( Summer ’18) Georgia Phillips
Georgia will be working with Code for Humanity (CFH) in Nosy Be, Madagascar through the MISTI-Africa program. CFH is a start-up non-profit working to empower local entrepreneurs in Nosy Be to develop the business and IT skills required to take advantage of their growing tourism industry despite the current dominance of ex-colonial enterprises. Casey and Georgia will design and implement socially conscious and meaningful curriculum to support malagasy entrepreneurs in developing, managing, and promoting their businesses effectively. They hope to use the experience they have gained at MIT to engage in a mutually beneficial collaboration with CFH and to develop skills that will make a lasting impact in the Nosy Be community for years to come, as well as in their own educational journey.
Be sure to check back for updates on Georgia’s Project!
In traveling and in life, I have always been a preparer. In a way, preparation is way to lessen the shock of new information. In the case of traveling to other countries, this means being submerged into an entirely new culture and way of life, hearing new languages, experiencing different customs or norms. As soon as I confirmed I would be working with Code for Humanity, a start-up non-profit seeking to enhance business and technical skills of local entrepreneurs in Nosy Be, Madagascar, I set to work trying to find out exactly what I should expect to be seeing, eating, and doing during my time there. But trying to find travel information for a small island off of mainland Madagascar is not so simple. Travel websites rarely went into the depth of more developed or well-known destinations. Guidebooks are sparse. I discovered this time, diving into the unknown would truly mean unknown.
This is something I was both excited and nervous about, but in the end, I knew I would have to adopt a “go with the flow” attitude. I would have to take the new experiences as they came, whether they be good or bad. And that’s okay, because for the first time in my life I am really absorbing and reflecting on everything, which I think is a side effect of coming in without preexisting expectations. Preparation is definitely necessary to some extent, but I would encourage others to try taking a trip where you don’t know that much already, which kind of forces an open mind in the process.
When writing about a new place, there is always a danger of generalization, of leading the reader to think small snapshots are the whole picture. I want to share the details of my experience but I also want to note that my experiences are limited to the specific communities and people I interact with.
Let’s start with travel day. And when I say travel day, I really mean a full day. It took more than 24 hours to get from Boston to Nosy Be, with connections in Washington DC and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The longest was DC to Ethiopia, a 13-hour flight. I took off wide awake and landed dead on my feet, but dead on your feet is not really a suitable state for the Addis Ababa airport. It was shoulder crowded, loud, and not the most intuitive to navigate. I realized all the food was outside the security checkpoint and tried to ask if it was okay to go out and come back in later, to which a guard told me yes. But there was a misunderstanding because when I came back they said that entry point was for business class only and directed me to another one on the other side of the airport. Nevertheless, I eventually got to our gate (which had no screen so we weren’t sure it was actually correct until right before boarding) and waited a short time before getting on the final 5-hour flight to Nosy Be. I gracefully passed out for the entire ride and barely noticed time has passed when we landed.
At the airport, Casey (a graduate student at MIT studying technology policy) and I were picked up by the two other students working for CFH, Dallon and Thomas (Pomona students, Dallong being a recent graduate and Thomas a rising junior), and their driver, and made our way to HelleVille, where we are living in a hotel this Summer. I quickly learned that the rules of the road are nonexistent and it’s not uncommon to turn a corner to see a car coming straight at you, at which point you swerve to the other side of the road. I was also shocked to see goats and zebu (humped cattle) roaming the streets and small towns.
The tasks of the first night were to get settled into our hotel, get cheap new phones for communicating locally, and eat our first Malagasy dish. To me, my new phone looks straight out of Toys R Us. Its bright blue with a tiny blue screen and small, simple keyboard, but it serves its purpose of basic communication and vaguely reminds me of my first phone back in middle school.
As for the food, this is something I was pretty nervous about at first. I had only vague ideas of what to expect, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to order fruits or vegetables anywhere since they are washed in unfiltered water. As someone who truly loves fruits and veggies, this is and will continue to be one of the hardest adjustments, but it is also something that’s really forcing me out of my comfort zone, getting me to try to things, and take a new perspective on what I eat.
