How do you even begin to sum up a day that changes you forever? Let me tell you…it’s tough. This morning began with an early breakfast and departure from our hotel in Antananarivo, and then a three hour drive to Moramanga, a small town that will serve as our home base for the next few days as we visit the various WaterAid communities in the area.
Once we were out of the crowded city centre, it became apparent that we were about to see a very different side of Madagascar. After a breathtaking, but extreme car-sickness-inducing three hour drive through the countryside, we arrived in Moramanga. It is a much different place than Tana, with only one Main Street and a handful of shops and eateries. We checked into our hotel, had a quick lunch, and packed up the 4x4s to make the journey into the WaterAid villages.
I am not going to go into deep details of WaterAid’s work in Madagascar on this blog, because that is not my intention. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you are probably at least a little bit familiar with WaterAid, but if you’re not, you can click here to learn more. What I will say, though, is that I have been involved in the Aveda Network for 10 years, which is exactly how many years Aveda has been partnered with WaterAid, and I could not wait to see the kind of work we were doing together.
Upon arrival into the Belavabary district, we were greeted by a totally unplanned community gathering that even Ernest didn’t know about. WaterAid works in several villages in the area, but due to our limited time in Madagascar, we will only be able to visit three. These people were from one of the villages that we weren’t going to have a chance to visit, but they still wanted to come out and show their appreciation. Lines on either side of the road of children, mothers, fathers and elders holding ‘Thank You Aveda’ and ‘Thank You WaterAid’ signs instantly brought tears to my eyes. It was so beautiful and so unexpected. We were on a pretty tight schedule, but we still managed to shake the hand of each and every person in that line before we said ‘Misaotra’ (Thank You) and continued our journey onward.
Once we were deep into the rural area, we finally came across the Belavabary Commune. We were greeted by a large band playing traditional music of drums and flutes, the mayor, and well over 100 dancing villagers. I have never seen so much pure joy. Everybody was dressed well – little girls wearing their best dresses and men in suit jackets – especially the 87 year old village elder. Like most Malagasy people, his name is way too long to write and remember, so, like Ernest, I have taken to calling him ‘Granddaddy’.
We were wrapped in traditional sarongs and given woven hats as a thank you. As we inaugurated tap after tap, cutting ribbons and lifting the covers off of freshly painted signs, our team members were presented with gifts of woven baskets and fresh fruit. Compared to us, these people have so little, yet so much that they are willing to give.
The afternoon consisted of speeches by the mayor, a few of our team members (I definitely cried during mine), a poem that was written by one of the women in the village, and dancing, dancing, and more dancing. Traditional Malagasy dance, freestyle dancing, 5 year old girls who can emulate Beyoncé better than I could ever dream of doing. Sometimes they performed for us, and sometimes we danced with them. It was truly an incredible experience.
My personal highlight of the whole day was definitely meeting the ‘Granddaddy’ – 87-year-old village elder. He was beaming with gratitude, with a well-loved ribbon in the colours of the Malagasy flag proudly pinned over his heart. I can’t imagine living in a village without access to safe drinking water for 87 years like he did, and I am so relieved to know that none of those beautiful children will ever have to.
Near the end of our time in Belavabary, we presented the community with the gifts that we had brought – 3 brand new soccer balls and ball pumps. One for the school, one for the community to share, and one for the captain of the village soccer team to enjoy with his teammates. After all they had done for us, all the joy they had brought to our hearts that afternoon, the balls seemed like a small gesture in comparison. But the smiles on their faces said otherwise.
After several photo ops and a very long goodbye, we left Belavabary and made our way back to our hotel in Moramanga. There is a lot of work being done on the electricity system in the area, so there are frequent power outages. In the total time that we’ve been here, we’ve had power for maybe 20% of it (which explains my infrequent Instagram posts, if you’ve been keeping up!) but honestly, we don’t really need it, other than for the kitchen to prepare food.
We ate a late dinner by the time the power came back on, so we passed the time in between sharing stories about our day, looking at the beautiful photos Ernest had taken, and sampling some of the local Malagasy liqueurs. By the time dinner was finished, we were all pretty tired, so most of us went straight to bed.
I could watch the streets of Moramanga forever. The homes are anything from multi-storey apartment buildings to wooden shacks with tin roofs. Most people get around by pedi-cab or rickshaw. There are a handful of ‘hotelys’ (local eateries) lining the street, that seem to always have customers. There are abundant chickens and dogs and zebus all around, and, because we are on the main road that connects Tana and the East Coast, plenty of massive trucks driving through at all hours, and, of course, lots and lots of honking. Some of the trucks that came barreling through in the late night shake the hotel enough to wake me from a dead sleep. It’s the kind of thing that would annoy the life out of me at home in Calgary, but here on this island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it feels simply natural.