My arrival in Nosy Be

'No thank you, I can take my own bags!' and 'no thanks I already have a taxi' were the first french words I found myself using on arrival in the very overwhelming Antananarivo Airport. After wrestling to get my bags back from several very keen, but unwanted porters, I got into a friendly Malagasy man's taxi. Over the next three hours, whilst stuck in the infamous Tana traffic, Eric the driver taught me some Malagasy, and gave me some useful tips about how to survive Madagascar. His number one tip was: never trust Air Madagascar. I soon realised why this was so high on his list, when on arriving back at Tana airport, I was told that my connection to Nosy Be had infact been cancelled for several days. Another night in Tana thus followed, and more three hour journeys with my new friend and trusted driver Eric.

It was a great relief to finally arrive in the beautiful Nosy Be, and an even greater relief to find Air Madagascar hadn't lost my luggage. I was greeted by the awesome community staff member Helena, and immediately felt at home. Being the only volunteer at the house currently, I was able to take the large double bed – a luxury I didn't expect. I also didn't expect to find a half full pot of Vegemite in the fridge, which I of course, being Australian, finished very quickly.

After observing Helena teach for the first week, I am now teaching alone in my second week. It seemed scary at first, but I have come to realise that the kids love and enjoy pretty much whatever you teach them. They love you even more if you give them high fives. It's so rewarding when they are able to understand and use something you've taught them.

They're always so excited to talk to me and Helena, both in school and in town, always sazing 'ello' as they pass by. One boy even insisted on walking me all the way home from school yesterday.

Aside from the inevitable first week stomach bug, and having 'If you're happy and you know it' constantly stuck in my head, Nosy Be is proving to be so much more than I ever imagined. Bring on the next six weeks!

By Hannah Steel, Teaching Volunteer

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A fair dinkum Aussie!

It all started with Vegimite. We had (and still have) a fair share of Australians on different projects here in Madagascar. Nobody likes generalizations and we all try to escape that labelling that might lead to stereotyping and prejudice about other people/cultures/countries/regions. However, there is one thing that stays true for every single Australian I met on Frontier´s projects in Madagascar. They are all crazy about this vegetable spread called Vegimite! They bring it with them all the way from Oz or have their families ship it over! They generously share it amongst each other (and with other people of course). If there is an Australian in our Volunteer House breakfast just doesn´t feel right without Vegimat on the table! I see their cheeks blushing, mouth drooling, hearts beating fast, eyes sparkling and faces smiling. Like children getting the hold of a candy bar! Keep in mind that it is nevertheless a scarce resource over here, so please, if you are from Australia and coming to one of our projects in Madagascar (especially community projects), for the love of God, do not forget to pack enough Vegimite!

Aparently you can get Vegimite spread only in Australia or in specialized Australian shops abroad. Be aware there are no specialized Australian shops in Nosy Be. So, bring a fair stock of it with you here to survive and make friends! Australia and Australians keep fascinating me on a daily basis. This is my way to pay a tribute to their presence here. So I will finish with typical Aussie slang words and the appropriate meaning attached to them! Have fun reading them!

1. Footy: Australian Rules Football
2. A barbie: Barbecue
3. Fair dinkum: true/genuine
4. An earbashing: a sustained period of nagging
5. Aussie: Australian
6. A cobber: a friend
7. Heaps: a lot
8. Moolah: money
9. A dipstick: an idiot
10. A dunny: an outside toilet
11. The Outback: the interior of the continent of Australia
12. A Pom: an English person
13. A mongrel: a horrible person
14. To veg out: to rest and relax, especially watching TV
15. Down Under: Australia and New Zealand
16. A chook: a chicken
17. A rellie: a member of your family
18. “G’day”: an informal greeting
19. Grog: beer or alcoholic drink
20. A roo: a kangaroo
21. A joey: the name for a baby kangaroo
22. A blue: a fight
23. “No worries”: a friendly term meaning “No problem”
24. Oz: Australia
25. A boozer: a pub
26. To spit the dummy: to become angry
27. A yobbo: a person with bad manners
28. A postie: a postman
29. “Too right!”: a strong term of agreement
30. A uni: a university
31. Arvo: afternoom

By Helena, Madagascar Teaching and Community Projects Coordinator

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Under the knife in Africa 

There are so many little anecdotes that I could tell you about my time in Madagascar, but the experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life (and possibly haunt me) is witnessing surgery at L’Hôpital Generale on the island of Nosy Be.

At first I was shocked by the professionalism of the scene- I was expecting a butchers shop. However, we changed our shoes, ‘scrubbed-up’ before entering and all swabs and wires were removed from brand-new, sealed bags.

The sound of ripping flesh is one you never forget or recover from. I couldn’t avert my gaze from the small intestines splayed out on the already blood stained surgical cloth. I was amazed at the resilience of the human body and felt privileged to observe such an intimate and surreal display.

