Holy moly, I’ve written a lot in the past month. For those who don’t feel like ruining their eyes in front of the computer screen, here’s the short version:
I will never beat Haley at throwing cockroaches, my bodies is to 90% made out of rice by now, the green villages are still green, but that’s more due to the fact that it’s rain season than due to the WWF, I had 20 holes in my bike tire in the last four weeks, papaya season is coming up and when I grow up, I want to be a doctor.
I miss you guys. Sorry you had to wait for news for so long.
25.2.2011 panting, fainting, falling and crying
Can somebody turn off the heat, please? Thank you! And now the thunderstorm? Thanks. Wait, now it’s hot again! D’uh! Can’t the weather just be normal for a second? Today it was unbearably hot all day until the first lightning cracked the sky and now I can’t even hear my music playing, because the rain is coming down so hard on our tin roof.
Been feeling weird these days. Always tired, no appetite, no energy… I have no idea if it’s just the heat or the month of constant strain on my digestive system. I just know that I’m sick of it. I want to function, now that this project is finally functioning!
It is, though! Even with me panting, fainting, falling and crying more on our bike-rides than usual. It’s awesome. We finally had our debriefing with Nosy and now Celia and I FINALLY have everything we need to do our job- PLUS: we know what our job is. Big advantage out there in the bush, I’m telling you guys. Big advantage.
We’re fixing the comittees de gestion d’eau all around. It’s a fun job, majorly because people are so motivated and grateful. It’s really just help to help themselves, but they appreciate every bit of it. Celia and I work great together, her always having a good overview, always writing everything down, amazingly patient and never failing in her friendly smile, and me with- well, you know me.
Celia. We really go through a lot together. From pushing our physical limits, to utter frustration about our helplessness, to the sweetest feeling of happiness after having accomplished something good- we’ve been through it all together so far. I think we have very different personalities. Me being my fidgety, impatient, extroverted self, her being patient and more in control of herself, but also more tense about certain things (she has about three different brands of hand sanitizer with her). I feel childish compared to her sometimes, being incapable of pulling myself together, when someone really annoys me or making rash decisions, because I was- again- too impatient to wait for advice. Oh, my impatience, how I got to know it here… Celia is a little like Mimi- more responsible, more humble, more perfectionist than me. As always, I have to travel around the world and find these traits in an Armenian girl from Lebanon to realize how important and desirable they are. In my own sister, I found them great, too, but I also was quite happy with being the creative, chaotic counterpart. Now I’m in a place, where patience and the ability to place your steps carefully are far more demanded than what I got. So I’m trying to follow her good example, but I think I can only make it so far- it’s a BIG 5-personality thing. Pretty stable after a certain age, Professor Asendorpf says… All the more a reason to appreciate being in Celia’s team.
26.02.2011 philosophical excursion no. way-too-many
Even though Celia’s and my personality profiles would go pretty criss-cross, we still find all the time that we’ve made surprisingly similar assumptions about the life we lead in the western world. We both get so confused with the choices while shopping that we regularly leave shops without buying anything, we both find dating in general a huge disappointment, and we’ve both been dreaming about quitting our dizzy-making lives and go live on a farm. All comes down to the same cause: the one “burden” of our generation seems to be that there are too many choices for us. If it’s a whole shelf of brands of Vitamin C-tablets in a pharmacy, the amount of courses offered by your university, the combinations you can make out of the content of your wardrobe, the endless string of guys you meet just living your life or if it’s choosing the media you get your news from and then the kind of news itself- you either have to quit thinking altogether at some point, to be able to go on, or you freeze, because you’re just too scared to make the wrong decisions. How relaxing is a little black-and-white-thinking and blindly following authorities from time to time, how nice it would be to just be told what’s right and what’s wrong! We both feel tired of being so freaking independent and free and responsible for ourselves. What does it say about a generation, if a random sample of five people from all over the western world says in unison that they envy people for being religious, because it would be so nice to find comfort in a stable belief-system? At the same time judging different religions harshly for the confusion they spread in the world? How ambiguous does a generation get?