When we were finally back at the hotel for the night, I was so grateful for the bed and the shower, and so tired that I fell asleep immediately (despite the lack of air conditioning). I woke up early the next day feeling rested and excited for a day of exploring and getting acclimated. Everyone met up at 9am to catch a taxi to the area known as the most touristy, with one of the largest and nicest beach on the island. This was my first experience in a local taxi and one that definitely came with a culture shock. The road was completely lined with potholes, which drivers from both directions swerved around constantly, leading to an unpredictable nature of what side of the road cars would be on. Between swerving to avoid potholes and other cars, the whole route was more zig zag than it was straight line. Not only that, but taxis here by no means conform to the “one person per a seat” guideline. Our driver was more than willing to pick up more passengers and tell us to make them fit into the already full car, leading to a packed and slightly claustrophobic situation. These are things that will take some getting used to, but for now I was just thankful that we made it unharmed.
The tourism industry in this specific village is completely controlled by French and European companies buying up and building on the whole area to attract European tourists. This is an important issue on the island since it deprives local entrepreneurs from taking advantage of their own tourism industry, and is central to Code for Humanity’s mission of enhancing the skills and capabilities of these local businesses to profit from tourism. Furthermore, there is an extremely disturbing prevalence of “sex tourism” here. Older European men often come to this area of Nosy Be to engage in buy sex from prostitutes, often as young as 15 or 16 years old. Just walking on the beach and around town, it was not uncommon to see these older men walking around with young girls. It was a very hard thing to watch and to let happen as if it were somehow normal or okay. Unfortunately, embedded issues cannot be resolved all at once and although sex tourism makes me sad and angry and I want to be able to stop it from happening, I know that the work we are focusing on is doing a lot of good to resolve another important issue and am hopeful that it will have rippling effects elsewhere in the local economy, such as this sex tourism industry.
Despite this profoundly disturbing fact, we nevertheless had an amazing first day at the beach. We hiked over rocks around a bend on one side of the stretch of beach to discover a small bay with clear, bright turquoise water and an abandoned factory on the shore. Later, we walked through town and even got ice cream, which was an unexpected treat since many dairy products in Madagascar are unsafe. It was absolutely amazing and I plan on going there may more times. In short, I know exploring the beach and the village on my first day in Nosy Be will be a memory I hold with me for a long time to come. I still have a lot to see and a lot more to get used to, like the constant bombardment of people trying to sell me everything from dresses to keychains to knives and machetes, but so far, I have really enjoyed taking it all in and embracing Nosy Be as a truly brand-new experience. I am also learning the importance of reflecting on my experiences through different lenses and considering different perspectives to really gain the most I possibly can. And after just a couple days, I am certain there is a whole lot to be gained.
Over the past week, the team has met with the office of tourism and other local administrators to collaborate on a curriculum and get classes ready. The office of tourism has been a great resource for helping us make connections to local business, interested students, and work spaces. They have also been contributing meaningful ideas about what they feel would have the most impact in their community. However, Code for Humanity’s vision does not always line up with their goals and we’ve had to a lot of cooperative strategizing as to how classes should be run. For example, one of our primary missions is to help locally owned businesses compete with international companies for benefits from the tourism industry. However, the office of tourism is more concerned with boosting tourism as a whole rather than focus on aiding local businesses as a primary concern. Therefore, we’ve been working on how we can meet their expectations while also staying to true to our own goals, including how we prioritize material and design our work. We are also coordinating on creating an app for the office, an endeavor that requires quite a bit of technical background. Consequently, it is difficult to give them certain assurances about them being capable of maintaining and updating this app after our departure. Nevertheless, the process of working through solutions to some of these conflicts has been immensely valuable and interesting. I am learning how important it is that we remain open to revising our initial ideas and hearing new perspectives to make the best outcome for the local students and agencies.
It was also exciting to make an unexpected connection with a local high school. Whereas before we planned on having a single night class with just three computers and local entrepreneurs, there is now a possibility of teaching high school students with more resources from the school. I am very excited at the prospect of opening up the class to students still in school and the opportunity to peak interest in technological studies early on.
