The biggest advantage of being a leaper in Madagascar is the scope of opportunity available to you. After 8 weeks here, I’m still trying new things and still furthering the adventure each day at a time.
At this point the only leapers that are left are the “10 weekers”. Everyone else has gone home and are currently sending us pictures of their full English breakfasts and ice cream. It’s not appreciated. Anyway, most of us that are left are having to migrate to the other factions on camp as our time on Marine is over. We now have the choice of teaching, construction or forestry.
Now if you have been an avid reader of my blogs (and why wouldn’t you be ? They’re amazing) you will know that I haven’t been the most positive supporter of forestry. I therefore hope you will be impressed when I say that forestry was my first choice after I left marine. My first few days on forest were occupied with surveys and spotting everything from frogs to lemurs.
We woke up early, kitted up in boots and wore more bug spray than clothes and set off into the forest. The forest itself is so varied in plants, trees and wildlife than it is an entirely new atmosphere every hundred feet. Perhaps the one constant throughout is the endless emerald density of the forest. It was in fact so compact with so much green, I asked the difference between forest and jungle. The ensuing argument lasted almost 3 hours.
If I’m being perfectly candid, I’m not able to tell you any more as I only did forestry for two days. Yes, you can stop being impressed with me. In my defence I have three very good reasons why I left. Firstly, forest was over crowded while projects like construction were severely undermanned and were in desperate need of more help. Second, I didn’t have enough bug spray and I defy anyone who thinks that can go into a forest in Africa without bug spray and survive. Thirdly, the hikes are like 4 hours and that’s not for me. Don’t get me wrong. Loads of people love forest. If anything there are too many people on forest cuz they love it so much. But I live in the Cotswolds and I’m done with walking.
So I then moved to construction as they were in desperate need of more hands. Construction is an impressive project, which contributes to the local community without disrupting the economy. They don’t, for example, build houses for free but rather build bridges to make it easier to travel and water sources. The current project they are working on, is putting in the floor for a school in Ampeng. The school is run by, as far as I can tell, 3 nuns who sure as hell know how to control a class of 50. They redefine the term “authoritarian matriarch”. They remind me of Margret Thatcher without the debatable policies… and if she was African.
Construction is so much fun. Chiefly because none of us know what we’re doing. That’s not to say we aren’t doing a good job, we’re just improvising. Like primal man first discovering fire through sticks, we too discover how to build by bashing stuff together until it works. My first day they gave me a crow bar and the mission of tearing up the old floors. I enjoyed my job so much I’ve absolutely done more damage to the school than repair.
Despite my spree of destruction, we’ve finished two classrooms since I’ve joined and are soon to move onto the third and final one. I have to say that community projects such as teaching and construction have an element of contribution that forest and marine don’t have. That is not to say that forest and marine don’t do anything, but rather that the contribution they do is through surveys and scientific research to help conserve the environment. In building a school and teaching children here you can actually see the appreciation they have. The children come up and speak English to you as you pass by and the adults are always in the mood for a handshake.
I am reminded of my GCSE philosophy class where we learnt about Epicurus and his 3 laws of happiness. I won’t bore you with the first two (although I encourage you to research them for your own benefit) it is the 3rd one that I find most palpable in community. Epicurus maintains that our search for material wealth stems from a need for gratification and that, in order to be truly happy, contributions to a small community where our work can be appreciated and the effects of our efforts can be witnessed, is a greater source of satisfaction.
I’m not going to say “now I am finally happy”. I don’t bring this point up for my sake. But I do now understand how every one here, in this tiny village, in one of the poorest places in the world, can always find a reason to smile. The world they live in might be a small one, but that is all the more reason for them to make the most of it. And I cannot help but smile myself as I help contribute to it.