Tense with anxiousness to make the wrong decisions, we get lost doing research about what’s best for us, for our surroundings or for the world in general. We feel like we’re overthinking stuff all the time, but at the same time we can’t make ourselves stop and relax about it, because we also feel that we’re privileged and through that obliged to make the best of our potential. You get either obsessively anal and end up with a burn-out or you drop it all, resign from the world and stay in bed staring at the ceiling, not sure at all, if there’s any reason to get up again. I’m not making this up. I’m not even exaggerating. There’s too many people that I- being of humble confidence as a judge- see as “rich in potential” and at the same time not being able to apply it, because they’re a) too unhappy; b) too neurotic or c) too careless, because it’s the most comfortable way to deal with this confusing world.
Such a pity for the world. If the energy that young people put in secretly puking on the toilet, getting and taking drugs or running after vain goals, finding that they don’t mean anything to them, when they get there, would go into doing something altruistic, we might even be able to balance out the horrifying injustice that’s present in this world. If only…
Fact is: The world is absolutely and completely nuts. One part of it has no choices and is pitied greatly for it and the other is whining about how they want to go back to a more “natural” and “simple” life. Nuts! If someone can please put this together for me? I sure can’t. I finished the first volume of War and Peace today and there’s this one part, where Prince Andrew gives a long speech to Peter Boulkonsky about why educating his peasants isn’t helping them, but actually putting the added burden of consciousness onto their hard life. How he envies them for not turning in their bed each night out of worries, like he does. How he wouldn’t survive for a week, if he was in their place, but they would just become fat, lethargic and unhappy, if they could take his place. So the problem exists since Tolstoi. Ha!
Okay, first of all: Easy for Andrew to say, being the one who doesn’t lose every second of his children and starves, if the winter is a bit too long. A big part of me is fairly sure that saying that people are “alright” or even “in their place” and withdrawing from development-help because of that, is just an excuse to choose the more comfortable way of two.
Second: A grain of truth rests in Prince Andrew’s statement. I’m absolutely positive that people here are happier than people in Germany. They laugh more, they celebrate more, they’re friendlier and they’re closer to each other, their family, their neighbors… Of course this has been a year with plenty of rain and food. I haven’t seen this region last year, when already many, many had died after three years of dryness. If you leave out natural disasters and corrupt politics and create access to healthcare for everyone, though… I do feel like I’ve been appreciating life in general more since I’m here… phew… sorry, I got pretty lost in thought here. If anyone has answers, don’t hesitate to fill me in.
27.2.2011 Back to banal
Yesterday Celia and I managed to get lost somewhere between the Linta and Renosy. We had a little boy guiding us through the river. Yep, through. The water went up to my underwear. So much about following the doctor’s advice and not walk through water here. I’m probably already half eaten from the inside by that filthy worm-parasite that lives in fresh water and gets under your skin and eats you. Or not. It was refreshing, though. However, the boy left us after the Linta, pointing to the bush and saying: “Renosy, dix minutes!”
After half an hour there were still just cactuses and more cactuses as far as we could see. Gaaah… Gladly, we found someone to ask for directions. Somehow, we had to cross the river again, to get where we were supposed to be. So we took more than two hours for a way that should have taken us 45 minutes. I was completely drenched in sweat, when we arrived at Renosy, which made the guys of the committee laugh. They asked me, if Germany was ever hot. I said no, they laughed some more. Always glad to make people laugh.
The meeting became quite amusing for us, too, though. Celia and I played teacher in the little school of the village and the committee (mostly men over 60) sat in front of us on the school-benches, eagerly listening to what we had to say. I don’t think we will ever get the pleasure again of being taken so seriously by an older generation. First I felt really weird and condescending, telling them what to do and I emphasized, that our training was a suggestion and that we didn’t want to impose ready-made rules on them or anything. But they kept on thanking us so enthusiastically for every piece of advice that we gave them that I cut that out, not to lose time and tell them as much as possible.
However, our job is weird, but fun.
