How was Imogen's experience in Madagascar?

29/02 2016  Madagascar

I stayed at the Madagascar Bookfeeding Project for two weeks from September 22nd - October 9th 2015. The weather was hot but not unbearable and it only rained once. I was travelling as a solo female and experienced nothing but kindness during my seven...

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I stayed at the Madagascar Bookfeeding Project for two weeks from September 22nd - October 9th 2015. The weather was hot but not unbearable and it only rained once. I was travelling as a solo female and experienced nothing but kindness during my seven week trip in Madagascar. It was incredible for so many reasons. I started my trip at the library which I'm so grateful for. It was a great introduction to Madagascan life.

I arrived safe & sound after a fun journey with lots of lovely, helpful Malagasy people. I took the taxi-brousse from Antananarivo to Mahitsy. The 8km by private taxi from the town, Mahitsy, to the library village of Ambahotrakely was amazing, a small makeshift type car. We stopped off to fill an old water bottle to refuel, chugged our way along watching the road underneath through the large cracks in the bodywork etc. Crazy little sand "roads" with potholes galore - such skilled driving. I think it cost me 12,000 Ar.

I was greeted by three volunteers which was a surprise. I thought there would just be two of us so that was nice. All the children ran out of the library too. It's not often they see or hear a car in the village :)

I slept the first night on the sofa then took Australian Kat's bed as she left the following day. The bed was actually an old door balanced on a bed frame. A thin mattress too! Rock solid. It didn't matter at all.

The village lived by the sun so the day started at 5.30 when every noise imaginable chorused! Children crying/laughing, shouted conversations between neighbours, chickens, pigs, geese, dogs, zebus (cow like animals), screeching wheels of zebu drawn carriages, crickets & other exotic frog types, the scrambling of the rat that lived between our bedroom ceiling & the "flat" above & their third floor chickens...water & all sorts thrown over balconies etc, the smell of coal burning. Just brilliant. So much life! The library was quite central so people would play petanque (a volunteer's Perfect gift) & gather from dawn til dusk. There is such an incredible community atmosphere.

The previous volunteers opened the library 2-4pm & had complained of boredom (!) so we decided to open 10-12 & 2-4. It was school holidays. It seemed crazy to me not to be offering more time. I would recommend giving as much of your time as possible. That's what we're there for!

The teaching was great. Frustrating, tiring & difficult at times with language barriers & such varied ages & abilities. Generally my room mate, 29yr old Ray from Southern China (Fascinating night time conversations), taught chinese to adolescents while i taught some french & english to younger ones, more and more through songs and dances. So special & fun! Stephan, the 30yr old frenchman taught advanced french. "How do you say my heart will go on in french?" for example, ha one particular group loved song lyrics. Loads of people called me Celine Dion actually :) perhaps not quite up to date with the European pop scene.

I went to church one Sunday, two hours of Malagasy language with beautiful singing & harmonies. Very interesting. Also a night at the local bar. A bottle of rhum was 20p. A coffee was 2p & generally life was so cheap.

The villagers were financially very poor with torn clothes & often shoeless but sooo smiley & friendly. I often forgot the poverty. Also such delicious freshly farmed goods. It was a real pleasure to buy eggs and fresh yoghurt from neighbours. Pineapples, mangos, carrots, tomatoes, peanuts, onions & most especially PEAS :) we ate really well. A slow pace life, cooking on the coal fire starting with found twigs & old paper, with mint tea and dark chocolate for a treat. Fabulous simple pleasures.

I walked lots. 16km round trip to Mahitsy for certain supplies & market day etc. A lovely jog one morning & a bike ride...yoga & stretches morning or night. Often joined or just stared at by the children! Ahh and an absolutely BRILLIANT dance class. Three hours of zumba & salsa one Saturday...african style. So much booty!! Ha. We loved it. Such an unlikely place for a dance class & just soo welcoming. Definitely worth asking Pascaline about that.

Cynthia arrived and we had a great week by succesfully starting to teach the village about recycling. It's something I wanted to do but hadn't considered it actually possible. Cynthia inspired me and made me realise how important it is to share knowledge, it's not changing their culture or beliefs but showing them something new and helpful. They started building the separate areas as I left. Sooo great. There was rubbish everywhere in the village & no waste management so we wanted to encourage composting organic waste & reusing the paper & plastics and generally not throwing things on the floor. We spent a great afternoon with the village turning plastic bottles into plant pots & planting seeds from food we'd eaten as well as some seeds bought at the market. Courgettes, cucumbers, peppers, sweetcorn, peas...lots! And we saved pineapple tops to plant in what will hopefully become the library garden. The seeds were already sprouting which was so great. So yes, it was very difficult to leave before finishing all this! But it was in safe hands for the next week with Cynthia & I hope others will follow her lead.

The Bookfeeding Project was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone whole heartedly. I hope to return to Madagascar and help again. If you would like to ask any questions then please email me at imogen.brooke@gmail.com,