50 shades of stool

50 shades of stool

We are starting to get into the swing of Malagasy village life.

We said goodbye to what felt like every person in Ambohitelo, and after gaining permission to leave from the traditional head of the village, began our walk to our next destination; Marofatsy.  The weather was perfect and the Nosivolo River was just stunning.

After introductions in Marofatsy, we were shown to the school.  The schools are made up of a set of wooden long houses and we were given the use of one for our research work and sleeping – we made sure that these two activities happened at opposite ends of the room!

The next day, we were woken early to the sound of children brandishing their poo samples – wonderful!  We collected the samples before heading to breakfast prepared by the head teacher’s wife… rice of course.  We were fortunately armed with our own condensed milk to make the soggy, wet breakfast rice just about palatable.

Then it was on with our day of poo smearing! I just love these days that come around every 1 in 3 days.  We have experienced such a vast variety of poo.  Feeling qualified to offer an improved version of the Bristol Stool Chart, we found ourselves wondering if the ‘MadEx 50 shades of stool’ chart would ever take off.

Apologies in advance for those not wanting to discover more, but to describe the basics of Kato-Katz smearing for those interested…

  1. Shut the windows to stop hundreds of children watching the strange activities of the vasa (directly translates to ‘white people’)
  2. Light incense sticks and apply Tiger Balm beneath nose
  3. Don protective lab coats and rubber gloves
  4. Set up some music to work by
  5. Take poo from pot with wooden stick, place on piece of paper, force a mesh on top and scrape away sample of filtered poo, place on slide within circular shaped template, lay cellophane (pre-soaked in dye) over slide and smear out the sample with Anthony’s old library card

It is such a glamorous a experience, one that I will be forever reminded of when I hear ABBA – this made up the majority of our background music (due to our Malagasy team members’ love of the group).

One of the best memories from Marofatsy must have been finding a couple of hours one afternoon to walk to a nearby waterfall with the leaders of the village. It had been a good few days since we last showered and so we jumped on the opportunity to swim in one of the pools there.  It felt like nature’s answer to an infinity pool with a 70m drop over the edge and a stunning view out over the lush hills.

The view over the waterfall's edge
The view over the waterfall’s edge
Swimming in the waterfall
Swimming in the waterfall


We have been looked after so well by the headmaster and his wife here, such a kind and welcoming family.

We completed the sampling and microscopy within our three days there and woke the next morning to fuel up on rice and deep-fried bananas before our walk to the next village – Vohidamba.


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