It has been over a month since my return to Switzerland and – a feeling we all know – the time spent on this fascinating island already seems so far away. Still, I am often reminded of the little moments, struggles, highlights, encounters and small daily adventures that I had the opportunity to be part of.
This unique field experience in Madagascar has allowed me to realize and observe firsthand many issues and problems that I have before only known through reading university textbooks on development cooperation. I witnessed that the complexity and challenges I learned about in theory are omnipresent when working in Madagascar. But I also saw the incredible potential inherent the needs of the country and its people – and I kept my belief that with a well-designed approach, capable experts and project partners, and convinced communities, it is possible to set up a long-term oriented and well-functioning sustainable fisheries project. We will keep you up to date with the progress.
To adequately end this travel blog, I have some last anecdotes to share.
In honor of the protocol
I was invited to the inauguration of new market booths at the famous Baobab Allée (a tourist hot spot in Madagascar that can be seen on the picture above). So exciting, I thought. The booths were built by an NGO – such an event (the construction of project infrastructure that has successfully been brought to an end) calls for a celebration. And an official celebration equals a reason for speeches. As tradition goes in Madagascar every person of importance is allowed to hold a speech. At this inauguration, eight people passed the threshold for ‘important enough to speak’. Tradition, or better, the protocol, further goes that the speaker starts with apologizing to all the other speakers still following for the fact that he or she is allowed to speak before them. Then, they are required to thank all the other important people that have fallen under the threshold for being here and for their efforts (…always a vague word in Madagascar). This means thanking the 27 ministers, the village presidents of the surrounding communities, mayors and so forth: “Merci Monsieur le president du…” on repeat. Only then is the speaker allowed to start the actual speech – which easily lasted humble 15 minutes if not more. And that eight times. And all in Malagasy. Presumably the longest 3 hours of my life.
The famous Visites de Courtoisie
During my first couple and last couple days spent in Morondava I was dragged across town by the WWF Partnership and Capacity Building Officer (kind Monsieur Eli). I met the village president, municipality president and regional director. I met the head of the ministry for work, of the chamber of commerce, of the information center. I met the directors of important NGOs and projects. If someone of importance did not get informed about my presence that would have led to a village crisis (that also explains why I had to practically be in hiding during my first visit when I was there without signatures). The official procedure to these visits was the following: WWF Eli went over the official introduction, “thank you honorable monsieur le president so and so for your valuable time today…”, then I had to take over with “thank you also from my side honorable monsieur le president for welcoming me here” and give a short overview of my project work. Then the reply would be “merci for your important work you are doing here. If I can be of any help, always let me know.” Great. Not that I ever received replies to my emails asking for documentation, data or further information – but glad we followed the procedure.
This slightly outdated, hierarchical system could use a makeover. In general, every time something seemed complicated or took long and I had a hard time understanding why on earth we were not speeding up the process or tackling things in a less complicated fashion, the standard reply I received was: Sorry, it’s because of the procedure. Ah.
Madagascar, you have been a wonderful challenge
The four months in Madagascar were a unique experience in every sense. Every day was a small survival struggle. This is obviously an absolutely ridiculous thing to say from my standing, equipped with malaria prophylaxis, bottled drinking water and a WWF car at our service. But at the same time it reflects my perspective of the experiences. Will we be attacked by bandits? How will I tolerate the food? Where can I wash my gasoline-soaked clothes? How do I cope with this inescapable heat? How do I avoid the 23rd mosquito bite? Does this country offer any alternatives to rice? When will the water or power be turned back on? Will I be respected and trusted by the WWF members and local communities? The conquest of these challenges is what made my stay so unforgettable.
All experiences gathered were eye-opening and enriching and I left the country with a much larger understanding of and respect for the Malagasy people, their culture, their hardships, the natural beauty of their country and the connected challenges. It was a privilege to have the chance to support this project work.
I learned to never make sophisticated plans – because they will be crushed and changed over and over again anyway. I learned to not take anything for granted, to be more thankful and to trust in spontaneity and a more relaxed lifestyle – even though they don’t get things done in the fashion & efficiency that we are used to, somehow everything eventually did work out (more or less) as planned.
Coming home, I especially looked forward to showering water that does not make your body itch, less cockroach surprises, getting rid of my 23 mosquito bites, less dust, better rice quality and a reduced fish-dominant diet. Also cafés to linger in, sidewalks and streets to stroll along without being stared, grunted or whistled at (“Vazaha!!”). I was excited to breath crisp winter air and to a change from the Malagasy pop charts. But looking back, there is not all too much that I missed during my stay there. If I get the chance to go again I would try to improve my Malagasy language skills. I think that is the key to reduce barriers and to build trust and relationships with the local villagers.
I am now in the process of finishing the different reports and business plan for the WWF. Based on the results, they will proceed with the implementation of their sustainable fisheries project. WECONNEX is looking forward to seeing how the next steps evolve on the basis of our proposals. It would be interesting for us to also be part of the next phase because the two fisheries projects, the one of the WWF and our NEMACO project in the South, are based on the same ideas and objectives. With coordinated activities spanning a larger region, we can reach more people and protect fish stocks through comprehensive cooperatives and targeted measures. We will keep you informed about the further development of the projects, the possibilities to combine them and the impact achieved. Thank you for your interest and support.
Source: nexus ch