Creative genius


As we drove to and from l’Île de la Vièrge on Thursday afternoon, on rutted tracks, I got a little taste of what my colleagues who work in this project are up against. Along the road smiling Malgaches waved at us as we covered them in dust. Toothless old men, pregnant young women, toddlers and school kids. Those are the sturdy ones, the ones who survived, sometimes against all odds. I wondered about the ones that did not, and who of the babes on their mothers’ backs would not make it to their fifth birthday.

The people came out of the tiny one- or two-storied, houses, the latter simply one small room on top of another. Here and there I saw an outhouse, a ‘latrine améliorée,’ recognizable by its vent pipe. I presume the kitchens are outside, running on charcoal. The charcoal sells by the handful, small bags nicely stacked on rickety tables, next to 1 inch pieces of sugar cane.

My colleagues were all dressed in their red project shirts and their red baseball caps.  On the back was written their the slogan “we deliver on our promises, on time and with quality” (in French of course). It felt like a school or camping trip; everyone was singing at the top of their lungs, old school songs, songs about togetherness, and songs with health messages. Most songs were in Malagasy but some were French songs I recognized. There was never a moment of silence on the 30 minute trip. I was told it was no different on the 3 hour trip from Tana. I was grateful for the privilege of riding on Monday morning with the project director in an air-conditioned SUV, without singing. The constant chatter and singing, including the recitation of several of La Fontaines fables in fast cadences had exhausted me already after 30 minutes.

I observed the games from a fair distance. My various orthopedic adventures made participation inadvisable; the shoulder doctor would not have approved and it seemed prudent to be standing on the sidelines.

After the afternoon program concluded we all had to practice a particular dance with our numbered groups. I was with group six which performed a dance that was a little challenging but I had a patient teacher. When we were called up I tried my best and we received generous applause for our efforts.

Our MC is a new staff member of the project who was also in our project some 20 years ago. An « animateur par excellence » if ever I saw one, a creative genius in getting people to have a fabulous time together and recognizing how lucky we were.

The evening program was funny, participative, creative and moving, ending with a song about being a family even when not by blood. Although I generally don’t like the family comparison for work groups, this one felt OK and some people were moved to tears. After that it was dance time.

The Malgaches I encounter in international settings are usually reserved and timid, but here there was none of that. The dance talent was amazing, with people switching easily from hip hop to line dancing (the French version), twist (and shout) and jive. When they called on us, folks from ‘outre-mer’ (overseas), we were the quiet bunch, with two of us (Americans) entirely on the sidelines, and two occasionally throwing themselves into the dancing crowd, but mostly watching.

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