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“Please ask me something easier than how many children live in my household.”

The Project: Pêche Cotière Durable (PCD)

Short recap of the last travel blog: I returned to Morondava, Madagascar to consult the sustainable fisheries project of the WWF. Their staff consists of excellent and diverse experts: conservationists, (marine) biologists, geologists and socio-organizers. What is missing at times is the knowledge to approach a project in a structured fashion and a systematically researched feasibility study and business plan to serve as a foundation for a project roll-out. To support this endeavor of increasing the durability and economic viability of their projects, WECONNEX was brought on board. We are convinced that effective marine conservation and the protection of limited resources can only happen hand in hand with the sustainable development of the traditional fishing communities and an improvement of their livelihoods and income situation. Only if the communities are given tangible economic incentives and receive training, education and long-term support will they realize the value of closure periods and marine protected areas.

To come up with a well-designed solution integrating all these aspects I travelled back to Morondava and spent the first weeks in the field to collect the data needed to establish a feasibility study, market study and business plan. This offered the unique opportunity to visit all 9 villages that the WWF covers within the PCD Project. The result of these data gathering activities were 130 completed surveys and 10 conversations with key informants, village presidents and elders.

 

No ‘trip to the field’ without some breakdowns and hand-made bridges

Our adventure to get to and visit these villages was connected to several obstacles along the way and the creativity to overcome them was definitely admirable. We barely left Morondava when after 15 minutes, we had just left the paved road and were off-piste, obstacle #1 appeared: a broken bridge. The WWF men set to work and built an improvised one over which we somehow managed to cross (hard to believe if you watch the video) and successfully continued on.

 

Of the two cars that set out for this journey one of them was not able to withstand the hardships of the drive. After its second breakdown and a failure of the breaks, which led to a running over of one the makeshift stop barriers put up by the villagers to collect road taxes and us barely avoiding a fistfight, the driver turned the car around and brought it back to Morondava. People and luggage of two cars were thus piled into one (think Tetris) for the rest (a good couple hours) of the journey to Belo sur Mer. We all very much enjoyed cuddling up in the boiling vehicle.

 

After a week of being based in Belo sur Mer for the data gathering we continued on South to Andranopasy for the second week. This section of the trip offered a whole new level of obstacles. Once again, we had barely left when after 5km we were stuck in mud part 1 behind other cars stuck as well. Perhaps 40 minutes later we got out of stuck #1 only to be stuck again for about an hour a few kilometers onward – at which point our driver decided to turn around to avoid driving through areas notorious for bandit attacks in the afternoon. Instead, we drove all the way back to Morondava only to do the entire drive to Andranopasy a day later (where we experienced stuck in the mud part 3). But the highlight of this game of getting us out of the mud was that the gasoline we carried along jolted too strongly and soaked our luggage. I do not recommend arriving in a hotel room and unpacking clothes dripping with gasoline: headache guaranteed. I some desperate action I used every possible edge and hook I could find to hang all my stuff outdoors for the night. The next morning we travelled on and I was equipped with a new suitcase. In the spirit of improvisation, I made sure that this one was gasoline-proof:

 

Desperate attempt to tie up the spilling gasoline – and definitely the best place to smoke a cigarette

 

Aside from mastering these obstacles, the drives offered breathtaking views of Baobab families and impressive village sceneries, just to also share some positive field trip news with you.

 

The little joys of being in the field

I’d say what I appreciated most about the time in the field gathering data was the opportunity to experience the Madagascar that a tourist does not have the chance to see. While I was a rare attraction and brought some excitement to these secluded and remote villages it was just as fascinating for me to receive a glimpse of their lives. Although it was not always easy to accept the indescribable discrepancy between my living situation and theirs, it was above all inspiring to see their spirit and willingness to make the best out of circumstances we can barely imagine.

 

I enjoyed the little experiences like sitting down in the sand with the village children and listening to them telling stories to each other or answering their questions, for example if I am married and how many children I have. The answers ‘not yet and none so far’ from a 27-year old were utterly surprising to them. I was amused by the many eyes following me when I visited the market to buy sweet potato snacks or freshly squeezed baobab juice and their total amazement when they saw me eating their local treats. I gradually got used to the constant chanting of ‘Vazaha’ when I walked past. And my heart lit up at the reactions of the squealing children when they received a piece of chocolate or colored pencils that we brought along.

 

And if you like mangos: Madagascar becomes a mango-paradise from October on. There is an absolute excess supply and they are given away practically for free compared to one mango costing 5$ in our supermarkets. Sweet, juicy, delicious treats sold on every corner in different shapes, sizes, colors and tastes.

While the daytime adventures were already inspiring, the nighttime ones were even more exotic. One can’t blame the villagers for making the best of the situation and embracing some fun and distraction when possible. The distraction available to them are solar powered radios and they savor their saved-up potential to the bitter end. Hence, the top 10 Malagasy pop chart hits became my nightly lullaby on repeat lasting to around 5am in the morning. ‘Je t’aime Baby’ is their current favorite and I had the pleasure to hear this tune all night long blasting next to the utterly sound-proof bungalow.

 

Visits to Ambalahonko, Antseranandaka and Marohata

Below you can see a map of the nine villages that are part of the PCD Project. Belo sur Mer and Andranopasy are the larger communities, where we stayed for a week each. The other villages we mostly reached by pirogue. Some of them consist of nothing more than a few huts accommodating around 30 fishers and their families. Life on these isolated sand dunes is harsh, schools for the many children are wishful thinking, the villagers are fully exposed to the moods of the weather and ocean, reaching a larger town in emergencies or to get supplies can take hours or even days. Their drinking water is salty and dirty. But they have their community, their pirogues and blue waters in front of their doorstep with valuable products demanded globally. To improve their access to transportation, refrigeration possibilities and seafood markets is the aim of the project.

 

It is extremely hard to describe the experience of visiting these villages in words. I think these images say more than a thousand words.

    

 

An unforgettable survey moment was when a fisherman, the head of a (I am assuming rather large) family, looked at us with incredulous amazement when we asked him how many adults and how many children live in the household and replied: “Please ask me something easier.” When we laughed, he laughed as well and started to count, arriving at the estimation of 12+ children.

In each village I had the chance to talk to the village president and village elders – given that the president was not on leave, out fishing or stuck someplace else because of the tide. We always gave advance notice of our visit – and arrived when we said we would. Which led to surprised or sometimes even annoyed reactions of the presidents or mayors and the statement “Vous êtes toujours à l’heure.” (“You are always on time.”) – which is an unknown practice in Madagascar.

Living, sleeping, and eating for a week in Andranopasy cost about 60$. Life was simple, telephone connection rare, but I had everything I needed to get by and was enriched with unforgettable moments and scenes that I can learn from and will think back to again and again.

After the trip to the field I spent a couple weeks in Morondava (the drive back was unusually obstacle-free). A couple days ago I returned to Switzerland, with a (gasoline-proof) suitcase full of memories and anecdotes. The last of these I will share with you in a final travel blog – stay tuned.

Source: nexus ch

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