Shana McRae

Reflections of Tsilamaha

Hello, my name is Shana McRae and I participated in the 2008 WWF Explore Programme in Madagascar. As a Canadian Citizen, I feel as though it is important to give back to the environment and to volunteer my abilities to those in need. Integrating into a small Malagasy village allowed me to put my journalistic and communication skills to use. It also broadened my knowledge of the world around me and put my life in Canada into perspective. I am very grateful to have been a part of this learning experience. Although brief, the Malagasy people have made a great impact on my life and I can only hope that I have done the same for them.

A day in the life of Tsilamaha - a remote village in the south of Madagascar
It's 6am and as the sun breaks through the cracks in our wooden hut a rooster croaks to welcome the day.  With spears in hand I watch the men from our village lead their herds of zebu to pasture. They leave behind the women who are now making their way back from the river with full buckets of water on their heads and a baby strapped to their back. They will be preparing rice and corn for the older children before they head off to school.

The sun has barely risen and the village is alive with activity; another day has begun.

The warm sun hits my face as I emerge from the hut. I know already that it is going to be another sweltering day in the desert. Through squinted eyes I peer around to see the small faces of children staring at me. They watch me as I brush my teeth, prepare my breakfast and eat silently under a shady tree. The villagers curiously observe every move that I make. This is their first real opportunity to live amongst a ‘Vasa’ their term for foreigner.

I know that culturally we are worlds apart and integration is made even more difficult by the fact that I don’t speak Atandroy and they don’t speak French or English.

However, I discover that a lot can be said with a smile.

Soon the village chief, Mahata takes me under his wing and as a friendly gesture offers me some fresh corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and apples. The food is locally grown and it is a delicious treat compared to the many plain meals of rice that I have become accustomed to. As I munch on a cob of corn I watch as the chief’s daughter Fete peels some cactus fruit for her and her mother. Afterwards she approaches me and begins to extend her arm in a Frisbee throwing motion. She is gesturing for me to play with her.

I head to the schoolyard with the Frisbee that I brought from Canada as a flurry of excited children form a giant circle. Fete takes her place beside me and the children scream and giggle as the Frisbee is launched into the air.  The adults gather and sit on straw mats by their huts to watch the spectacle unfold. When the Frisbee strays from the circle they jump to their feet and throw it back in, laughing and badgering one another.

As the burning red sun begins to set; the ‘Zebu Warriors’ return home, worn and exhausted from their desert trek. The women tend to crackling fires as they cook rice and vegetables for their family. With the last bit of light remaining I return to my hut and find my way into bed. As I close my eyes I can hear the voices of children singing by the majestic schoolyard tree. The stars and constellations twinkle brightly in the sky as life below the equator prepares for another day.

© WWF / Shana McRae
Me with village children and a local woman caring for them while their parents work
© WWF / Shana McRae
© WWF / Shana McRae
The village of Tsilamaha in southern Madagascar
© WWF / Shana McRae

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