A Malagasy fishermans take on technology

Lucy Campbell Two week training camp in Madagascar
Lucy Campbell Two week training camp in Madagascar

22 August 2016

 

Sitting here looking out over the Indian Ocean from a beach side bungalow two hour boat ride from the nearest town, two days of airport, transfers and airplane travel from Europe I think technology and how we use it.

 

I have a three businesses that would not be possible with out technology and the openess of the internet allowing me to access anybody in the world with a smart phone or access to a connected computer.

 

Befasy surf camp is built along eco lines, electricity from solar, constructed from local materials, each coral brick hand chipped from larger lumps. Fresh water is not wasted as the South West Mahafaly region is the driest part of Madagascar receiving only 5cm of rain fall per year.

 

The first time I visited here I saw a puzzled expression turn to realisation on three English kids faces who travelled with us after they used up most of the freshwater in a day and saw four local girls of similar age carry 50 gallon barrels balanced on their heads to refill our freshwater tank. You flush the toilet with a bucket of sea water. All our food is freshly caught from the ocean or grown in the fields and supplied by our neighbouring village that is alive with song, laughter and dance.

 

This far south and so far from civilisation we don't seem to suffer the plastic bottle problem. The swells and currents coming from Antarctica means we have escaped the Indian Ocean plastic sea bloom. The locals who earn under 1€ per year see little point in buying a bottle of Evian. What financial impact we have on the village enables them to buy sacks of rice. The only plastic waste items are quickly recycled, like the rice bags the fishermen stitch together and make into sails.  The kids make miniature replica “pirogues” outrigger fishing canoes with a sail.

 

The nearest town with tourists is about one hour boat ride, depending on the boat, tide and conditions.  Madagascar Surf resorts´ skipper Johnny with considerable skill navigates the surf resorts trusty pirogue through the reef passes. Johnny is also a competent guide to the numerous surf spots surrounding the outer reefs suceptible to the winds and large southern tides. Johnny having the only mobile phone is also the central hub for all things weather related. A vital source of information when your entire community relies on the ocean fish and the wind to feed itself. 

 

Before Johnny had his mobile and 3G connection this far South West it was not uncommon for fisherman to go out on the morning offshores and never return. Occasionally the winds can blow strong offshore for 48 hours. With the population of the island growing and the coastal villages seeming the most wealthy, Malagasy fisherman have to sail further offshore to find fish making it just possible to return by sail with the aftenoon onshores. A simple single internet connection with a weather report saves lives.

9th July 2019 

 

Above is a blog I started writing three years ago on my first visit to Befasy village, since then the camp has been renamed to Madagascar Surf Resort, buckets have turned into running showers and a steady flow of surfers seeking one of the few remaining destinations on earth to surf with just your friends.

 

Just this morning I was reminded how magical surfing can be. I would say I am not the most enthusiastic surfer, not completely jaded but I am easily annoyed by crowds and average surf. I prefer to surf coach and see others enjoy and improve than surf myself. It was not always like this and in my twenties I would of given anything to live on the beach and surf perfect, uncrowded warm water reef waves. 

 

Occasionally, like this morning I experience how spellbinding surfing can be. It does not happen often and now I understand that this is the very reason why I appreciate its momentary perfection all the more. There was literally not a breath of wind, the colour of the ocean more blue with many more blues than I have seen before. I do not understand what made those blues. Everything had been pieced together and today it fit together effortlessly. The swell had just enough size, period and direction to hug, wrap and sometimes warp around the reef. There was nobody else surfing, only me and Mammakele the boat hand. Mammakele and I communicate in whoops and laughter, neither of us speaking a verbal language but communicating and understanding without the need for words. Noises, intonations and laughter were all that we needed. Everytime I would pull off a wave Mammakele would stand, shout and wave both arms in the air and although he does not surf I know that he understands surfing better than most of the “living the dream” surfers that own a surfboard a tee shirt and ride a wave but dont really comprehend it.

 

In three years nearly all the villagers now own a smartphone and its amusing to see the same heads down texting seen globally. Luckily its still common to see the the guys gaze for hours at the horizon looking and seeing things that it would take me a life time to understand.

 

Technology has always a good and bad side. I wrote a previous blog on the village school about how a simple connection and a couple of computers could give children even in the remotest village access to an education. It is a real opportunity to bring equality to human kind. 

 

More recently I have also seen a change in the toys the children make, mini pirogues have been replaced by cars cut from plastic bottles with wheels made from coloured screw caps or mini surfboards carved from wood with pieces of bleached plastic cut for fins.

 

To earn money for the village a local “fishing middleman” comes to buy up the catch. This earns the villages cash in their pocket to buy phone credit, rum, fishing nets, solar panels and slightly ironically cans of tuna. Change is slow here, there is still no outboard engines motoring the pirogues ensuring the fishermans physiques demonstrate a good natural balance between calories consumed and calories burned.

 

The people seem quite happy, always laughing. There is an egalitarian quality to their lives, culturally they seem strong and independent, almost looking at us with amusement starting a generator to make a banana smoothie.


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