Wednesday in Betania

I wrapped my foot in plastic we bought at the store, and luckily it kept my foot dry after walking through the water to get to the transport canoe.

We talked about onboard handling today to a dwindled crowd. I hope I’m not boring them to death.

On the way over, we saw a swordfish on the ground.  I was sad to see this once beautiful fish covered with sand. But I’m guess the sand washed right off as of course it wasn’t cleaned.

A woman bought the fish, then two people help hoist it up onto her head and away she went.

woman on beach carrying large swordfish on her head

A trip to see Sister Juliette

I stepped on one of these nasty snail shells yesterday. There’s no way getting around walking in the water to get into and out of the canoes at the stages of the tide we cross to Betania and back. The shells are in the mud in the estuary, and the water is murky so you can’t see where you put your feet. I knew they were there.  Lurking. You just step lightly and pray.

Well, I found one yesterday. I felt a little pain as I put my foot down. I think the tip of a spine just barely was in the callous of my foot under my big toe, when I lifted it, and I thought it fell off, but it didn’t. When I put my foot back down, I drove the spine further into my foot. I thought it was a little painful, and a minute later when I moved my foot, I saw a blood spot on the dugout canoe floor. We motored around to a boat ramp where we could almost get the nose of the boat to dry land, but not quite. When I got off with my sore bare foot, it was a nasty bottom and there was fuel in the water we were walking through.  Basically a sesspool. Nice.

When I got to the hotel, I quickly cleaned off my foot in the shower. I looked at it and it didn’t look like anything was left from the spine of the shell in my foot, and the wound looked clean.

I mentioned it to my supervisor, and almost wish I hadn’t.  The next morning, as I was thinking how I wish I hadn’t forgot my first aid kit, I realized I had lots of hand sanitizer. So I slathered that over the little puncture wound under the ball of my foot at the big toe – where a callous always is, fortunately, and put some tp over it and then some tape to hold the tp in place with the sanitizer.

Knock-knock-knock. It was my supervisor from next door. I should have seen this coming. We want (meaning you must go) to take you to the doctor. I tried to get out of it but he insisted. I said you know we will be there all day, right. He understood that I understood the number of patients waiting versus the help available at African hospitals in populated areas. I reluctantly agreed, not wanting to stop working on my workshop slides for today’s big meeting at Betania.

He found a Catholic clinic instead. A very pleasant clinic and not many people waiting or in line. I saw a western lady inside. She was a nun and a doctor. About 60 seconds after I told my supervisor I didn’t want to jump the line or receive special treatment because I was a westerner, they called me into the room. I decided not to make a scene and just comply.

They set me on an exam table. After the doctor looked at the wound and marveled at the size of my boots, a young Malagasy nurse took a look at the wound, while another nurse held a flashlight from a cellphone for light. Out came a small scalpel, and I immediately said “what’s that for!”, like a 4 year old, as all the chatter between my supervisor, the nurses and interpreter had been in Malagasy to this point, so I didn’t understand. Just to cut the callous away. Whew. I thought he was gonna slice open the puncture to see if there was anything stuck in there. After he did this – and was very good at it – out comes a needle. My four year old self had the same reaction as to the scalpel. Just to probe down the puncture hole to be sure it’s empty and nothing lodged there. Again, he was very good at it and no pain.

He slathered the puncture in peroxide, then betadine, then some kind of brown salve, put a nice piece of gauze on it, and over that a clear bandage on the bottom of my foot- nice and tight. Couldn’t have got better care anywhere.

I sheepishly apologized to my supervisor, as of course this is was the proper course of action given the situation he was in as being responsible for me.

On our way out of the clinic, I gave the Sister my contact info in case she ever made it to Juneau.  As we passed the receptionist, I told her through my translator I was so relieved I wasn’t pregnant.  She almost fell off her chair.

On the way home, we went to a shop and bought some clear plastic we can use to bag my foot up, as I’m going to have to get to Betania and back today and tomorrow and so will want to keep the foot dry.


This week’s Madagascar miracle

Crap this job is fun.

In Ecuador I saw power and home freezer, but where to get ice when it hit me: just freeze water in water bottles and clean the bottles off each day. Not perfect but a cheap start to chilling fish and improving fish quality. Then here I am in Madagascar. No power or home freezers in the village, but ice in blocks available in the town.

But with catches so sporadic now with the trawlers hoovering up the fish offshore so there’s not shit inshore it’s risky to buy ice knowing it will definitely melt but no certainty that there will be fish to cool.

I was just channelling my Peace Corps trainer Eileen and brainstorming to my supervisor and mentioned salt, knowing it’s usually a costly commodity. He says we got yer salt mine right here and it’s cheap! So I get cracking researching salting fish.

We go to get a bag and it’s two freaking dollars for a 60 kilo bag! That’s about a penny a kilo to salt fish at 3 to 4 kilos salt to 10 kilos of fish. We figured this out 2 days into the 5 day assignment, so we bought a bag of salt and some fish and the community women cleaned and cut the fish like they would to smoke them  and we salted them down today and didn’t uncle Mark get that little rush, like catching a king salmon or taking a deer.

Monday in Betania

Today had a workshop on calculating yield and pricing for various fish products, estimating cost and benefit of shipping fish to Tana, and cost and benefit of investing in their business, such as buying more smokers, and salt and containers for salted fish. Mostly the women attended again. Not sure if men were out fishing or just not interested.

We also went over salting fish in preparation for a salting practical today. We bought a 60 kilo bag of salt for 7,000 Ariary, or $1.75 US, today at the port dock. A 60 kilo bag will salt about 200 kilo of fish, or less than a cent per kilo. A great deal.  And hopefully an doable substitute for a refrigeration, as they don’t have power in the village.

If they salt fish when they are abundant and the price is low, they can freshen them in water and smoke them later and sell them when the fish are scarce and the fish price is high.

They can also  stage fish in the salt when their smokers are full so they can meet their contract with a fish buyer, who pays them a better price than they get elsewhere.

It’s never as simple as it sounds, but let’s hope it might work.

Sunday with the Baobobs

We had today off.  I worked on my workshop slides.  And napped during the heat of the day. Had an “American” breakfast in our hotel. Omellete, half a loaf of french bread, mango jam, honey, butter, yogurt, a big cup of fruit, milk, cereal and a croissant.  And coffee. It’s a meal for at least two. Now I know.
We went to the Avenue of the Baobob trees out from town a ways. The trees are incredible and look so out of place.  People along the dusty road live in mud houses with thatch roofs. People here look healthy, but myett goodness, how to scratch out a living on the arid climate in this part of the country.  The fishermen we are working with don’t have it much better. It’s somewhat surreal to be putting together talks to help them get more money for their fish when it’s pointless if there’s no fish.  Hopefully the fish will show up.

Boabob trees against a blue sky

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.