2.03.2011 Assessment of our adaptation
March already! Tss… We’ve been here for 5 weeks now?? Sure didn’t feel like it. But it must be true, because we have adapted largely. We have a routine in taking showers only every 3-4 days. The apple-lady knows our likings and the amount of Malagasy we understand (“Hamaray Aubergine tsara!” = “tomorrow good eggplant!”). The neighbor’s kids seem to have grown tired of crying “VazahaVazahaVazaha!” over the fence. And diarrhea isn’t that much of a problem anymore. We’re practically Malagasy now. (Not.)
The biggest change I feel lies in how I handle time going by, though. We stopped worrying about being late altogether. Waiting for an hour is part of the standard procedure of any kind of meeting. An hour is nothing. Two, three, four go by and we never feel bored. I finished the last book I had access to and now I have to wait until the others finished what they’re reading. So I have no distraction whatsoever. Ever. The other day I spent an entire hour staring at a cloud. And I think I’m going to do that again, today. When I don’t work and there are no clothes to wash or floors to sweep, I do- nothing. I draw a little, I write a little, I talk to people. But this still doesn’t fill the days. So I spend hours and hours just thinking, making up stories, planning all the stuff I want to do, when I come home…
I think of food a lot. I’m not the only one. The percentage of conversations that resolve around food we miss slowly augmented from 10 to 25 to now 50% of all our conversations. Haley would die for cereal, Jose craves apple crumble and a good sandwich, Kristien’s eyes glitter when she talks of Belgium beer or that vegetarian Moussaka her mom makes, Myra keeps on randomly throwing “Pizza!” into the conversation (and we answer with a common “Mmmmmmhh”), Celia seems like almost in pain, when talking of her grandmother’s cooking and I torture everybody by going through every single kind of food I’m going to make in perfection, when I have my kitchen (and, umm, western society) back. Banana-wholewheat-pancakes. Carrot-pecan-cake with lemon-frosting. Bagels with Philadelphia, spring-onion and tomato. Strawberry-Biscuit-cake with vanilla-sauce and a hint of lemonzest. Pasta with a nice garlicky tomato-sauce, fresh basil and parmesan. Couscous-Salad with parsil, mint, tomato, cucumber and lots of black pepper and lemon………………………………………..
Sorry, had to wipe my laptop. We laugh about it, but it’s really quite amazing. No matter where our conversations start, we always end up talking about food again. Egypt and that wicked Khadafy- Falafel. The planning of our celebrations of the world water day- that amazing tea-place Haley found just before coming here. Our new pet-chicken Anna Karenina- well, you can guess where that conversation ended. Lately, sex has also entered the top five of our favorite topics. I’m curious how far it will make it in the charts.
I will miss the food we have here, too, though. Don’t be too surprised, if I start bringing unsalted corn, cooked in its surrounding leaves to uni. And I’m definitely going to go wayyy more vegan, when back home. Those fairytales the dairy-industry made up about our needs of animal-products really proved to be complete bullshit. We’re eating 100% vegan most of the days, with beans on the menu only every other day and few vegetables and fruits (it’s really mostly RICE). No one is losing hair, breaking nails all the time or getting sick more often than at home. We all lost weight, okay. Who’s opposed to that, though? Anybody? And our nutrition isn’t getting in the way of working out either. The other day Jose ran 25km in the midday heat, because his bike broke down in Sakoantovo. Don’t ever tell me again one needs meat to build up muscles. The bodies of the guys living here are the living proof of what the human digestion can make of a lifetime of practically carbs and carbs only. Looks definitely nicer than those artificial protein-shake-fitness-studio-bodies…
Of course I miss cheese almost as much as my friends and family (KIDDING! …or am I?). But I’m positive it’s only for its taste and not because my body really needs it.
