La Refuge, Tulear
14:34 (UK), 17:34 (Madagascar)
My time on site has gone so quickly. It has been great to finally get to see the workings of BV and meet the staff, volunteers and local community that make BV what it is. There are so many aspects to think on and things I have learnt:
Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds – a range of ages and focuses on life. Primarily though they all want to contribute to the work of BV and feel that they are actually being useful – contributing to something of true worth – and that they do.
It was good to come at the end of this last expedition of 2007 and hear the views of the volunteers, to hear their stories and work out how each of their paths had lead to them being in this remote village on the coast off SW Madagascar. There are people who are travelling the world; people whom are taking a career break; people whom want to work in marine conservation; people whom like diving; people whom just want to get away for a few weeks; people whom don’t know what they are doing with their lives and people that do. Brilliant – the diversity of people all brought together through one project. And then there are the volunteer’s parents too – brilliant also – especially those that read blogs (Hi again to Fiona’s dad – don’t worry I will be back in the UK soon and you can stop reading the content of my brain – thinking about it – this is a bit like the film ‘Being John Malcavitch’ – you are getting to know me – but I don’t know about you or how many others there are – hmm – that will give me some exciting Larium dreams tonight)!
Staff – again – all so different but yet have been brought together all in the name of saving the coral reefs. I have really enjoyed getting to know each of them individually and enjoyed my time with each of them greatly.
Although it is not my primary role as BVCO director, I do feel a strong commitment to the workings of Blue Ventures and feel it is very important to fully understand the skill set that is working in the field, and the operation of BV – this will inevitably help BVCO in the long run.
BVCO’s three Malagasy staff – Larissa, Angelo and James have also been great to get to know – and despite a small language barrier we worked it out and at the end of my time I feel that all the new procedures have been well understood and I am happy to leave in the knowledge that everything has been communicated and action has started.
Andavadoaka & Velondriake – Velondriake is the community group that has been set up along with BV & WCS to work to establish a series of MPAs that will benefit the people of those communities. It really is working and regular meetings are held to discuss the future of this and other issues that affect them. I presented myself and BVCO to them to further an initial biogas project that has been proposed. It was an interesting experience – first hand participation in bottom up management – every possible energy project in this area must go through them. They are fully supportive of both the stove programme and the biogas proposal- without such support project running would be very difficult and conservation objectives could not be achieved.
Pace of life – We in the Western world work far too hard and far too much.
In Madagascar everything goes slowly-slowly, so slowly that you sometimes get confused and think you may be going backwards. I conclude that we should meet somewhere in the middle so that we can take projects forward but we can take time to have long lunches / long dinners / both with friends / family / work colleagues without guilt. When I get home I am going to try to take this into action and spend more time with those important to me. Work is important to me – the BVCO project and BV are a high priority – but we are all people and all people aren’t just made of work – they are stitched together by the people that they have met along the way.
This shift in pace for me has been the hardest thing being out here. I have been out here for a month for work and when things haven’t gone to plan it has been frustrating at points, but sometimes that is just the way it is. So sometimes this ‘problem’ will have to wait until morning – and perhaps it will be dealt with better then. This is obviously one of the biggest challenges facing BVCO and other offset companies running small scale community projects – when offsets are demanded within certain time periods there can be conflicts in making such a project accelerate due to the environment they are being run. It may therefore take longer for an offset to be made but the outcome is more rewarding and in a community project that can directly benefit those involved.
Impact of Ecotourism – Since I was in Andavadoaka 4 years ago a number of things have happened. One of the most significant is the acceptance and the interest of the local community in these ‘vazahas’ that come to stay for 6 weeks at a time. On the expedition back in 2003 most of the local community were quite obviously wary of these white people, now they are as welcoming as to come to thank the expedition at the end, bringing cake, songs and dance. There is also a small shop that people call the supermarket – a slight exaggeration, but it does now sell mars bars, Pringles, biscuits and flowery decorations! I know that a lot of the stock is targeted towards BV, but there is a lot of local business also and so people in the village now have access to things they otherwise would not, for example flour, butter, cheese, mosquito nets and weighing scales.
In this world where we desire equity by contraction and convergence we are going to have to find some middle ground with our consumerism. If supermarkets in the UK stocked only as much as this ‘supermarket did then the world would have less rubbish, and less want (I would remove some of the tacky jewellery from the shelves though!).
There is time to ponder in Madagascar – especially whilst travelling. I left the camp in Andavadoaka to travel to Tulear via Morombe on Friday. I travelled with Fran and Charlie (field scientists) and a volunteer by pirogue to Morombe, and thankfully it took only hours – it is a beautiful way to travel but with 7 of us and luggage it was just slightly cramped. I found Pere George (a Swiss priest whom is a fan of solar ovens and may be able to assist in locating a place for a new stove workshop in Morombe) and after an hours kip I caught the taxi brousse at 1am to leave for Tulear – and then the trip begins!