By Shawn Peabody, Former Country Director, Madagascar
It took me 30 hours to get to Andavadoaka the second time I went there. I took the octopus truck – and I was lucky in that I got a seat at the front. That meant that I didn’t need to sit in the back on top of leaky ice chests that reeked of octopus. A day into the ride, I fell asleep sitting up, just for a second, as the truck fell into a pothole. I hit my head so hard on a protruding bolt on the side of the cabin that I literally saw stars. I would do that another dozen times before arriving in Andavadoaka with an obvious swollen knot on my head.
When I did get there, it was worth it. The amazing view from the beach out onto the islands was just as I had remembered. I had been to Andavadoaka a year before, when I visited as part of a fisher exchange trip to learn about a new octopus management system that was fast becoming famous in Madagascar. This time though, I wasn’t passing through, but moving in, to start the job of Andavadoaka Project Coordinator. The sun was setting over the islands as I carried my bags into my new home – the purple, wooden bungalow by the restaurant. I remember holding a cold beer to my head as I sat on the front step, staring out onto the ocean.
That was February 2009, exactly 5 years ago. A few months after that, BV got a Ford Ranger and the octopus truck torture (mostly) stopped. I spent the next 18 months travelling with the small BV team around the Velondriake locally managed marine area by pirogue, attending village meetings, talking with local government officials, and devoting much of my energy to a social marketing campaign to reduce destructive fishing in the protected area.
In late 2010, Blue Ventures opened a new conservation site in Belo sur Mer, Morondava and then a few months later another site focused on the Barren Isles, Maintirano. I was promoted to the newly-created position of Conservation Coordinator and moved to the regional capital of the southwest, Toliara. The city lacked the picturesque views, sense of community, and team atmosphere of Andavadoaka. However, it partly made up for that by having constant mobile phone coverage, a good internet connection, and a number of great restaurants. Our first office in Toliara was the living room of the two-bedroom apartment I shared with another staff member. We were just four people in the office (plus a few thousand mosquitoes).
In early 2012, our fearless leader, Al Harris (Blue Ventures’ founder and Executive Director) relocated to the UK and, despite my initial objections, left me in charge as Country Director. I like to think that I grew into the position rather quickly, especially once I quit wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops to the office, which was now its own building (thankfully completely separate to my living room)!
Throughout my time with Blue Ventures, I have been incredibly fortunate to be supported by a great team both in Madagascar and in London. The motivation, passion and energy that our staff bring to their jobs makes BV an inspiring and fun place to work. Now, as I prepare to move on from Blue Ventures and Madagascar, I am extraordinarily grateful to my team. Over the last 5 years, we’ve grown exponentially in size and resources. This growth has not always been graceful, and we’ve had a few bumps along the way. However, I can confidently say that we are today a stronger, more adaptable, and effective organisation than ever.
Taking over the reins from me will be Kitty Brayne, a long-time friend of Blue Ventures who has excellent experience with conservation programmes in Madagascar and the Comoros. I wish her and our whole team the best of luck for the future.
Tsy veloma fa mandra-pihaona! It’s not goodbye, but see you next time!