About halfway through the procedure I realised what had been troubling me. There was no ‘beep-beep’ sound iconic with the theatre scenes I’d watch on TV. It turns out Madagascans don’t bother with heart monitors. They did have a stethoscope though. AND they took the ladies blood pressure when she was appearing rather still.

Next came the star of the show, the biggest cyst I have ever seen- and I’ve seen a lot; the patients keep them in cardboard boxes under their beds and have no reservations in showing them to you. The 5kg mass of human tissue was then left at the patient’s feet for the remainder of the operation. At this point in a normal surgical procedure I would have been mildly horrified but I’d already started to accept the ridiculous- Africa tends to do that to you.

Please don’t read my words as criticism.  What these doctors do with the limited resources they have is amazing and this has been a running theme throughout my experience as a healthcare volunteer. 

By Gabriella Beer, Healthcare Volunteer

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Vitamin D – Let´s go out!

Vitamin D is different from other essential vitamins because our own bodies can manufacture it with sunlight exposure. This is why this vitamin is also known as the sunshine vitamin. The most important function of vitamin D is to regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bones, by helping intercellular communication throughout the body. Vitamin D enables normal bone mineralization and bone growth, assisting development, growth and maintenance of our skeletal system throughout our lives.  Its defficiency can cause bones to become thin, fragile and deformed. Besides its skeletal effects, vitamin D also exhibits effects in our immune, endocrine and cardiovascular system, because with its assistance calcium can fulfill its function in helping blood clot and ensure muscles, nerves and brain cells function properly.

Basically, we can get vitamin D in three ways. Through sun exposure, taking supplements and with our diet. As vitamin D is present in only very few foods, the easiest and quickest way to obtain is it through exposure of the skin to sunlight which enables enough vitamin D to be synthesized without the need for supplements. Exposure to sun for only 10-15 minutes a few times a week can already be enough for most people to manufacture and store all of the vitamin D our body requires. It is interesting to say that adults who have darker skin pigmentation tend to often be vitamin D deficient.

Practicing physical exercise and sports with children and youth Frontier Madagascar Community volunteers engaged on different programs promote and facilitate physical fitness and overall health benefits with youth and children from early age on. In one of the local schools during the week they regularly provide oudoors sports lessons early in the morning and at the nearby orphanage for children with physical disabilities they do outdoors recreational and sports activities on the beach. This is beneficial not only for children´s physical but also for their mental health and social intelligence, because it provides them with the necessary stimulus and needed interaction.

Although outdoors is fun and good for us in so many ways, we still need to take into account that our precious time under the sun should be spent in a smart and responsible manner with the necessary safety and precaution measures taken before, during and after the exposure. Let us not be afraid of the sun, but rather treat it with respect and spend our time under it enjoyably.

By Helena, Teaching and Community Project Coordinator

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This is what we get up to in our classes

Hi, my name is Ines, I started volunteering for the community/teaching program about a week ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the motivation of all the students (both adults and children). Nurturing mums, school children, young adults and even the president of the villages around camp! Some even come to classes just to be exposed to the language even though they are clearly too good. For me personally, the adult classes are the best. We can interact, play games and they ask a lot of really good questions that challenge both of us. I have had questions like “Are you married?” “Do you have brothers and sisters?” “What’s your favourite food?” The children’s classes we teach are at schools in Hellville and a small village called Atafondro, which are also great fun. We teach English and Sport in the school in Hellville which is run by nuns who are very strict, the classes are only half an hour which means the days are always busy and packed with lots of smiling faces, “Hello’s” and high fives!

The other school is a lot smaller and classes here are run entirely by frontier volunteers and staff. This means we can interact more with individual children who are incredibly cute. We are currently teaching them about the human body and body parts. Teaching them the words like “buttocks” and “armpit” makes them laugh very loudly. We’ve also taught them the song; “head, shoulders, knees and toes”. They love singing the head, shoulders knees and toes bit, but are very quiet during the and eyes and ears etc. part. We’ll have to work on that some more.

Due to the upcoming holidays I’m currently dividing my time between Hellville and Atafondro. Monday and Tuesday I’m teaching at the elementary school and youth club in Hellville. On Wednesday I’ll take the boat back to camp and in the surrounding villages for three days. I spend my mornings in Atafondru (after a beautiful walk through the jungle to get there) with the kids and at night I teach beginners and advanced classes in the church in Ambalahonko. I’ll return to Hellville on Saturday morning in order to attend the youth club. Every week is different and adjusting to the Malagasy lifestyle requires a lot of flexibility, but the friendly people and beautiful country make it more than worth it. Ill be staying here for 6 weeks and I’m looking forward to spend some more time with my students. I’m especially looking forward to learning from the students’ copious motivation.

By Ines, Teaching Volunteer

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