Today we received a love-letter. That makes three proposals to us girls as a group and then a bunch of extra ones to each individually. The guys in this letter were pretty vocal about what they wanted from us, too. Share a bed, touch our skin and stuff. Since the letter wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, we figured that the authors would be happy with any one of us girls. To not risk catfights over who gets to play the Juliet, we decided not to react upon it at all. Celia, Kristien and me, being the singles of the group, are slowly giving up hope to be married into Ejeda-society. I can kind of see myself with the chief of Manakaralahy, but he already has two wives and I hate having to make the first move. I know, I know, this attitude will get me nowhere, husband-wise, but if you have so many offers, you do get a little spoiled by the attention…
The Germans are here! Hurray! I haven’t really seen the doctors yet, since they’re apparently working 24-7 on emergency surgeries and the hernia-surgeries they’ve actually come for. But we met the two-person-camera-team that’s come to film them in the hope of getting a trailer together that will make a German TV-channel invest in them making a whole documentary about Ejeda. And they spent the whole day with Celia, Kristien and me, filming us working in Manakaralahy! So us and Hery are now practically movie-stars!
Okay, the part with us will probably never be publicly broadcasted and if they make their documentary, we will be long gone from here, so we won’t be in the actual movie- but! I did my first interview. Coooool…
I sucked, though. I couldn’t get my German straight at all and after struggling with my native vocabulary I was so nervous that I didn’t answer the other questions in English very well, either. Boy, a big, fat camera pointed at you is really not my thing. I can’t believe people actually want to be on TV. After just half an hour of being filmed I just wanted to hide behind trees. The guys were really, really nice, though, and I hope they get their budget. Also, it can only be good for the region and if it’s simply because it’ll get the economy going while they’ll be shooting it. There sure are enough remarkable stories to be told about Ejeda. It’s a pity that, according to them, starving black people became a real “Ladenhueter” for German television.
8.3.2011 Fame II
World Woman’s day! Big deal in Ejeda: the women dress up in colorful Lambahoanys (piece of cloth that gets wrapped around you) and dance, dance, dance to typical Mahafaly music until the sweat is running and the ears are sore (doesn’t take too long…). Of course the five WWF-girls had to be part of it. We’ve been rehearsing with our group (consisting majorly of the majorly overweight wives of the rich people of Ejeda) throughout the past few days and today we got to show a huge audience how Vazaha-women stomp their feet and clap their hands. We had to wear these hats that looked like diapers made out of pink and white mosquito-nets and of course an especially pinkish Lambahoany. We looked ah-maaaazing.
It was clear that we would make people very happy with our appearance and our frantic tries of imitating the dance-steps we had been shown. People already laugh their heads off when we greet them in Mahafaly, eat corncobs, wrap ourselves clumsily in our meeting-Lambahoanys or do anything else that they wouldn’t expect Vazahas to do. But this was definitely the cherry on top. People were shrieking with glee when we did our little show. I actually earned 1300 Ariary through people handing it to me while I was dancing. Mom, dad- I might start a dancing carrier in Madagascar. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.
Alternatively, there’s still the option of just getting married. I seem to have the right size to be a status-symbol in Ejeda society. After the dance a woman suddenly grabbed me around the waist and “felt me up”. I think she was measuring me. I hope her son looks good.
My hair also helps. If I’m wearing it down, people sometimes think I’m an old lady (because it’s light and old people have light hair), but most just get very excited over it. Kid’s hands tend to get stuck in it, though, so I try to avoid redoing my ponytail.
Phew. After about four hours of participating in the festivities, everybody in our group seemed to develop a strong urge to flee the public. People made us pose in pictures with them over and over again. I think on the last five our smiles must have looked more like weird smirks. Remind me to never try and become famous. And to never ask a famous person for a picture with them. Attention stops being flattering very quickly. I left our fenced-in garden once more today and the amount of people that stopped me on the street, congratulating me on my dancing and touching me drove me back inside in no time. We decided to have a left-over-dinner. No one feels like going to the market today.
Still, it was a fun and culturally loaded day. It had lots of “Huh. I can’t believe I’m really here…”- moments in it. Huh…. I can’t believe I’m really here…
9.3.2011 I can’t believe I’m really here!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What a day. I…
… went to two different villages to hand over a piece of paper in the midday heat
… had lunch with a bunch of Germans (AT A PROPER TABLE!!!!)
… read the first ten pages of DIE ZEIT more thoroughly than I’ve ever read a newspaper before
… ate goat
… looked at a 62m deep hole
… climbed a tamarind tree
… attended a Hernia-operation on a nine year old boy
I’m very tired now. Good night.