Aside from work with CFH, we’ve also gone on some more amazing excursions. We hiked a couple miles to a secluded waterfall, complete with pond to swim in, babbling stream, and picturesque lighting. This place was so beautiful, I was not surprised to learn it was called “cascade sacré”, or sacred cascade. We spent a long time dipping in the pond and sitting on surrounding rocks, accompanied by a group of little kids from somewhere nearby. This was definitely one of the most unforgettable first experiences, and a place I will remember as epitomizing the natural beauty of the island. Upon the arrival of our new teammate, Danny (a recent graduate from Harvey Mudd), we made another excursion to the large beach in Ambodaloka just in time to watch the sunset. The sunsets have not disappointed and this was definitely the best one yet, made even better by ice cream.
More exciting news is my discovery of a nearby café that exclusively uses bottled/filtered water, meaning I can order items with fresh fruits and vegetables without getting terribly sick (again)! It’s a small thing, but after several days with no fresh veggies, this was the best news ever. I plan on going there at least every day.
In general, I am excited as ever to have more new experiences and dive into working with Code for Humanity. As a team, we’ve discussed a lot of concerns involving tourism to developing countries on the whole and how to approach a whole range of ethical issues that arrive from foreigners invading local areas and affecting local economies. It’s clear that there is a complicated web of benefits, drawbacks, and considerations involving tourism. Although clear solutions are nonexistent, it’s my opinion that major improvements are definitely possible and I remain optimistic that tourism does not have to inevitably put locals at such a devastating disadvantage as it most often does in the developing world. For more information on some these issues, here are the articles we read and discussed as a team:
I would encourage anyone interested to read and think about how their own actions relate to these issues.
HTML, Lemurs, and More
Our first week of class definitely ended in success. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the students for learning html and how much progress they were able to make in just a few short days. By Friday’s session we even had groups of students working on coding their own webpages! However, basic computer skills (saving files to directories, navigating desktop, keyboard shortcuts, etc.) continue to be more of a struggle than we anticipated, so were planning several lessons to backtrack and cover those topics more concretely. It’s also a great feeling to know we have a substantial group of students dedicated to coming consistently and excited to learn this Summer. It’s been fun getting to know their backstories and their goals. Some are working on learning English, so we’ve also been trying to communicate in English every now and then. And as far as communication in French goes, I am finding it to be a welcome and exciting challenge to do presentations, explain difficult concepts, and constantly answer questions in French. On multiple occasions students may have to ask me their questions more than five times before I get what they mean, and I may have to give my answer five different ways before they get what I mean. But I am confident that progress is being made. We’re getting there.
Although all students seem to have a genuine engagement in learning, there has been a challenge accommodating different interests in topics. During the course of the Summer, we plan to go beyond just html and websites to also teach some electricity concepts using thread boards and circuits. Some students are understandably more eager to play with wires and LED’s than they are to practice writing code but our goal is to ensure them that we will work up to other curriculum after covering basic computer and coding skills.
After our class on Friday, the team went out to celebrate a successful and fulfilling first week. We went to a local restaurant/bar, ordered pizzas and fresh juice, and watched the world cup with everyone else there. I had a great time and I’m grateful for how great the CFH team gets along; it’s starting to feel like we’re all a group of friends now.
The true celebration came the next day. On Saturday, we had our first true excursion, an exploration of a wildlife area nearby including canoes, lemurs, snakes, forests, an extravagant lunch, and of course more beaches. Early in the morning Casey, Danny, and I grabbed a taxi and headed to Ambatozavavy, the village were Dallon and Thomas are living with a host mom. There, we met a tour guide that took us is canoes to another beach a little ways away. This required about an hour of constant paddling which was honestly exhausting but I have always loved boats and being out on the water so I didn’t mind. Also, the beautiful view and destination made it completely worth the arm workout.
