A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A MISSIONARY'S TOYOTA LANDCRUISER IN SOUTHEAST MADAGASCAR
(written by the car)
The newly repaired rear axle of missionary Janez’s JCB had to be brought from Farafangana to the place where he works – Ampitafa. The huge mass of metal must weigh around 600/700 kilos as twelve men had no easy time lifting it up onto my back. The mechanic Mameta also went along accompanied by his son and two other lads to help reassemble the machine. The first 75km of road are a true joy for tired shock absorbers and joints as the tarmac is wonderfully smooth and I can glide elegantly from one bend into another like an ice-skater. I only get shaken now and again by the short steep approaches to bridges. There follow 60km of rough, muddy and in places rocky road. I hate rocks and stones because the shocks go right to my bones! Luckily the Japanese put me together very well, otherwise I would have fallen to pieces a long time ago! Altogether I toiled away for over four hours before at last reaching our destination. It was not easy pulling such a heavy load up steep slopes. But it was a wonderful relief when at last they took the load off my back. In the evening, after Marko the driver had finished his meal of fried grasshoppers, we returned home but without the heavy load I was nimbler and was able to bring the driver and passengers back to Farafangana much quicker.
Today my back was not burdened by cold and hard metal but by soft yet just as heavy sand. And because the men in charge wanted to transport even more sand than I can carry on my own, they attached a trailer to my tail which can carry loads of up to 1.6 tonnes. We took the sand from a “sandpit” not far from the church whose floor was to be repaired using a combination of the sand together with stones and cement (by the way, I also transported the stones and cement.) Five trips were necessary before we had transported the required amount of sand. On the way to the “sandpit” I carried young men with spades who were so eager about their work that it took them no more than fifteen minutes to fully load myself and the trailer. Although their spades are really small, the fact that there were many of them and that they worked fast made all the difference. Climbing out of the sandpit while carrying such a heavy load was no joke. I had to engage all four wheels and the reduction gears to increase my strength if I wanted to climb out at all. And even so I sank into the sand and had to be pushed by the lads.
I thought I would have a little rest today but it was not to be as the missionary Izidor’s Unimog broke down and I again had to take Mameta the mechanic into the bush. This time he was accompanied by a worker called “Sambo” which means boat! Like on Monday, I first enjoyed 75km of beautiful road followed by 30 unpleasant kilometres. Some of the latter were particularly dreadful. The narrow road runs high up above the rice paddies. The road undulates so badly that I almost become seasick from rocking forwards and backwards and left and right! On such a road you simply have to go slowly and patiently. There is no other option. Mameta successfully repaired the Unimog, Marko had two new fillings made for him by a dentist from Slovenia who otherwise had much work extracting the decayed teeth of the local people. As the portable dentist’s “chair” or rather the drill and compressor work off 12 volts, I sacrificed myself for the needs of Marko’s fillings and drove up close to the chair so they could use my battery. One poor woman who had had eight teeth extracted then needed her gums sewing up. Although she had had this done in the morning, she was still bleeding in the evening and I then gave her a lift to the hospital in Vangaindrano on the way back where she could receive help if her bleeding continues.
At last a day of rest! I spend the whole day resting in the garage in the company of rats and mice.
In the morning the trailer is again hitched to my rear and we are both loaded up with wooden “horses” and all the constituent part of a merry-go-round for children. The sisters from Vohipeno lent it to the sisters in Vondrozo for the needs of their fair and it must be driven back. Vohipeno lies 65km towards the north. The first 20km are a sad potholed leftover of what was once a tarmac road while the remainder has a nice new surface. However, the load is of such a nature that it does not sit very stably so I must not go too fast. At the marketplace in Vohipeno I must go particularly slowly as a few things are protruding over the edges of my back. After relieving myself of the load in Vohipeno I drive 15km towards the west to a place called Andemaka where there is a home for disabled children whom I will take home as their holidays have begun. It is a good job I have the trailer with me as there are quite a number of children and my back would not be big enough for all the children and their baggage. The road is terrible and I have to “plough” through deep potholes filled with red water and mud. The poor people in the trailer, which has no suspension, get a good shaking but they still smile contentedly as they love travelling and to be on the way home!