The other day a cockroach the size of my palm was crawling over my bed. After seconds of hesitation, fighting down my instincts to NOT TOUCH, I forced myself- huuuge effort!- to grab it. I let go too early when throwing it, because of the incredibly gross feeling its tickling legs and sheer enormity conjured in my hand. So it didn’t go out of the window, but landed on Jose’s bed (Still sorry about that). Kristien offered to do the job for me, seeing me banging my head against my wall crying “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!”. I wanted to be as brave as Haley, who I’ve seen throwing big-ass insects out of the house like she’s going to make an Olympic event out of it, so I denied Kristien the pleasure. When my second trial went equally bad, though, and the cockroach ended up on my bed again, I decided that this was enough throwing cockroaches around the room and that I would never be able to properly grab it and throw it. Just. Too. Gross. Could. Not. Do it. So I got a cup and after a panicky search for the cockroach between my cloths, I finally managed to get that monster in the cup and out of the room. Phew. I didn’t take pictures of that freak of nature, but believe me, it was big enough to star in a Kafkaesque dream. Haley is, btw, my biggest hero in affaires like that. I never considered myself a cry-baby, but compared to her, I am. She’s this cute, sweet person that likes tea and books and says sorry when you bump into her. And then she throws cockroaches without even twitching, drinks unpurified water to give her digestion a little blow in the right direction and is definitely the member of the group with the least “special needs”, like showering regularly or a certain kind of food (the edible kind). Plus she manages to be like that with a certain grace. She’s never failing in considering everybody’s interest before her own and keeping up an optimistic attitude towards everything and everybody that deserves it. She’s a good person to the point where she’s even able to admit that she sometimes has to make an effort to be like that. To me, that modesty is the icing on the cake that I from now on will call “Haleynism” and will treat as an ideal.
14.3.2011 Dr. Elson
We did a small field trip yesterday to the gold digger’s village. The way there was beautiful. The sky is so near, when you’re on a plateau. Sometimes, when the flora all around is just bushes and cactus, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. On your left rain is coming down in misty grey curtains, on your right the sky is crystal clear, in the front you’re facing gigantic massifs of clouds that pile up mile-high and behind you an endless-seeming landscape of sheep clouds stretches out as far your eyes can see. Again, I screwed my head off, turning and turning to take in these 360 degrees of untouched splendor. As Kristien said: It’s a lot easier to believe in god here.
Not only because of the beauty of nature. When we came back, my phone rang and it was the doctor who invited me over to talk to him and Julius, the left over German Doctor (the others had to go home already). I took a very fast shower and hurried over to their place. The following hours were- intense. I don’t think the doctors realized fully what happened inside of me, because I kept surprisingly calm physically, but my head was spinning like crazy from every word we talked, everything I saw and every thought I added myself. It still is. I don’t even know where to start explaining. I looked into a man’s open skull; I heard Dr. Elson’s incredible life story that, to me, can easily keep up with the biography of Ghandi in regard to the “idolize-ableness” of its main character; And the mental picture I have of the situation of the Ejeda region has been complemented a little further. I don’t want to go into detail here, because it’s still not complete and it seems very important to understand a difficult, twisted situation like this one thoroughly, before you go on blabbing about it on the internet. I can just say that poverty, corruption and injustice are a pain in the ass. But we knew that before. I’ve just never felt it as strongly.
Last night, standing by in surgery and talking with the doctors afterwards, I felt like running from this place every ten minutes. I just thought “What the hell?!?! What am I doing here?! Two month ago I thought I couldn’t stand going to the toilet in a crouching position for a few weeks and now I’m letting myself be dragged into a lifetime of responsibility for this place!! What is happening???”. I didn’t run, though, and I’m not going to. I can only explain it by the immense contagiousness of idealism. The way the doctor and his wife Hanitra (who’s in Tana right now, because her son got beat up badly and she has to take care of him) try and try and try to help, put all personal issues aside and live and work almost solely for the benefit of others, is so beautiful as a lifestyle that it’s tempting to be part of it. And if it’s only through cooking for the doctor and Julius for the next days, because Hanitra isn’t there to do it. It feels a little like stomping on a 100 years of emancipation, but I’m happy to do it since it’s everything I can do right now. I hope there will be more soon.
