Ela tsy tahita. Yeah, it’s been a long time since writing. Sorry about that. In any case, here is a brief summary of what I’ve been up to since February.
Well, I’m happy to say I survived two pretty major cyclones. The first to hit, Giovanna, caught me while I was at a regional volunteer meeting. Peace Corps called those of us living on the mid-east coast back to the capital to wait out the storm in the Meva (Peace Corps house). There was a path of destruction leading down Rte. 2 to Tana. On my way home after the storm, I saw trees down, mud slides, fallen power lines, and collapsed houses. Not long after this, we were hit again, somewhat by surprise by Irina. This time I didn’t get warning from Peace Corps until the storm had actually arrived. Luckily, I was able to stay with my good Malagasy friend in his cement house during the storm. It rained hard for three days straight, and I sat inside the whole time eating pizza and watching movies on my laptop with friends. Overall, the storms didn’t do major damage to my region. My house is still standing. My roof is still intact.
With the storms gone, I set to work on getting the well project under way. This went smoothly enough. Originally, we had planned to make pour the concrete rings on site, but after doing more research we found it would be cheaper and easier to simply buy them in Foulpointe. The price of transport was included and the builder promised to fix or replace any ring that was broken during the trip. Within a couple of weeks the rings were finished and ready to go. We had a little trouble finding someone with a truck who was willing to let it be driven to my village (the road is notoriously bad). Luckily, we only got stuck once and there were plenty of people passing by who were willing to help push us out. When the truck arrived, the villagers were surprised and excited. Kids chased the truck down the hill to the school where the rings were offloaded. Everyone gathered around to watch.
Over the course of the next week, work progressed steadily. Our technique was to dig inside the well shaft underneath the ring, allowing it to slowly sink under its own weight. When the top-most ring was level with the surface we added another and “glued” it on with cement. We went through several layers of earth: sand, rocks, clay, loose red sand, and sticky mud. The sticky mud complicated things as it created friction on the outside of the rings. As time went on, they became more and more reluctant to descend. On one occasion, the bottom-most ring dropped suddenly, while the top two remained fixed in place, momentarily. Eventually everything fell evenly, but the seal between the first and second rings had been broken and water was pouring in from the sides. Villagers began digging all around the outside of the shaft in an attempt to lower the water level. This worked and they were able to reseal the rings.
Within a week and a half, the well was finished, a sand and gravel filter was added on bottom, and the well was emptied twice. To our delight, we got clean water. I’ll never forget my first bucket bath with this water. There wasn’t a brown tinge and there wasn’t any plant matter. The water was cool and clear. I actually felt clean afterwards.
Everyone is really pleased with the project. The villagers are going to add a few finishing touches to the well (a fence) and the Prezida of the Fokontany is planning a celebration/ribbon cutting ceremony. During this time, I’m going to distribute bottles of bleach and talk about water sanitation practices with the village health worker. The water may be devoid of dirt, scum, parasites, etc. but there is still the chance of other microbes infecting the well and making people sick.
I’ve noticed a change around the village in how people feel about my presence. Suddenly, people are more motivated to work with me. In an attempt to harness this newfound enthusiasm and to involve as many people as possible, we’ve started a Fikambanana (association) called the Fikamambana Zanak’i Morarano (The Association for the Children of Morarano). Our aim will be primarily to improve rice crop yield, but I hope it can lead to organizing in other areas as well.
Well, I hope I’ve made up for the past few months without updates. Feel free to follow me on twitter @andrewbourret. I’ve started using this more recently because Facebook is starting to drive me crazy.
Mandrapihoana (See you!)