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* an imaginary bush taxi ride down to the river and back

August 8, 2015

It had been a long, hot day. The Malagasy team I was working with and I had been helping the local residents who lived on a long-defunct former French colonist’s tobacco plantation establish some improved gardens for the residents of a large Toby (a special type of Malagasy village I’ll describe in a later post) about 50 km inland from river bathingMorondava, which is on the west coast of Madagascar. It had been a hot and dusty day and we’d been hauling cow dung from a nearby pen for the gardens. Of the things we had to work with (not much), we’d found that using <<sobika>> (straw baskets) worked best for hauling and I’d found putting it on your head to haul it was a lot easier than trying to carry it. On the other hand the dung was dry and dusty and some worked it’s way through the sobika and down over me. Being the only <<fotsy oditra>> (white-skinned) person in the group, who also sweat a great deal, whether I was working or not, by the end of the day I had a second “skin” of what had worked its way through the sobika.

This was a very simple town, with at that time no well (though we were able to help them dig one later), so the nearest water source was the big, shallow, very muddy river that flowed down to the ocean from the highlands that was just a couple hundred meters away from the village. Or a bucket. But this seemed to be a lot bigger job than a bucket. So it was down to the river for me. But it turned out to be a “ride,” not just any walk.

One of the residents of this Toby was a young man with some special needs. Though about my age (mid-20s), he spent much of his days pretending he was driving a bush taxi, steering an imaginary steering wheel, providing the motor sound as he “drove” back and forth through the Toby, inviting us all in for the “ride.” Hearing I was headed to the river, he offered to “drive” me down. So I got “in” his “taxi” and we were off, complete with his shifting of gears as necessary.

Arriving at the river, I immediately had second thoughts about it all. The river was not very deep and very muddy. But looking down at what I was covered with, I decided some mud was better than that, so into the river we went. Walking out a ways, one then just sat down and used the water flowing by to do the washing. And the red mud in the water actually helped clean me off. Other than talking about his “taxi,” my friend didn’t say much, so we didn’t talk, just enjoyed the water, which, though warm, was still cooler than the air. And amazingly, as red as the water was, we came out clean, or at least I was a lot cleaner than I’d been going in.

And then it was time to get back “into” the “taxi” and “ride” back to the village, with a lot of shifting of “gears” (my “driver” told me I was an exceptually heavy load). Arriving back at the village, I used a bit of the bucket of water for some rinsing.

Rejoining those I had been working with that day, all who had stayed much cleaner than me, I realized they were actually very relieved I’d been down to the river!

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