15.3.2011 Back to worldwildlifing
… Aaaaand they’re gone. Yesterday the doctor learned that there’s going to be a trial against the guys who attacked his son, so he decided to leave immediately, drive the whole night through and arrive at Tana today at night. He won’t actually arrive for the trial, but he said his son needs this moral support. I was pretty upset about it all, because I saw how tired he and Julius were after the last week of workworkwork and practically no sleep. Poor Julius had to jumpstart to leave yesterday, pack, eat and shower in an hour and then sit in the car for 24 hours straight. I was determined to stand in the way of the car, if the doctor would have planned to drive himself. But he found a chauffeur and even two gendarmes with the usual Kalashnikovs to accompany them, so I figured they would be safe. I guess a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, when his family is in trouble. I called them today and all went well. They’re still on their way, but they’re alive, no spear-attacks, hit trees or doctor-nappings. I’m relieved.
I think Julius and I had just about enough time to talk to settle that we both feel really strongly about the necessity of helping Dr. Elson. Julius has already put so much work and thought into the topic, it was a pleasure to just listen to him explaining his assessment of the situation and his consequential plans. My humble role is that of a link to my parents, who are as far as I can tell pretty excited of the ideas Dr. Elson and Julius have. And anything else I can help with, like searching for a lost key or buying water last minute before their departure to Tana…
Now it’s back to wordwildlifing, though… I can’t say I’m very excited about that right now, because this week we’re only preparing the celebration of world water day and all we can do majorly depends on Haja, the discoordinator. I guess I’ll have enough time to work on my report, then.
23.3.2011 We’re working
The last week was unexpectedly work-intensive. Celia and I have been biking here and there, corncobs in our backpacks and Hery in front of us, on our mission to make Ejeda’s surrounding villages “greener”. We had lots of fun doing that in Andranomena, the green-village-model, where the impact the WWF can have on people’s life and the area is visible in its beautiful vegetable gardens and the proud and content faces of the members of its comitee de gestion d’eau. Different scenario in Marovahatse: first people don’t show up for meetings, then they say everything is fine, but throughout our regular assessment process more and more problems come up: the most basic caretaking on the water pump hasn’t been done, they never started documenting their water management properly and their vegetable gardens are all dried up. But before you can become impatient with people’s lack of compliance you hear that they’ve been promised things that never arrived, that they’ve lost their trust in the project and they don’t understand why the WWF abandoned them. Celia and I figured after asking around for a little bit that in this particular case the village had had the unlucky fortune of being one of the last ones a certain Sylvain worked in, Haja’s predecessor, before he got relocated to another region. Why, we don’t know, we just know: we don’t like him. He made our work a lot more difficult. It’s really like our coordinator Nosy said when we first arrived: One can’t save the world in 2,5 months, but one can destroy a lot of good work in that amount of time by acting irresponsibly in the name of an organization like the WWF. Sorry to say so, Sylvain, but that’s exactly what you’ve done. Whatever good he started in Marovahatse, he not only destroyed, but also made really difficult to rebuild by not finishing the job and leaving people lost, confused and, in the end, disappointed. It’s a challenge to carefully lead people back on track and make sure this is not going to happen to them again. Celia and I intuitively never started promising people any materialistic help from the WWF, when they asked for it, emphasizing that becoming a green village is something they’re doing for themselves, not for the WWF. Answering to their demands in this way was sometimes difficult. But explaining to them why things they’ve already been promised might never happen, is a pain in the ass, to be quite frank. It got to the point where I was already considering buying that stupid pump-repairing-key-tool myself, if it meant we can finally move on to less fundamental points on our to-do-list (It doesn’t really make sense to create a water management committee, if there’s no water, because the freaking pump’s not working). I ended up not buying it, because we don’t know what it actually is and where to get it. We have to ask Haja about it. So we told the villagers to not wait and borrow it from the village next door.
