Madagascar Part II: Every Project Deserves a Second Try

Or: “Dear Andrina, great news, we now have all the signatures!”

It has been a while since I last published an update on my Madagascar adventures. Back in July, I originally travelled to Madagascar for WECONNEX with the intention to support, in the role of a consultant, the sustainable fisheries project of the WWF team in Morondava. The objective of the four foreseen months was an extensive systematic gathering of data on the fisheries market and living conditions in the remote fishing villages along the coast between Belo sur Mer and Andranopasy. Based on the analysis of said data, my task was to establish a feasibility study, a market study and business plan. WECONNEX was on board because the project foresaw the implementation of the overarching project goals through the construction of a Service Center much like the NEXUS Centers. So far so good.

This well-thought-out plan became complicated due to the fact that the donor organizations of the sustainable fisheries project need to approve such a consulting contract – which turned out to be a four month long official procedure of gathering signatures and implementing little changes in the contract asked for from every hierarchical level of these bureaucracy-heavy institutions. The moment of my half-time in Madagascar arrived by the end of August and I already had flights to leave the country for a week due to visa renewal reasons. At that point, WECONNEX decided that I will not return to Madagascar without any guarantee that this contract will eventually be approved, especially because we cannot provide our aspired quality of results in only half the time – hence, I returned to Switzerland. Only to receive an email 8 days after my return that read: “Dear Andrina, great news, we now have all the signatures and can start the contract. When can you be back in Madagascar?”

And so, after a short moment of asking myself if I am willing to go through all this once again, going for a run and sleeping over it for a night, I repacked my survival kit and embarked on the second journey to Morondava.

So, here I am again, grateful to have the opportunity to share some more impressions of this fascinating country with you, and, despite the amount of patience, effort and logistical hassle it entailed, to seize the chance to contribute to this project and finish the work started.


Some pictures of the current market infrastructure in Morondava. Marine products are either sold salted and dried or fresh but lying out all day in full sunshine on improvised tarps on the sidewalk.

Getting to Morondava – an adventure by itself

I already spent a couple weeks in Morondava and in the field with the WWF before leaving the country, although at the point without contract and thus the donor organizations were not supposed to know, so I was in Morondava incognito. The reason we, WECONNEX together with the WWF, decided that I would already travel there was that week after week we thought (and we had the right to think) that we were SO CLOSE to getting that last signature – when every time we were disappointed with a new, more senior person also having to read the four pages and sign the contract – which meant another week of waiting.

Anyway, the second time arriving back in Morondava, three weeks ago, was with an Air Madagascar flight coming from the capital. Guess what happened this time. The flight was scheduled for 3pm in the afternoon, I had arrived in the country the evening before after a long journey and was thus happy to enjoy a relaxing morning. Thankfully, I was awake at 8am nonetheless and turned on my phone, only to receive a message from the airline: Your flight has been rescheduled to 11am, please be at the airport by 9am. So much to a relaxing morning – I had time to jump out of bed, gather my things and hustle to the airport in time. Once again, wonderful flying with you, Air Madagascar.

But, the first time I travelled to Morondava was by car with the WWF. A quick anecdote to how that went. My original plan was to fly from Tulear (where I was back in August) to Morondava via Tana. I decided to give Air Madagascar another chance and went to the office in Tulear – and was positively surprised to see it all empty, not like that last time in Tana. I shared my flight intentions (the ones I look up in the internet flight itinerary) with the Air Madagascar lady, she took a brief glance at her system and said dryly: Dear naïve tourist, its high season, there are no more seats available to Morondava for the next 3 weeks and none from Tulear to Tana for the next 5 days. Fantastic. For a while I thought I was stuck in Tulear, but funnily enough, a phone call of a senior WWF member with the Air Madagascar office and a day later I was already back in Tana (just a bit symbolic for how things work here).

