Fifteen Mile Hike To Nowhere (And Then Back Again)

Hello everyone!  I just got back from a village visit!  A few months before I arrived in Madagascar, a group of people from an aid organization came and brought big blue water-tanks to villages surrounding the town of Andranovory.  Back in November, I went to help set them up, and I knew at the end of that trip that I would need to come back for some follow-up to make sure everything was running well with the tanks.  Things were alright in general, and we had a great time!

Hey look! That's me in a village!

I will make one note to anyone wanting to give aid to foreign countries.  Giving to a poor country is not easy and perhaps takes more work than giving to a more developed country.  Even something simple is not simple to give.  If you go to a third world country to bring something like water-collection tanks, please be sure you finish the job.  For example, please provide everything the villagers might need in order to get the tanks, or whatever you are bringing, in working order.  Please provide enough gutters and enough tin roofing to make the tanks worthwhile before you go back home.  While it is good to allow the native people to take some agency in the project, if you wonder, “Why don’t they set it up on their own?” they would probably reply with their own questions: “How do you plan on us doing this?  What lumber and bricks do you imagine we have?  What extra gutters do you imagine we can buy, and with what money do you imagine we can buy it?  Should we use a hammer and nails?  What hammer?  What nails?  We farm corn, not tin roofs and hardware.”

A part of me sort of thinks, better to bring one water tank and set it up really well, then to bring twenty water tanks that might struggle to fulfill their purpose all their lives because the gutters are held on by rusty pieces of wire that the villagers were able to find.  I will say that regardless of these thoughts, the villagers and I are very thankful for what has been provided.  It would be silly to receive the tanks and then just say, “No thanks,” as though we weren’t grateful.  I’m just giving a reminder that giving cross culturally can be quite difficult, and perhaps if you can it is good to let generosity go just a bit further so the job gets 100% complete, as opposed to 85% complete.  I think everyone would be more satisfied.

And now some pictures!

This is the evangelist Zefa and his family next to their water tank.  Zefa runs the church in Andranovory, and he served as our guide as we hiked to villages that were off the main road, inaccessible by car.  The water tank came with a tin roof and a piece of gutter, but sadly their roofs are generally shorter than the tank would need to be.  Thus, most of the villagers constructed little mini-water-tank-houses like this one.  The rain falls on the tin roof, goes down the gutter and into the blue tank.  You can see the nice they job they did with the wood they found.  You can also see how they improvised some extra gutter they needed with Water bottles and a gas can.

This is Jessie, and she just arrived from America last week.  She is interested in organic farming, and so she came along with us on our trip out to the villages where, not surprisingly, all the farming is very organic.  She and Zefa were great traveling companions!  The path out to the villages got quite muddy, so Jessie decided to hike barefoot the first day.

The first day of our trip was very rainy, but it gave us a chance to see the tanks in action!

Day two of our trip, we went on a fifteen mile hike out to a village called Betaola.  I loved this hike across the flat grasslands!  It was so strange being totally alone in the middle of nowhere.  It was also cool that we could see our destination, a tiny white speck, from almost the very beginning of the hike.  We walked and walked and 3.5 hours later, that white speck was a village.

If you have wondered why I have written about three-day-long bus trips, it is because the roads look like this at times, with waste deep canyon-potholes.

Imagine living your life in a the same fifteen square mile part of Madagascar out in the middle of nowhere.  Imagine you have no electricity and live in a hut.  Then imagine the foreigner comes in and starts taking your picture with a magical digital camera!  It’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen!  Plus he’s got that crazy-weird white skin!

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