Whatever. A challenge is what I wanted.
Yesterday was world water day. That was nice. Myrah and Haley did an awesome job organizing it. They managed to have 900 kids sing and dance in competition along the main road. Of course, everything they had to give out of their hands and rely on Haja for got screwed, but nobody noticed except for them and the representatives of the WWF that came here for that day. In a way it couldn’t have been better for us, because their outrage about the “discoordination” gave me back some hope that the way things are going here is NOT the standard procedure of the WWF everywhere. Plus, we have some objective witnesses of what’s been holding us back this entire time, if anyone ever dares accuse us of having been of poor initiative.
We had a really nice evening with the WWF-people from Toliar. They patched up the not-so-pretty image of big NGOs that I’ve acquired throughout the last weeks. I’ve finally found those people who prefer working more for less money for a good cause to being wealthy and comfortable, but a part of a system that will slowly destroy this lovely planet of ours! I’m very, very glad. For our work here it’s not relevant anymore, but at least now I know that my report won’t be read by people who are just as unmotivated and –qualified as our discoordinator. And I can tell people who are donating money in Germany that the WWF is using it well- almost all of the time. I guess the problems in Ejeda are of the kind that can’t be prevented completely when a huge organization like the WWF tries to work in an area like this. I’ve come up with a lot of random speculations what went wrong in this particular case. Each and every one finds the main reason in the lack of communication between different hierarchies of the organization. But again, the internet is not the place for a naïve 21 year old to be making assumptions about anything based on her very emotionally loaded experience in a third world country. And especially not assumptions that might be mistaken for facts and hurt an organization that spent so many years and efforts on building up trust into its work. I want it to be clear, that my attitude towards the principles of the WWF hasn’t changed a bit. Most people I’ve met who are working for the WWF are doing amazing research. They come up with very thought-through projects that aim at durable development while containing biodiversity and that the WWF puts a lot of effort in keeping track of their activities and making its ventures transparent. In fact, the WWF couldn’t get a more thorough assessment of the situation in Ejeda than by sending six hypermotivated youngsters to work for it in the field. No wonder Haja mentioned when we first arrived that he had been kind of anxious about us coming here, because he heard that in other places WWF-employees had gotten into big trouble because of the reports volunteers had written. It’s a pity that he thought having a few beers with us and sharing “Mister Bean”-movies on a USB-stick would be all that we wanted from him. I did ask for info-material on that USB-stick many more times than for those movies…
Is it really only a week until we leave Ejeda? Time passed even faster than anticipated in March, partly due to the fact that Celia and I were really busy. Three more visits to “our” villages and then we’re done with our work here. I’m pretty confident right now that this “cycle” of villages- compared to our first- actually turned out to be quite a success. Even Marovahatse seems to have pulled itself out of indifference towards the WWF’s projects. Last time we went they had really made an effort- rebuilt the fence around the pump, put up a sign, that said that it wasn’t allowed to wear shoes inside of the fence, renewed their list of DINA (rules for the usage of the water ressources), started new books for their accounting and had put some thought into what they will do for the competition. And all this in less than a week!
This and the fact that I got to hint to Haja, that we think it really, really important that things won’t go astray again as they did when Sylvain left the terrain and he reacted in a way that made me trust him and his attitude towards the interests of the villagers a little bit more, plus the fact that Celia and I put a lot of effort into motivating people without promising them anything- all this gives me hope that the vegetable gardens and tree nurseries, the water committees and the woman’s assembly are going to stay, even after we’re gone. Because they’re good, they’re increasing the quality of life of people. They just need to survive for a year so that people can see this. Let’s hope next year won’t be too dry.