Upon arrival on a little stretch of beach, we were taken to a shaded area to change into long pants and long sleeve shirts and cover ourselves in as much deet as possible in preparation for our hike through the forest. Then we took off behind our tour guide, with whom I was endlessly impressed for both his knowledge of wildlife and the fact that he completed the whole hike barefoot. He pointed out lizards that camouflaged into tree bark, medicinal uses for plants, and even dug up some cumin. When we came across a boa constrictor (the largest snake I have ever seen in my life), our guide poked it with a stick from just a few feet away so it would slither out to its full length. We saw several snakes, but this one was by far the most memorable because of its sheer size. I never thought I’d see a snake like that in the wild! However, the coolest part of the excursion was the lemurs. Although they could be seen high up in trees quite often, at the end of the hike we were actually able to get a couple of them to come down and eat bananas right out of our hands! Unfortunately, one of the lemur teeth left a small scratch on Casey, which triggered a series of phone calls to doctors and hospitals to ensure she was not in danger of rabies. Even though it ended up being okay, it was a good reminder of just how careful you have to be exploring a new place and how dangerous unfamiliar terrain can be. Nevertheless, being face to face with the lemurs as they reached out and grabbed the food out of my hand was an unforgettable experience and I hope we get to see more this Summer.
When we got back to the beach, we were treated to an unbelievably good lunch (quite possibly the best meal I’ve had so far here), starring avocado and tomato salad, plenty of fresh bread and fruit, and steak and shrimp skewers. After lunch, we were able to lay on the beach for a bit, accompanied by an adorable puppy and her mother. They even came and sat on my beach towel, at which point I had to get up because the mom started rolling around on it like it was the most enjoyable thing she’s ever done and would not get up. We aren’t actually supposed to pet any of the animals we see, but they were fun to have around nevertheless.
In other news, there have been (and will continue to be) many more beach trips to the touristy village of Ambatoloaka just a short taxi ride away. I’ve almost gotten used to the incredibly swervy driving and cramming two people to a seat amongst strangers. We also found a great restaurant right on the beach, where we’ve been able to order drinks and use their lounge chairs, along with a small rope forming a barrier against all of the people selling blankets and bracelets and machetes. I’ve also discovered a place on this beach where you can get a very nice hour-long massage for less than $7, and may end up going there quite often. In terms of adjusting to daily life, it was a nice surprise to find out there is indeed a gym in our town of Helleville, to which I quickly got a 2-month membership. Not a single one of their machines is entirely in working order, and there is a good amount of duct tape and rust involved. The bike only has one functional pedal and the treadmill is stuck on a permanent incline. But after two weeks of attempting to work out on a manure covered field, I am more than thankful to have the gym.
With the second week of classes getting underway, I am excited to continue working on computer literacy and seeing the students’ skills progress even further, as well as working with any new students they may join in. This week already feels more established, and our team is gaining a sense of structure for how the classes should be taught, which I think will lead to more effective communication in the classroom. I also can’t wait to see what the week brings in terms of exploring more of Nosy Be and all the activities we have yet to do!
Progress and Celebration
This week has been a whirlwind of exciting activities, both in and outside the classroom. The island has an especially celebratory (and hectic) atmosphere in light of Madagascar’s National Day, taking place on June 26th. We even decided to give the students this Monday and Tuesday off from class so they could partake in the festivities (and we can too!).
Unfortunately, classes got off to a rough start on Monday with both Casey and Dallon out sick with stomach bugs. However, things quickly picked up throughout the week as we had the students continue to work in groups to develop their websites using HTML/CSS. On Friday, we had all of the groups present their sites to the rest of the class. It was incredible to see the amount of progress they were able to make in just the short time we had given them. The task had been to create a website for some business of their choosing, and they had all done a fantastic job incorporating what we learned as well as their own unique ideas. It was also really cool to see them get so engaged in one another’s work, asking questions about elements of their code and design. It was difficult for us to actually follow the presentations, since they spoke in Malagasy rather than French, but I could still appreciate the thoughtful discussion and genuine interest they had in their projects.
I also want to note that teaching in French has definitely gotten better, but the communication barrier continues to be a limiting factor on both sides. French is not anyone’s first language, so a lot of the details and even some basic computer science concepts (which are often hard to explain even in English) are very difficult to communicate effectively. Thankfully, there are a couple of all-star students that have been able to take the concepts we’ve taught and explain to everyone else in their first language of Malagasy. This has been extremely helpful, but we still have big strides to make and areas for improvement just on pure ability to communicate clearly. That being said, it has been all the more exciting to see what the students have been able to do despite these dilemmas and I was really proud by the end of the week.
