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Welcome to Besambay

Besambay is the village that we will be calling home for the next 5 months.

It is located in the South West of Madagascar, South from Toliara. We arrived there by night, but we still had a small welcome committee, a few women, children and a man, to greet us and give us the key of our little house. It was warming to see that so many of them awaited us.

We really discovered Besambay in the morning light. It's a small village in the Mahafaly plateau, located just by the sea, with around 400 inhabitants. The area is very arid, but surrounded by a spiny forest, a very unique ecosystem special to this place. There are a few trees and bushes in the village, but most of them were cut off to make space and build houses. We live in a house made of stones but most of the houses in the village are built with wood or sheet metal.

The sea is crystal clear, with a house reef next to the beach, and a bigger reef further, where the waves break. That allows the inner sea to be always very quiet. Although it can host some strong current, you won't have really big waves.

Besambay is a beautiful place. Everyone in the village welcomed us very warmly. The morning following our arrival, our neighbours offered us some cooked fish to eat for breakfast and in the following days we received more fish, octopus and squid as welcome gifts.

Besambay is a Vezo village, which means that almost everyone is a fisherman. They live by and from the sea and their whole life depends on the sea. When it's too rough or there's too much wind, they can't go at sea. Sometimes some of them still go for it despite of the danger. The fish that is most seen in the village is the varilava, a tiny fish. When you wander in Besambay, you'll often see the sand near the beach covered by varilava. They put them on the sand to let them dry, before they ship it to Toliara to sell them. I have the feeling that the varilava is the first source of income in Besambay.

Besambay, as I said, is a small village in the middle of nowhere. We're in the bush, so there's no electricity or running water. It's not too difficult to live without electricity, we have a power generator anyway. Some people in the village have small solar panels to charge their phones or put a light on. It's the same for running water. We are lucky enough to have a small desalination plant in the village, so we have fresh water to drink, shower, cook and do everything else with. To shower we have a small cabin with no roof next to our house, and we just shower from a bucket of water, which is very easy to get used to!

Part of our job here is to raise awareness on the use of fresh water from the station instead of the brackish water from the well. The station was built at the end of the year 2013, so they're still in the process of getting used to it, although there has been quite an improvement since the beginning. Our job is to work on the WASH principle: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. We have to encourage people to use the bathrooms, which are, even if it sounds a bit odd, quite new here. I have the feeling that people are really willing to improve, but sometimes it's not that simple to change habits.

Here in Besambay, people love music. There's almost no time when there's no music. There's no electricity but plenty of music! People have this small kind of radio they call "radio-carte", where you can listen to radio or put a SD card inside to listen to your own music. They function on small batteries, which unfortunately leads to plenty of batteries scattered on the sand everywhere in the village. Since our first day here, we have been collecting the batteries we saw when we were going for a walk (tsanga tsanga in Vezo, you hear this word quite a lot!). We already have quite a lot of them and now children have started to collect them too and bring them to us! It's very encouraging to see that they are already supporting our work here and it motivates us even more!
Everyone has been incredibly kind and they did everything to make us feel like home. And after a week in Besambay, it already does feel like home. 
© Karin Moehler