As I sit on the porch writing this, the almost full moon casts it light on the waves crashing gently on the shore in front of the hut. In the background I can hear the vibrant Malgasy music playing at the epibar1 as I search for the words to describe my experience in Andavadoaka.
Many people have spoken about a typical day here which involves waking up to a sea so blue that you think your imagination must be playing tricks on you. Typically after a breakfast of coffee and sometimes not-so-stale bread it’s off to dive the reefs and practice the skills we have been learning which involve benthic PITs2 and fish belts. Absolutely starving we rush off to lunch and to well-deserved hammock time, followed by introductory lectures to science, the reefs, ecology and Vezo culture. The day ends with the hot sun meeting the sea in yet another legendary Madagascan sunset and a fresh fish grill.
This typical day in the life of a BV volunteer however does not nearly convey the experience of being here. The feelings, the meanings, the taste, the smell is lost in the description of a schedule. What is Andavadoaka about? Andavadoaka is the sea and the sun. A warm, perfect sea of blue that no camera seems able to capture. A sea that leaves a salty algae taste on your lips, and a brush of sand on your hips. And a sun so hot you feel like you are melting away at times.
Andavadoaka is its people, the Vezo. A people connected to the sea like a tree to its roots. The Vezo are sculpted by the sea and the sand. They are the fish that dance, the fish who hunt, the fish who survive. They are filled with colour and pride like the butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and wrasse. The Vezo are the laughter of a wave breaking on the shore, living for the moment without worry of the next.
Andavadoaka is its wind that blows relief to hot skin, and carries the salty smells of baking sand and braziers of frying fish, sakay samosas and bok bok. A wind that kisses a perfect sky and clears away the promise of clouds to reveal the breathtaking milkyway which floods the sky each night.
Andavadoaka is its hope, for a people so poor who battle to survive off a sea no longer able to provide what it once gave. A place that would not be without its people and a people which would not be without their place. My heart cries to see their hold on their land slipping as rich French and Italian foreigners buy up all the beautiful beaches and islands slowly pulling out the roots of the Vezo and pushing them into the spiny forests to flap aimlessly like fish out of water.
1 The local Epiciery or grocery store that is also a bar.
2 Point Intercept Transect, a method used to estimate benthic species cover on a coral reef.