Last week in Ejeda. I think I’m losing perspective of what’s worth mentioning to people who’ve never been here. I should probably write about the guy who got his arm broken by one of his buddies when doing the “ringa”- a traditional mix of wrestling and dancing to drums. He went with us in the jeep (14 people in a jeep. Also worth mentioning?) to have it fixed by a local shaman. I would have insisted on taking him to the hospital, but then again- the hospital doesn’t have an X-ray either (YET!). The poor guy was moaning in agony every time we went over a bump (so practically all the time). And from my experience of how those guys usually react when I disinfect their wounds with alcohol (not at all. They don’t even flinch. When I have to do it on myself I’m usually glad to have a language no one understands to curse in)- he must have been in a world of pain. I hope he’s going to be fine. And I hope there wasn’t only tobacco in the cigarette someone handed him when we arrived in the village.
And did I mention earth hour? We spent it planting mango and papaya trees in the dark. I still owed 8000 Ariary to Julius, the German Doctor, which he told me to invest in “something good”. Thanks, Julius! The fact that we could finance the little project ( 8000 Ariary = about 2,50 Euros) with this money made it a lot easier to convince our coordinators to actually do it and not just have a few beers in the dark for earth hour. I’m happy. Eleven little fruit trees in front of the public hospital. Mission accomplished.
I got to plant a lot more trees than that yesterday. The WWF has officially started the reforestation of one of the treeless corridors that cut into the riparian forest of the Linta and cause erosion and further degradation of the adjoining forest. Yeay! This was Kristien’s and Jose’s job. They, too, are concerned about how the project will continue after they leave. So far, a hectar has been reforested. There’s plenty more to go. Kristien and Jose spent a lot of time in Sakoantovo whose inhabitants will have to do the rest of the job. But now we’re leaving and it’s really up to Haja and co. to keep up what has been accomplished “sensitization and mobilization”-wise. Again. Phew. You ask yourself in how far any volunteer work can be good for an area as long as volunteers keep on abandoning their projects after they’ve done their “good deed”. This is meant to be entirely self-critical. I always knew volunteer work is an ambivalent topic. It becomes obvious as soon as you start doing research on the internet how to get rid of this annoying urge to help and give something back and stuff. Either you pay an amount of money that could feed an entire family for a year in most third-world-countries or you have to go through a very selective application-process for the big NGOs, like the one for WWF. And then there’s weirdly a lot of big NGOs that don’t offer volunteer programs at all. That should already tell you something. Paying a lot for helping a little is stupid. I’d rather have my parents donate money directly. But I thought that as soon as you get in with one of the big NGOs with a good reputation, you were on the safe side. That their programms would be well enough thought through to avoid serving no one but yourself, plus wasting money on flighttickets. I doubt it now. I’m not saying that we didn’t have any impact and this trip sure as hell changed my life forever. But the first majorly depended on the group’s attitude towards its work here (which was, gladly, an awesome one) and the second was kind of obviously going to happen, eh? Put a German girl who spent her childhood vacations in France and the US on a composting toilet for 3 months and it’s bound to change her life.
Actually, the problem with volunteer work is kind of obvious: you wouldn’t go around being altruistic, getting involved in people’s life at home and then all of the sudden stop after three months and never talk to the people you’ve been working with again. Would you?
Why I and so many other bright lights among young westerners weren’t able to see this when they decided they really, really want to “get involved” and “make a difference” in their gap year, I don’t know. I just hope that this big misconception is not doing too much harm to the attitude people have towards development help in general- on both sides, the one that wants to help and the one that needs help.
I had my share of the concept “volunteering” and this is my conclusion: It’s a good idea to travel to developing countries. It can only help to spend some money there. It’s good to stay in one place for longer and really get a thorough picture of it. It’s great to lend a hand whenever it’s needed while you’re there. It’s splendid, if you meet people that you want to keep in touch with. And it’s over the top if you’re so touched by something that you want to get involved and keep on helping someone until you’ve really made a change together. All this can happen when doing volunteer work. But you can’t expect it to happen automatically and even if you do everything right, it might still just not. What it certainly doesn’t depend on is the organization you’re traveling with.
I’m lucky, it happened exactly like this for me. I said it before: I really, really am the luckiest person in the world. In New Zealand I had to keep on pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. By now, I’ve proceeded to slapping myself in the face from time to time. Not because there’s any doubt about this being reality. But to remind myself to keep on being grateful for each moment, to not get too used to it and to take it all in and store it for less fulfilling days of my life.