It’s a Saturday. Not that the days of the week bear much consequence to our working week here in Andavadoaka; but it is a Saturday, Saturday 10th May. An important meeting is to be held with all parties involved within the Velondriake, just south of here. As a result much preparatory work has been done in the build up to this meeting and most of the BV staff have set off in the early hours to attend.
As we wake, it is uncharacteristically cloudy, the sea is eerily still and hazy but there is an air of calm tranquility pervading CoCo Beach. New life has begun in the form of 3 kid goats just outside my hut. I watch in awe as they take their first milk. But my mind is somewhat distracted despite the beauty that surrounds me, as today is one of personal significance. For some, 6 months may seem like a long time to work in a community but with just 6 weeks left, I feel like my work has really only just begun. As well as being the medic for the expedition,I also have the privilege of running a family planning clinic in the village. From the outset I have found this a particularly rewarding part of my role; providing a well needed service in this beautiful part of the world. Despite the Catholic prevalence in the village, it is a well received service and clearly appreciated by the women who attend the clinic, who see the value of family spacing; and I may add, no objections have been made by the Catholic church.
However, what has struck me since my arrival is the limited use of condoms and the apparent lack of awareness of the gravity of STI’s. For this reason, I have felt compelled to impact upon this knowledge deficit and impress upon those around me the importance of condom use in the prevention of STI’s. Up until now I have tried a tentative approach to the subject with the occasional condom demonstration delivered at meetings. Even these events would cause me a sense of anxiety for fear of causing offence or not being well received; soon alleviated by the constant hilarity that the subject brings about. Knowing full well that a condom demonstration here and there would not suffice to bring about behavioural change, I knew the campaign would have to scale up at some point to be of any relevance and to have any appreciable impact.
I have always had in mind that a theatrical approach to delivering a message is a well established and effective means of conveying ideas and if i could somehow draw upon the skills of those around me and somehow create a piece of drama addressing the need to practice safe sex, then maybe just maybe, a wider audience would be addressed,with a greater impact. Um, timing is the key, and with one week left of this expedition and having been afflicted by minor illness for the first part of it, was i being slightly ambitious in thinking that now was the time to put this concept into action.
What with the constant niggley feeling that now is always the time, and with the constant sense of urgency and feeling that, if action is not taken soon in this beautiful country then, quite possibly it is in danger of replicating the devastating picture that faces many parts of Africa, I started to put pen to paper. I knew it was ambitious, i knew that Saturday was important and that there would be an absence in Malagasy staff who are always so supportive and fundamental in meetings or functions. I knew it was a tall order but i also knew that the volunteers on this expedition were more than capable of carrying it off; their dramatic skills had already been proven in a previous afternoon of fish demonstrations, they were willing and very able performers.
I presented a script to a rather reluctant Malagasy scholar. Fortunately he was immediately taken enough by it and he translated it pretty quickly and by Wednesday morning we had a definitive Vezo script. Being a Vezo himself, Taylor was able to translate the script in a readily understandable form for the village, misunderstandings avoided, humour conveyed and not lost in translation; a perfect outcome.
Despite the lack of time, despite the loss of my voice in the next days, Saturday 10th came round all too quickly. 4pm we had said to the village when we advertised our play but by 4.30, there were still only a few kids hanging around the sound system we had rigged up. Where was everybody? We sent some boys around the village to further advertise the show, and still 20 minutes later very few people had come. Dismayed and confused, i couldn’t quite understand the poor turn out. Ordinarily, when BV has performed in any way it has been well met with large numbers attending; what had gone wrong? Where was everyone?
As it transpired, when Taylor toured the village, he discovered that the common belief was that there was a fee to be paid to our show. With that myth dismissed, the crowds arrived, at last we had an audience!
So this was it – all age groups present with varying members of the community and a whole lot of them. I had already discussed with myself the possibility that it would not be well received, the horrendous possibility of what would have happened if offence had been caused and not having the usual support of our Malagasy staff to smooth things out if required. It could go 2 ways and as I prayed that it would go as I intended, the show begun!
With the first bursts of laughter from the audience I relaxed and thankfully watched the crowds as they watched with curiosity and amusement at all of us make fools of ourselves. Thanks to the brilliance of Taylor who orchestrated our cues and narrated the story, we delivered a ground breaking repertoire. Without the goodwill of all the volunteers it would not have been possible.
So a huge thanks to all those involved and of course to all those in preceding expeditions who gallantly donned their t-shirts, with varying condom awareness messages embroidered on them. Collectively, BV staff and volunteers have helped to augment awareness; even if if this is only the tip of the iceberg, those involved have played a huge part in positively impacting upon this small community. The journey of awareness has only just begun but i feel so fortunate and honoured to have been a part of it. My heart has been warmed.
Becks (BV Expedition Medic)