Posted on 09 February 2010
In Maromena there is a very special malagasy girl. She’s a vezo just like her neighbours, and she’s only as beautiful as all the others, but nevertheless she’s the one who has caught my attention. Her name is Fina, a slender, smart-eyed girl of about 12 years old (here they are never accurate about their own age). Fina is an incredible kilalaky dancer, and her body seems to become invertebrate once the music is on. She always asked me for a “cadêaux”, seeking a pen, to be precise. And after some days I did give one to her, but jokingly I said I was trading it for some bokoboko (a friendship dough which later became my favorite malagasy delicacy). As she said she didn’t know how to make it, I decided to give in. I handed the pen to her and watched her skipping through the beach.

Throughout the WWF volunteer program, we introduced a concept of “Journée Plage Propre”, when once a week we gathered students from the local school and go to the beach to collect plastic, metal and rubber wastes that has been dumped on the shore. Fina has earned my trust, so she carries the garbage bag and translates whatever I say to her mates. And though I have the growing feeling that she does not understand all the words, she knows exactly what I mean. She’s a natural leader, and everybody follows her - including me - and somehow the ‘Plage Propre’ activity is always well accomplished.

Since then, she has become my assistant for “student’s activities”, as she performs the tasks magnificently. Fina lives in a little hut with her family. And they each have the same eloquent eyes as she. She’s extremely intelligent, and despite her newly acquired broken french and my lousy malagasy, we manage to communicate somehow. I was captivated by her ability to create a link (consciously or unconsciously) with me and draw attention to herself. Weeks went by and then one hot afternoon, when lethargy was consuming my being, Fina appeared at the verandah of the house where I was staying--and in her hand, she had an enamel mug filled with two bokobokos! I was surprised at the random visit, but especially because of the souvenir that she brought. She did not forget our trade after all. Her gift probably cost 200 ariaries. I ate it while she stared at me with those smart eyes and that gorgeously ingenuous smile. I reflected on how pure this gesture was. She had nothing, yet she gave me all that she had. One might argue that it was only two bokobokos, but is the principle conveyed by this act of kindness that was so priceless. That’s what made me weep. That bokoboko had a better, more distinct flavour from any other that I have or will ever taste in my life.

It made me wonder about the hours spent at the University’s classroom, trying to discuss strategies for diplomatic relations, when it is only here that all starts to become justifiable. That’s the interaction with the community which I appreciate in my volunteer work. The opportunity to make sense of their values, introduce mine to them and be thankful with all that we have in common. These are the foundations which friendships are developed and success attained. Moreover, people would be surprised to know how much we do have in common, as the inhabitant of our chest pulses for the same reasons, no matter where we go. Obviously there were many other special encounters with unexpected endings. But it is to Fina that I dedicate this article.

Ramon Moraes Sales Moura