Despite all the excitement this week, the highlight was definitely out Saturday excursion to the neighboring island of Nosy Iranja. We took a speed boat for the hour-long trip, bouncing our way across the ocean faster than I’ve ever gone on a boat before. We sped by many incredible islands and beaches, and it was hard not to want to stop and explore every one of them. But none compared to the final destination. If you asked me to describe paradise, this island is pretty much exactly what comes to mind. White sand beaches, sea turtles, a rainbow of different shades of blue and turquoise sparkling in crystal clear waters. The island was marked my two small lush green hills that flattened out into white sand stretches of beach, dotted with a few umbrellas, lounge chairs, and shady huts. During low tide a winding, narrow strip of sand emerged from the water connecting the two small islands of Nosy Iranja into one. We disembarked our boat and were left to our own devices to explore the isolated slice of heaven for the day. I stood on the pathway, no more than ten feet across, with the brilliant blue of the ocean stretched out on both sides, waves lapping at my feet from either side. I jumped into the water and let the beauty of it all swallow me whole. Then, I spent a great deal of time relaxing on the sandy shores, watching the boats bob in the water and making my way through a whole bundle of complimentary bananas.
Then lunch time came around, and it did not disappoint. Piles of avocado and tomato salad, shrimp and steak skewers, coco rice, baguettes, and fresh bananas, oranges, and papayas were placed around the table (almost the exact same meal as our lemur excursion, so I’m guessing this is the go to tourist buffet? I am not complaining). After lunch, we continued to hang around the island until mid-afternoon, when we finally had to get back on our boat and say goodbye to the seemingly magical, isolated island.
That night, the team planned to do more celebrating by taking our first attempt at a night out to Beach Bar, a popular hangout spot on weekend nights in Ambatoloaka. So, after a lengthy nap (we were all exhausted from our day trip), we set out for the bar. We all had some champagne and it ended up being a really fun night and team bonding activity. I should also mention that from midnight onward, it was definitely the most wild/hectic experience I’ve had so far here. The place was packed with tourists and locals alike, cramming together either to get more drinks or to make their way onto the dance floor. There was even a group of people that started jumping (fully clothed), into the decorative pool in the middle of the room! When the power suddenly went out at around 1am, we decided it was time to go back to the hotel, so we got a taxi and took our ride back to Helleville. I had a great time, except towards the end of the night when I desperately wanted ice cream and was disappointed to find that none of the gelato places seemed to stay open that late. But you win some, you lose some.
There are also some other more random experiences from my week worth sharing. First of all, I decided I wanted to get another swimsuit, as we’ve been going to the beach much more often than I anticipated. Walking around to several boutique type stores around town, I quickly realized shopping is a whole different experience here. Every store only had two or three swimsuits out for show. In each store, when I asked to see the whole selection, the woman would walk into some backroom and come back out with an enormous trash bag filled with different swimsuit pieces. She’d ask me my size and then dump them all out and start searching for matching tops and bottoms that would fit. Needless to say, I quickly gave up on getting a new swimsuit (at least in here Hell-Ville).
There was also one day when I wanted to visit the beach, but no one else on the team was available, so I had to make the trip alone for the first time. Being foreign and female, Dallon advised me to take a taxi collectif, which is the less expensive version of a regular taxi where the driver waits until they have enough people to fill the car before they leave. But when I say fill the car, I don’t mean fill the number of seats in the car. I mean fillthe car. Both ways my car had eight people in a car meant to seat five and I was practically sitting on a stanger’s lap. Nevertheless, I made the day into a successful beach day and the roundtrip cost was about a dollar, so I’m not complaining. It was also a unique cultural experience to be stuffed shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of strangers, and although it was uncomfortable, I actually thought it was kind of fun.
I also had my first encounter with the police. It’s common for taxis with foreigners to get pulled over and asked for passports or bribes, but I have somehow avoided that until now. We got pulled to the side of the road and I was thankful I had my copies of my passport in my bag, which is what they asked to see. Unfortunately, I had copied my passport before getting the relevant visa information stamped in it, rendering completely ineffective to the demands of the police. The started explaining why my copies were not good enough and the visa was what they needed to see and I tried to explain my situation, but there was a lot of difficulty with the language barrier. Thankfully, Dallon and Thomas were there to help talk through it and we were able to bribe the officer to let us go (the other option was apparently to be held in prison for several hours while they explain to you your infraction, then let you go when they feel like it). Long story short, I have now made new copies of my passport.