I am taken out of the garage early in the morning and we drive into town to fetch a poor little woman who is a little over sixty years old but will probably soon die of cancer. The doctors have said they cannot do anything more for her so we take her far, far into the countryside towards the northwest to the lady’s home village. She is accompanied by three women and her son. She lies on the back in the middle while the other people sit on the benches on either side of her. In the cabin, the driver Klemen is accompanied by the parents of a young Malagasy priest. They are both quite old and the father had been undergoing treatment for breathing problems but they must now return home because their eldest daughter has died. The road is long and I work hard all day. There is only a smattering of good tarmac at the beginning, all the rest is mud and stones. In a couple of hours we reach the ferry across the wide river Manapatrana. The ferry is on the other side of the river so we have to wait for them to unload it and come back to our side. I almost regret not being a motorbike when I see how quickly and easily they can cross the river in long dugout canoes. But God forbid they should capsize. When at last we board the ferry with another car and want to push off (the ferry is propelled by people pulling on a rope which is stretched across the river) we realise that we have run aground on the sand so we must move right to the edge of the ferry so all the weight is on the far end. Then we can set sail.
The road gets tougher and tougher. In the shaded parts, the mud takes longer to dry and I must sometimes engage all four wheels. Another problem is that almost all the bridges on this road are being repaired and there is therefore a “diversion” at almost every bridge where we have to go through the stream and of course through very soft mud. A few times it is hard to get through even with all four wheels engaged, especially once when my passengers are forced to lay rocks and stones under my tyres to give me traction. All the same, Klemen’s advice works best: take a good run-up, press the accelerator as far as it will go and you will get through!
It is already late in the afternoon when we reach the village of Karianga where the parents whose daughter has deceased live. It is interesting that almost in the same moment as we stop in front of their house, some of their family and relatives approach from the other direction, arriving home after having buried their daughter in another village. They enter the house together, wailing loudly.
We continue our journey. The road ahead is rarely used by motor vehicles and has been neglected. In some places water has cut frighteningly deep channels. It would be very bad if one or more of my wheels were to fall into a channel as it would leave me stranded with my belly on the ground but luckily this does not happen. Proof of just how neglected the road is, is a bridge which is no longer even covered with wooden beams so all that is left is the metal frame. Luckily, at least on one side there are half-metre long branches laid across the metal girders so that you have to devote most of your attention to the other (left-hand) side. The two left-hand wheels must go carefully along the narrow metal beam. With the reduction gear engaged I get across the bridge slowly and safely.
In one place the road passes between two rice fields where the people have thoughtlessly thrown masses of mud onto the road and I become completely stuck. Luckily, not far away stands a strong tree and I come free quite quickly with the help of the winch whose cable is fixed to the tree. A little further on we must cross another river by ferry but this river is only small so we are quickly on the other side. At last we reach the sick lady’s home village. As the night is swiftly approaching there is no time for more than a quick goodbye before we set off back towards Karianga. This time we are driving eastwards and the setting sun beautifully lights up the bare hills with an incredibly warm reddish colour. Crossing the defective bridge is much more difficult this time as night has fallen and the driver is not on the same side as the metal girder. He therefore depends entirely on his helper to direct him and tell him whether to turn left or right. The helper is however blinded by the car lights and must use a headlamp. We were all relieved when at last we made it safely across.
In the morning, Klemen celebrates Mass in Karianga. A full church and a large number of children who go to Communion are proof that the Malagasy priest Bary, who often comes here, is doing his work well. After Mass we set off back towards Farafangana. Eight kilometres further away we stop in the village of Karimbary and Klemen celebrates Mass again. The rest of the road back home has no more surprises in store for us as we already know it and also know how to negotiate the trickier sections. Around half past five in the evening I at last reach my garage, all covered in mud and very tired.
A man who often helps at the mission station washed me today. There is still some stubborn mud clinging to parts of me that are hard to reach but on the whole he cleaned me pretty well. Unfortunately, a hole in my fuel tank was also discovered today. This injury was caused yesterday by a rock. Despite the injury I still helped Marko take his dugout canoe to the river today.