Campfire songs and culinary discoveries

Woke early and walked to Marofatsy’s water source; a longitudinally-cut piece of bamboo used as a half-pipe to create a ‘tap’ from the slow stream running near the village.  I enjoyed the walk to get water as it was a opportunity to take in the beautiful views.  Met an elderly lady washing her clothes there and marvelled at the conversation we were able to have despite speaking very different languages.  Amazing how much you are able to ‘discuss’ with only body language and a handful of Malagasy words.

After chatting about the weather and how slippery the paths were, I climbed the hill back up to our hut.  I hoisted the bucket up above my head and attempted to look as though I carry heavy loads on my head everyday… don’t think I fooled the locals.

We finished analysing the village’s poo samples under the microscope and packed up to leave.  A stunning 3 hour walk along the Nosivolo River took us to Vohidamba; the next village in our adventure.   We crossed the large river on a pirogue and were swarmed by children cheering ‘MadEx, MadEx’.  It was quite an overwhelming welcome to the village.

After making our introductions to the chiefs and headteacher etc, half the team began the education programme whilst the others set up camp in one of the small classrooms.

As it turned dark, we wandered over to the open fire a few metres away from our hut.  Four lovely ladies were cooking for us whilst having a good giggle and what sounded like a bit of a gossip.  We joined them and exchanged English campfire songs for Malagasy ones.  The stars were unbelievable and it was a really special night.

That evening, we learnt how these villages made the sauce for the chicken we were served; the chicken’s blood, feet and head were added to the rest of the meat for extra flavour towards the end.  Absolutely nothing was wasted.  Huge contrast to life in the UK.

The next morning was the day that Steph and I were due to leave the expedition.  I needed to transform into bridesmaid in a couple of days for my cousin’s wedding and Steph had to get back for work.  We reluctantly said goodbye to the team and the village and began the long walk back to Marolambo.  I had the SD cards taped to the inside of my passport.  They contained all the photos and videos from the trip up to now and so were by far the most valuable things in my possession!  The 7 hour walk was a good opportunity to think about all that the team had achieved.

Firstly, what an achievement Steve.  For those of you who don’t know; Steve came up with the idea for this expedition and has since been relentlessly driven and ambitious with the project.  He deserves all the praise he gets for this work and more.  I’ve certainly learnt an awful lot from him and feel very lucky to have met him a few years ago.

James and Corty have been impressively balancing fourth year medical school and organising the entire project with Steve and they’ve done an amazing job.  I was particularly impressed with the news that they were granted ethical approval from a Malagasy panel in the University of Antananarivo after some intense questioning… all in French!

Steph joined the project as a research assistant and was incredible with all of the children there, such an asset to the team and slotted in perfectly.  Within seconds of arriving in a new village, she had all of the children giggling, singing, dancing… even as she pricked their fingers to take blood samples for the research.

I joined this year’s expedition with a month to go and brought the ultrasound element to the project after an inspiring introduction to ultrasonography on my medical elective.  We were fortunate to have support from SonoSite in the form of a fantastic portable scanner (i-Viz).  Extremely pleased to have decided to return again this year.

Finally, words can’t describe how crucial the Malagasy team members were.  Couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with.

It has been really special seeing familiar faces from last year and to have people recognise you and thank you for the work the team did last year.  Walking back through each village and seeing the children that have been treated for schistosomiasis as a direct results of the team’s work was a proud moment.

The project so far has been a resounding success.  Steve, James and Corty are due to return at the end of June.  They are all well and are working hard to perform all the research on time.

The project couldn’t have happened without a lot of help and support from many people.  It is difficult to name all here, but to all of you; thank you so much.

Hannah

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