With the next couple of days off from class, the team plans to take some time to come up with solid curriculum for the week. We’re also planning more excursions, hopefully including a tour of the island via moped and a scuba diving trip! It is strange that nearly a whole month has come and gone, but I’m excited to make the most of the time remaining.
Routine and Realizations
This week I had a realization of just how much I’ve become assimilated to life here in Nosy Be. I no longer notice the potholes in the road. The goats and chickens and zebu pass by as part of the backdrop of daily life. I feel I’m finally getting into the rhythm of a day to day routine. Yet, I have had to adjust the most not to being part of daily life here, but rather to being an outsiderto the daily lives of everyone around me. As much as the taxis and the police and the markets and the animals have been elements of culture shock, I’m finding the toughest blow comes from an inability to blend in. I haven’t just gotten used to potholes, I’ve also gotten used to being chased down by taxi drivers and constantly asked if I need a ride because I’m clearly a tourist. I haven’t just gotten used to the hectic nature of markets and stores, but also being a prime target to sell everything to. It’s like I am walking around with a sign saying, “please approach me, I have money I might give to you but only if you ask over and over again and don’t take no for an answer.” This is not a message I want to send, but it is one attached to me everywhere I go. While I understand the nature of why I am targeted as a tourist in a place where tourism provides the primary source of income for many people, it has been by far the hardest adjustment I’ve had to face. Meanwhile, this has made me reflect on just how privileged I have been growing up where I have never had to feel like an outsider. Although it is not the same as being targeted for tourism purposes, I feel more aware now of how so many people in the United States feel automatically stereotyped and labeled based on how they look or where they come from.
In terms of the class, this week has been a total shift in gears. In order to switch up the curriculum and expose students to other exciting possibilities in STEM, we have planned some lessons dealing largely with electronics. They introduce the basics of electricity, current, and circuits using things like breadboards, wires, and LED demonstrations. However, myself and Danny are fairly unfamiliar with this territory in comparison to the rest of the team (Casey did electrical engineering for undergrad and Dallon did physics), so we’ve been starting work with the app development for the office of tourism instead. Aside from that, the past week has been pretty routine- beach and relaxing in the morning, planning and working in the afternoon and evening. It is a routine I have really come to enjoy and I often find myself thinking about how grateful I am to be having this experience.
Perhaps the most exciting out-of-the-ordinary event of the past week was another big excursion, this time to the neighboring island and Nosy Sakatia, a location known for spectacular sea turtles and coral reefs. Unlike Nosy Iranja, Nosy Sakatia was just a short boat ride away. We stopped a little ways offshore and our guide handed out snorkel gear so we could explore. Although the timing wasn’t ideal for sea turtle sightings, we did manage to see one or two, which is the first time I’ve ever seen them in the wild! There were also fantastic coral reefs (including sea urchin!) to see and plenty of smaller fish to swim with. After about an hour or so, everyone hopped back on the boat and we went for another amazing lunch on the beach. Afterward, we took the afternoon to relax on the island before heading back home. Although this beach wasn’t quite as spectacular as Nosy Iranja, the experience was certainly a memorable one.
One day, we all thought it would be a fun idea to try to rent mopeds to explore the island freely. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that most rental places require you know how to drive moped before renting you one, which I do not. Although I was a bit disappointed, I have to admit I was also relieved that I wouldn’t be navigating those pothole-filled, completely unregulated roads on my own. And fortunately, Danny was actually capable of driving a moped, so I got to experience riding one for a little bit via the passenger spot, which was very fun.
With one month gone, time is flying by. Yet, with one month still ahead, I am looking forward to planning as many more adventures as I can! I also am excited to work on the app development project and gain hands on experience working with a client (the office of tourism) to create a product to their specifications, as well as teaching them the basics of app development so they can maintain and update information after we leave.
