I’ve always been curious about different cultures, and wanted to experience living a life totally different to what I was used to from living in one of the most developed countries.
I wanted to do something adventurous, something what could make a change in someone’s life, even a little change. Then I got in touch with Alena, who told me about Bookfeeding project. Bookfeeding project helps to get an access to books and education in developing countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Madagascar. As a student of French and islands lover Madagascar sounded as a great choice.
I spent in total two months (June – July), wandering around Madagascar, of which I stayed three weeks in the library in Ambohitrakely. It was my first time traveling alone for so long, as well as, my first volunteering experience of this kind. It was hard, it was different, but I loved it, and the longer I stayed the more I didn’t want to leave. I knew Madagascar was one of the poorest countries in the world, but what I saw over these two months was far beyond from what I’d imagined it to be. The first impression after my plane landed at Ivato airport was shocking. It was midnight, I was tired, but also excited at the same time, and had to face a very long, chaotic and slow process of obtaining my visa, passport control and baggage reclaim. Madagascar welcomed me the traditional “Mora, mora” (slowly, slowly) style. And it stayed this was for the most of my stay.
The first few days, I stayed in the capital Tananarive. I was hosted by lovely people, who introduced me to Malagasy culture, took me around the city, and helped me to get some essentials for my stay in the library. (sim card, toilet paper and local money were good to have for the start). I was even lucky enough, that my hosts were going for a wedding to Mahitsy (which is the first closest town to Ambohitrakely), so I could share a ride with them. This was very helpful. It was Saturday, which is the market day in Mahitsy, and the best day to get stocked up with food. The place was buzzing, people were selling everything and anything on the street, people were walking around carrying ducks on their heads… In all this chaos, my friend helped me to find a taxi to Ambohitrakely, and after couple of minutes of arguing about the price, I was all set up for the ride I will never forget. As we took off, I was a hundred percent sure the car won’t make it to Ambohitrakely safe. With the speed, that walking would be faster, and plenty of stops, during which I was being introduced to the locals, we finally made it to Ambohitrakely in one piece.
A show off of a car in a village as small as Ambohitrakely was a big occasion, which definitely got everyone’s attention. I was warmly welcomed by some of the villagers and children, who were very excited to see a “vazah” (as they call a white foreign). Their excitement got even bigger when I gave them books, which were donated to Bookfeeding. Everyone was very interested to see what were these new books, and we spent a good amount of time, going through all of them. It was really nice to see, how something as simple as an English textbook can make someone so happy.
The library was opened every day in the afternoon and everyone could come and read or play games. Every day was different. Sometimes the library was full of children, who came from different villages. Some of them were very interested in books, so they spend the whole afternoon going through books. Some of them loved me to read for them, some of them wanted to read for me, some loved to paint, make origami and play games (the memory game and French skipping were the favourite ones) … Everyone found something for themselves…. As well as, sometimes other villagers came too, and wanted to practise their English or joined one of the games…
As days went by, I learned more and more about the daily life in the village. All the villagers were so welcoming, kind and always ready to help. I was the only volunteer in the library at that time, which sometimes made it a little bit tricky to give my attention to all the children. But on the other hand, I made some good friendships with the local people. Thanks to Pascaline, I’ve learned how to use coal and wood to make a fire (seriously, this girl saved my life so many times), as well as, she also helped me to buy food and other essentials, and showed me around. I ate very basic food, mainly bananas, oranges, carrots, tomatoes, peas, potatoes and rice. Malagasy people eat LOTS of rice! I think that during these two months I ate more rice than in my whole life. Sometimes I had rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And yes, I still like rice. All the food was fresh and tasted amazing. The children were always so kind and occasionally brought some wood for the fire or helped me to carry water from the well. I also learned some really cool dancing moves from them. Lovely Madam Robin, the neighbour, greeted me every day with a big smile and kindly shared her cooking equipment with me. Many times, I was invited to different events such as school celebrations, christening, church events or just ordinary family visits. Although, sometimes there was a language barrier, as many people didn’t speak English and French, I really felt as a part of the village. This made me realise, how important is to talk and share time with other people. I was also happy to be a part of the celebration of the three years’ anniversary of opening the library. Everyone worked very hard to prepare for this big event. The library was nicely decorated and delicious food, drinks and cakes were served to everyone. All the villagers came to celebrate, as well as people from other villages were invited too. The family, that is responsible for running the library, gave a speech about what had happened in the library over these three years, and how from an ordinary building became a place, where now even people from surrounding villages, sometimes even as far as 10 km, come to spend their free time. People, who visited the library for the first time were given a tour around all the rooms. The atmosphere was very nice. People were dancing to a traditional Malagasy pop music and the library was full of cheerful children running about.
After three weeks, I was leaving the library sad to be missing all the lovely people, but also grateful for all the new friendships, experiences and things I’ve learned…
PS: The best thing about the life without electricity is when you can see dark sky full of shiny stars