantastic, Adrian and I thought, that ends our team event before it even started.
The Malagasy team stuck their heads together, realizing we were frustrated, and approached us with a solution: the driver will just drive extra fast. And we’ll have lunch first (most likely the reason for the whole goat on my plate) and eat quicker. Barely 2 hours later that truck arrived with thoroughly ruffled employees covered in sand emerging from the back. They didn’t seem to mind but were happy to get lunch and a t-shirt and be part of this event. And we were amazed at how they managed to make this possible, once again.
Source: nexus ch