A river crossing in a hand-carved pirogue took us to the foot of the village of Vohidamba. As usual we appeared to be the centre of attention, though this time the centre of thousands of people’s attentions; Vohidamba is a large village.
We began the usual process after introductions: hand out urine pots, receive filled urine pots and then exchange them for stool pots and a sweet, expecting to be in possession of stool samples by the following morning.
This time was different though; within about 30 minutes, all the children apart from one had managed to produce a sample and return it. As if the entire school should produce a stool sample on demand like that!
We climbed to the top of the village with all of our precious, fresh samples and arrived at the CSB (basic health centre). The CSB was at the top of a steep hill and I found myself questioning the suitability of its location – you’d have to be pretty fit to be in with a shot of receiving medical attention!
We were welcomed by a lovely young girl who was a newly qualified nurse from a city in the East. She was in charge of the CSB and also kindly offered to host us for three days.
We spent the day performing our various tests and preparing samples for microscopy, finishing just in time for a dinner served on the floor of the nurses hut; boiled chicken, rice and green leaves with tiny shrimps from the river that you just ate whole.
It suddenly dawned on me why these ‘green leaves’ that we were so eating so often never had a specific name. I’m pretty convinced that the locals just go and pick some random green leaves from outside and boil them in water as a way to make rice more exciting.
It was a special evening and one that I hope never to forget. The boys and I were pretty content with sitting back and quietly observing the interactions between our two Malagasy team members, the guide from Durrell and the nurse. It suddenly felt like such an overwhelming privilege to be in this situation and in this company, something that one could never experience as a tourist. I will really miss hearing Malagasy being spoken between friends when I return to the UK.
The next day we walked to Betampana which was our final village. We planned not to stay there overnight, but just collect all the samples in one morning (now that Vohidamba had shown us it was possible to collect poo after 10 minutes notice of needing it) and deliver our education programme. This school was calm and well organised. The parents and teachers stood at the back and seemed extremely interested to hear the education programme that our Malagasy team members (Daniel and Anjana) delivered so well.
We made it back for lunch which was delayed as the nurse was busy delivering a baby. We didn’t mind waiting though as we sang the Vengaboys outside the hut, initiated by Daniel of course.
We processed the samples and it was a phenomenal feeling knowing that we had handled samples for the last time that trip!
It was time to leave Vohidamba and make the long walk back to Marolambo, through all the villages that we had stayed in along the way. We assembled a great team of porters and said our goodbyes and thank yous.
Our Durrell guide was given a chicken by a local villager as a thank you which he ended up carrying in his hand for the entire walk home. It seems like you’re not a true Malagasy until you can handle a chicken with ease.
It was a stunning walk but a scorching hot day which I was acutely aware of seeing as though I was in charge of safety. When we finally staggered into Marolambo that afternoon, we’d all had it, though we all seemed to be in good health. We slumped in our chairs as we ate a big rice meal and then felt like we could sleep for a long while.