Saturday in Betania, Madagascar

We had our first workshop today in Betania (not Bethany, as I thought was the name). We were delayed in getting to a spot we could get to our little ferry boat on the low tide, then had to move venues in the town so we could use the computer for a slide presentation, then had to bag using the projector and just use the computer due to the light. Once we got down to business, it went very well.

Most of the men were out fishing, so it was me and the women who process and market the fish. So, we talked about the fish business and fish products. There was keen interest in canning and salting fish to preserve it in lieu of refrigeration, so we’ll work on putting these practicals together.

Once we start in on the workshops, I sometimes wonder if I’m teaching my participants anything or it’s me that’s doing all the learning.  Either way, the more we talk, the more we learn from each other about our respective fish businesses, and that’s what the point of the farmer to farmer program is, I think. The women in the room certainly knew their business. I left them with 3 cans of smoked coho salmon to try that I bought from Chris, and that was greeted with approval and gratitude.

This is the first place I’ve been where salt is easy to get and relatively cheap as there’s a salt mine or salt manufacturing nearby, according to Zo. And when we were waiting on one of the docks for the ferry pickup, there were 50 kilo bags stacked on the dock. When (and sadly, if, these days) the fishermen bring in more fish than they have capacity to smoke to fulfill a contract with a local buyer, the women can salt the excess fish to keep it until they have room in the smokers, and then slack the fish out in freshwater for half a day to freshen it before putting it in the smoker. It seems I always start out these assignments with trepidation about having enough material or practicals to cover, and then seem to find out where we can find something new to do together – that might be new to both parties – and move the learning on both sides forward. That’s the case with discovery that cheap salt is available here, and I’m excited to salt fish like they did for centuries before refrigeration.

I also found out they do have access to ice. Again, more surprises. They can make fish as good as I do. The ice will just melt faster!

Mangos are ripe and everywhere. I bought 5 yesterday for 50 cents. I stopped at 3, eating the smaller ones, and saved the two big ones for today.  I remember gorging on mangos in Sierra Leone and getting a side ache like after eating too many green apples as a kid, only at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a side ache or appendicitis, and remember the relief when the ache went away as I was a long way from medical help in my Peace Corps village – just like everyone else who lived there was.

We went to dinner when we got back at about 730 pm. As we walked down a little breeze way from the street to the restaurant, we passed by a woman with a good size orange rockfish-looking fish, apparently looking to sell it to the restaurant. The fish was stinky, as it wasn’t iced and may never have been since it was caught. I had a nice local beef (Zebu) Malagasy dish with large beans over rice. I’ve tried fish here a few times, and don’t particularly like they way they cook it.   Lots of local beef and pork and chicken to choose from, and that I have liked.

We got a good little thunderstorm come in and dump a bunch of rain. It started just as we finished dinner about 830 and lasted an hour, or maybe less.

After a week here, we finally got rolling yesterday with our first real workshop, and now we have tomorrow off. Africa time.

I’m up early this morning as I seem to do when I’m on these assignments, and listening to the Mississippi State football game, streaming XM radio through my phone on the hotel wifi. Still a wonder and contradiction to watch fishermen leave the beach under sail in dugout canoes and listen to a football game half the world away.