The teacher, the porter and the translator
Moramanga, 21 August 2014
He kept repeating the word mahafinaritra (pronounced maaf-na-tra — meaning ‘be pleased’ but could mean ‘fine’, ‘beautiful’ as well) every few steps, every few sentences, and at every short stops along the way. As a foreigner who has a very limited Malagasy vocabulary, which does include this word mahafinaritra, if I have to pick my favourite Malagasy word, it would be azafady (a versatile word that could be used from ‘sorry’ to ‘please’) — his was clearly mahafinaritra. In his own words, he only spoke English kely kely (very little) but that was fine, and he assured me that my kely kely Malagasy was just as fine, mahafinaritra.
From the ongoing field work in this village, I had to urgently return back to Tana in order to sort out my visa issues (another interesting story that must wait another post), and at such a short notice, there was no one around to carry my field gear back to the road, and possibly to Moramanga other than this primary school teacher in the village, who lived next to the school and always seemed to be around.
My assistant thought it was probably best to have this teacher who at least spoke some English, and was capable (his own words) in French as my porter/guide for the village road and possibly to the town. I don’t know if I would have chosen him had there been other options but there were none and I had to accept what was available.
We left the school at around 09:30 and it was already getting hot — another word that he would keep repeating for most of our walk was mafana (hot) or mafana be (very hot). After not long, he seemed to be struggling to keep pace with me. If it was any other villager, I would have been so proud of my pace but with the teacher, I just couldn’t, for I knew he probably have had a few drinks by the time we saw him in the morning. His face showed the strain, the struggle to walk in the heat while dehydrated from the strong local alcohol called tokagasy. As we had started our walk towards the main road earlier, I had persuaded him to walk with me all the way to the town if needed – he had said he would (often asking me to reconfirm the payment he was going to get in return). The way he was struggling to walk now, I was almost beginning to regret asking him to walk to town. But he also kept repeating that he had a lot of acquaintances who drove trucks transporting grains, gravel, charcoal, timber and all sorts of things, so there was a hope of finding a ride once we got to the main road.
Nevertheless, it was very clear he was finding it hard to walk in the sun.
I asked him if he would like to drink some water, but he wouldn’t drink my Eau Vive — he kept repeating ‘I need a drink but I will not drink your Eau Vive’. Once we were on the main road, he stopped by an epicerie after about a kilometre walk and purchased a bottle of Fanta (to my surprise I must say, as I was worried he might get some alcohol as that seemed to be what he meant by a ‘drink’ most of the time). He drank about half of the 500 ml bottle and kept the rest for later. We then continued along.
In his youth, he was a teacher in a village that is even farther from the district headquarters, and although I had hard time believing, he apparently walked 60 km in less than 12 hours. He said he was like a soldier back then.
In a country where it is so hard to see a school let alone teachers in remote villages, he was one — albeit an alcoholic. I am not sure how many of his students completed their primary schooling under his tutelage, probably none, but still he would have taught them how to read, write and some basic numeracy skills. In the darkness, that is still something. By the end of our trip I was glad this teacher came with me to Moramanga as my guide/porter.
We did find a ride into town after walking along the main road for a while, and of course that was another interesting experience about which I’ve already written here.