A few days ahead of going back home, I start wondering what were the little interesting and/or mundane positive experiences of the past six weeks. The way I experienced it, our expedition started off quite slowly, felt really speedy in the middle and slowed down again for the last two weeks/ten days.
Here is the (completely random) list of positive experiences that were part of everyday life in Andava:
Sleeping under the stars: as a result of the warm nights during which I struggled to sleep, I decided to install my matrasse outside. For three weeks or so, I was outside on the veranda, under a mosquito net, enjoying the sound of the waves, the wind and the amazing, star-lit sky. (And, during the full moon, I was even a bit disappointed to have so much light in my eyes...). I loved sleeping outside, feeling connected to the forces of nature, and, to be honest, having some moments of privacy (previously I was sharing a hut with two other people). Initially, we used to close the door of the hut for the night just to feel safe and I was quite concerned by the heavy wind, and it took me a good few days to get used to the waves. When I was dozing off for example I was convinced my bed would slide in the water, the beach felt so close. So, in retrospect, moving outside, being only protected by a mosquito net and not minding the sand blown on me overnight was a sign of deep relaxation.
Star-gazing: on many many nights, we collectively stared at the sky or counted shooting stars. This sometimes included listening to the guitar and singing of one of our talented medics, sometimes just relaxed/silly/serious discussions about life. There is no electricity in the village (except of course in the always functioning disco bar), and no electricity at Coco Beach after 9 pm, so the stars are incredibly bright and visible (apart from the time of full moon).
The change of weather: upon our arrival the weather was a bit gloomy (last few days of the rainy season) but then it turned REALLY hot, to the extent that several of us struggled sleeping during the night. By the end of the six weeks, the daily highest temperatures remained quite high (around 30+ degrees Celsius), but the nights became much cooler and the sea temperature has also decreased. (The latter was a relief to our field scientists, as the initial 29 degrees meant a risk of coral bleeching).
Initially we were also worried (well, at least I was) about some storms, as it was the end of the “cyclone season”, but luckily, we didn’t experience anything dramatic only some windy nights and some distant lightenings.
Knowing my way around, seeing the familiar faces every day: I loved the fact that by the end, I could more or less make sense of the small alleys in the village, go from one point to another without getting lost. After a while I started recognising people – a few kids from Saturday school, another few from the French-English club, a few adults who came to give us feedback on the T-shirts. Even such a short period as 6 weeks can lead to feeling somewhat part of a community and I enjoyed that a lot. The increasing familiarity and feeling of comfort also meant that I was buying pastry on the streets of the village. This might sound nothing special, but for me, who was cautious to the extent of suspicion at the beginning, it was a big step and really contributed to feeling integrated.
Going for a swim in the afternoon: the first two weeks were full of presentations which meant that I spent my afternoons at Coco Beach and not at the Education center/office. During this time I often ended up going for a swim before or after the afternoon lecture. The sea was so warm that even I didn’t hesitate to walk in and the waves and the colours changed every single day. I remember two occasions particularly well: one when we spontaneously swam to a nearby boat and visited it (it was a big one, a kind that is not usually seen in Andava); the other when we were sitting on the beach, letting ourselves be thrown by the waves, watching the sunset, until we had sand even in our ears.
Seeing a herd of goats wander around Coco Beach: this is typically one of the things one notices upon arrival, accepts it as a given and never thinks about it again. But Im happy to take a step back and realise that the goats around our huts and around the Holy Mary’s statue on the nearby cliff have been extremely cute, have contributed to the special atmosphere and have allowed us to make endless jokes. They are such a peaceful and heartwarming sight and it was really amusing every single time to see a group of little boys running after them, trying to get them home.
Almost being forced to be in the present moment: I haven’t discussed this with the others, but for me one of the most striking aspects of life in Andava was being in the here and now. Somehow my entire existence was focused on what was going on at a given moment. I didn’t really have the chance (or the need) to reflect too much on the past or think too much about the future, I was, for most of the time focused on what was happenning at the given moment. I have not really experienced this kind of “mental break” before and it certainly reminded me of the importance of being in the present moment. This was on one hand an incredibly positive and relaxing experience, on the other hand, something that made me even more disconnected from those back home. (I am in the middle of organising a big family event, so from that perspective, it wasn’t ideal to feel so little concerned by anything beyond my daily schedule...).
Getting to know one another: seven weeks is enough to get to know other people if you spend 24/7 with them. After a while we became aware of each others moods, and we were able to read the little, unspoken signs of how each person was doing. It was a nice process, and I felt from the very first week that we are a responsible group, paying a lot of attention to each other. Apart from being so relaxed by the end that we could laugh at the smallest, silly things while looking at the stars, I was also absolutely amazed by the transformation I’ve seen in one of my roommates. She arrived never having snorkelled or been in a proper “outdoor” environment before, and she is leaving as a rescue diver and thinking about coming back. She’s truly pushed herself way out of her comfort zone and despite the occasional difficult moments she never gave up for which I have enormous respect.
My other roommate was only 19, so initially it was her age and courage to come to Madagascar that impressed me, but as I got to know her I was stunned by how much she knew about the world, the opinions she formulated, and even the way she expressed herself. Ladies, if you ever read this: it has been a real pleasure getting to know you!!!