It is already the middle of July and this month is really flying by. I cannot believe how quickly my time in Madagascar is drawing to a close. It is a bittersweet realization that I’ll be on a plane back to the U.S. in less than two weeks; bitter because I’ve really come to enjoy the culture and routine I have here in Nosy Be and sweet because I am excited to return to comforts of home (just the thought of drinking tap water and speaking English again gets my heart racing).
We’ve finished up building the framework for the app for the office of tourism, and we’re hoping to begin teaching them how to manage it themselves next week. On the one hand, I am excited about the progress we’ve made in building this app to help them publicize their tourism industry, but I am also nervous about their capabilities on using it moving forward. Although the program we used to make the app (AppInventor) is fairly basic, it still requires a certain degree of computer literacy that I am concerned the tourism workers will not be able to fully grasp by the time we leave, making the usefulness of all the work we’ve put in very limited moving forward. That being said, we’ve come up with a step by step guide and plan to walk them through our own work on the app in hopes that they’ll be able to implement updates and changes later on.
In terms of exploration, these past weeks have been pretty laid back. However, there have been some exciting moments. Perhaps one of things Madagascar is best known for is its extremely rich and unique wildlife, one of the most iconic examples being the baobab tree. Although the majority of baobabs are located on the Madagascar mainland, we heard news of a single baobab tree on a neighboring island called Nosy Komba, just a short boat ride away from Nosy Be. Of course, we had to find it. However, the day we ventured to Nosy Komba in search of the infamous baobab is without a doubt the most physically demanding day I’ve had all summer.
It started with a collective boat taxi to Nosy Komba, an “interesting” experience in of itself. We crowded onto a cramped boat with a bunch of locals, loaded with supplies that needed transporting and took off, making stops along the way to drop people and packages off at various shores on the island. When we finally arrived, we had no idea what we were doing or where the baobab was, so we began asking around for somebody willing to be our guide. We knew we needed to be back by 3 p.m., since that is when the boat was coming back to pick us up. When we asked around about the hike, people seemed to think this would be possible, but we’d have to hurry. Although we eventually found someone to take us to the baobab, he barely spoke a word of French, so it was very difficult to communicate with him. There was no way to ask about the intensity of the route, but we all assumed it wouldn’t be too bad. This was not the case. The hike to the baobab ended up being about an hour and a half of straight up trails. The few times the steepness lessened to resemble a flat surface we all sighed with momentary relief before it mercilessly tilted up again. Furthermore, since we had to be back on time, there were no opportunities for breaks, and our guide went fast (and I was endlessly impressed by his lack of shoes on the rocky, rugged terrain). Also keep in mind that the whole time, there was no way to know how much further we still had to go, where we were going, when we would come back. Starting from about one quarter of the way in, pretty much my only thought was “we mustbe almost there.” We also made the mistake of not bringing food, and I have to admit I was ravenous as of about half-way into our hike, which did not make it any easier.
Aside from the unexpected difficulty, the hike itself was wonderful. We saw a whole gang of tortoises, there were breathtaking outlooks, and the experience reminded me of summers back home, hiking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Although at times I seriously started to think the baobab was myth and we’d been tricked into a wild goose chase, we did eventually arrive at the infamous tree. It was pretty cool, although not as huge and spectacular as baobabs you usually see associated with Madagascar. We also only had about five minutes to take our selfies with it before having to turn back around to make it to the boat on time. Fortunately, the trail on the way back was so steep that we were forced to run down it most of the way back, which was exhausting but was also probably the only reason we made it onto our boat on time.
Looking towards CFH classes for the remaining weeks, we are now moving the curriculum back from electronics to website development, so I’ll be taking on more of a role in teaching again. We are beginning WordPress introduction soon and aim to help students become capable of using much of WordPress’s extensive functionality to make business-oriented websites. As next week is the last week of classes, this will lastly be our last main subject and I am hoping creating their own WordPress projects will leave the students will a positive perspective on the possibilities in the world of business and web development. This also means that this upcoming weekend also marks the last weekend in between work weeks, so the team is planning a big excursion to the island of Nosy Tanikely, supposedly the most beautiful and sea-turtle filled place there is. Needless to say, I am very excited to take advantage of everything these final weeks have to offer.