The new plan was then to drive with the WWF car from Tana to Morondava. I was initially concerned about the trip, after having heard from several sources that this route is currently not safe to drive. But the manager of my hotel in Tana soothed my worries: “The bandits won’t shoot at the WWF car. They only target tourists and they won’t know that a Vazaha (foreigner) is in the WWF car.” — Ah, in that case, I’ll be totally fine.

In the end, it turned out that my concerns of being attacked were fully ungrounded: After realizing that the WWF driver was anyway going faster than the speed of any bullet, I felt entirely safe. Beyond a race against the bullets the drive was a two-day slalom of avoiding potholes, zebu-carts, chickens and children. A short taste for you of the condition of Madagascar’s National Roads:

The beauty of language barriers

Along the route to Morondava in a town some kilometers outside Antsirabe a wonderful example of the language barrier occurred to me. It was early morning (6am) and we stopped to get breakfast, “because along the road it is not safe for you to eat” – my eyes opened wide thinking we are not allowed to stop because of the danger of getting attacked…what about if I have to go to the bathroom during the 8-hour drive?! But then they refined: “not safe for your stomach to eat” (ah, so considerate).

However, it was slightly too early to be very hungry, but I thought I could finally try some of those mofogasy, the Malagasy rice cakes I’ve been recommended to taste. I ordered two by showing with my fingers – and two were set in a little bowl in front of me. I asked, in French: How much? And held up money. I am entirely convinced the vendor said cinq cents. She probably meant francs, the other currency the Malagasy use, which I did not know at that time, but I interpreted it as 500 Ariary, which seemed to be a realistic price (15 cents/Rappen). I only had 600Ar, so I gave that. To my surprise, she took the bowl away and threw the two cakes back to the others. For a second, I felt very sorry for not having given enough and perhaps being rude. But then I saw her taking a newspaper and she started piling up rice cake after rice cake. A few seconds later, I had 15 rice cakes in my hand and couldn’t help but laugh out loud – as well as wonder why she didn’t just hand me back for example 400Ar and given me rice cakes for 200Ar. But she seemed so incredibly happy to have sold 15 rice cakes at once that I did not try to start new conversations and change the situation. Hence, my food for the trip were rice cakes – for 1 cent each.

SOS: Please send Blevita Crackers

While the rice cakes were actually quite tasty, I struggled to find snacks for in-between or to take a short break from the rice-heavy diet. In Morondava and in the field, there are some tiny kiosks selling a limited choice of snacks. I gave them a try, which made me wish for nothing more delicious than a pack of Blevita Crackers (for non-Swiss readers, most people would call Blevita somewhat boring standard crackers). But at those desperate times they seemed like the sexiest snack imaginable – which is why in the aftermath I am not angry about the stopover in Switzerland: I seized the chance to pack my suitcase much more strategically the second time around and returned with a bag full of edible goodies.

I do not want to be rude to Malagasy snacks, but the lower ones resembled to eating dust and the TURBO waffles had a hint of rubbery cardboard culinary delight.

Stay tuned for the adventures of Madagascar Part II

Since returning to Madagascar, determined to finish my part of the project, I had the chance to spend two weeks in the field to visit the nine fishing villages of the sustainable fisheries project and to gather that data needed to write the feasibility study and market study. The visits to these villages were incredible experiences, of which I will share some anecdotes and pictures next time.

What is the big learning we at WECONNEX take away from this episode? We will, from now on, not travel to a country for a planned project before all necessary approvals are obtained – even when confirmed orally by employees of renowned organizations. Official procedures, be that on governmental, institutional or organizational level, will not be sped up just because we set up the contract for June-October and are eager to start. The officials will take the steps and time needed to do their thing and deliver, without the blink of an eye, signatures for a contract concerning the period of June-October also mid-September. Our hands-on attitude and the willingness to get things done efficiently (meaning also using the budge efficiently) obviously clashed with the bureaucracy of bigger organizations. Not for us to understand but also not for us to question or to attempt to change, but to patiently accept.

Source: nexus ch

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