Following the well-worn, clay footpath to Ankoraka
Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
17Trip End May 12, 2008
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As we rode out of town a steady flow of brightly dressed folks from the countryside passed us with curious looks. The women wore their woven hats to protect themselves from the rain, a colorful lamba wrapped around their waist and one fastened around their chest, holding their baby tight against their back
We didn't know the exact directions of our destination, but that was not a problem. The locals in their yards doing their daily tasks, or the fruit and juice vendor in her wooden stand would surely know the way. After an hour we reached the river. As we walked down the bank we entertained a small group of locals. I watched the farmers (who are about my height) as they waded across, holding their shorts up higher and higher, to judge the waters depth. I pulled off my boots, peeled off my socks and rolled up my pants exposing my pale skin. Boots and bike in one hand, the other holding up my pants legs, I started across. The frigid water dulled the sensation of the rocky river bottom on my tender feet. The middle became deeper, my pants inevitably became wet and I noticed my bike was being dragged downriver, the current was much faster than anticipated and the ripples forming around my legs made it harder to walk. I realized that I was not crossing, but rather moving diagonally down the river
As we pushed our bikes up an eroded and slippery clay path we were greeted by the smile of our friend, Noelson, who was coming to receive us and guide us to his town. Aaron and he chatted while I fell behind struggling to keep up with his fast pace. Soon the noises of village life could be heard: the roosters crow, a pig snorting as it rooted through kitchen scraps, children's voices and laughter as they make the outdoors their playground, the patter of bare feet moving quickly under heavy loads on the shoulders of men, and the thunk-thunk of women pounding rice in large mortar and pestles which becomes a rhythm that we walked to as we enter Ankoraka. As we step in our friends one room wooden house, I notice the floor, covered by worn woven mats, giving way under our feet. We sit at a wooden table with a notebook and bunch of bananas resting on, in the corner leans an aluminum pot and against the wall a wooden bed frame with a homemade mattress of plastic material stuffed with dried grasses. A few posters hang on the wall; one a presidential campaign, another from the Mother and Child Wellness day that passed several months ago
Two elderly men and three elderly women enter. The women are giggling, their wrinkles outline their smiles. We stand to shake hands, they hold their right forearm with their left hand to show us respect and we do the same. The younger men in the room make way for their elders and they are introduced to us as the Tangalamenas of the village. Their skin is deeply wrinkled by years under the sun, their feet calloused from days of walking upon the earth, but their eyes are clear and sharp. They are the village elders, they have seen much and know all the coming and goings of the town and they present us with a short speech of welcome
Next we begin our 3 km walk to Ambodiara to survey the land near the school in which hundreds of trees will be transplanted from our tree nurseries. I'm almost out of breath as I hurry to keep up with their fast stride. Noelson asks if Americans walk a lot. Aaron laughs, says everyone has a car and then goes on to explain the roadways, at which Noelson clucks his tongue and laughs in amazement.
We arrive at Ambodiara in about an hour, a small village, the houses the color of the surrounding Earth. We enter a wooden house that is also the local store. I see a shelf with an old cardboard box with Chinese made batteries, two sacks sit in the corner, out of a hole spills dried corn kernels of differing colors onto the worn, soiled wood floor. We sit on a narrow bench, worn smooth by previous visitors and begin shaking hands with the multitude of people in the room. A young girl stands in the corner staring, she can't take her eyes off us and her forehead is wrinkled, eyebrows tense clinging to her mother's leg. Again we wait for the village elder, he is in his fields harvesting rice so we wait quite a while
A green, lush mountain overlooks the village. Noelson told us that this "live forest" is the one "given by God." It is rare to see primary forest, so much has been cut, most forests are now planted by man. He encourages us to come back another time and to visit this forest where lemurs still roam and wild pigs live, we can't wait. As we walk he tells Aaron how men hunt the pigs with spear and dogs, and then points out another mountain stating years ago, before French Colonialist, locals would go up there and pray. Now it's been cut and burned to grow rice and cassava.
Aaron bends his back to enter, the bamboo ceiling is too low, and I follow. The children are standing and loudly shout "Bonjour" as Aaron and I walk in the small dimly lit schoolroom. The walls are made from the red clay we stand on, there is a roof of patchwork metal roofing and a few small wooden windows to let in the natural light. Two rows of students sit on each side, none smile, they are too uncertain of us. We are seated in the front, a few short speeches are made and a chicken is brought in and sat in the corner
We make the journey back to Ankoraka, visiting a waterfall along the way. The land on both sides of the path has become agricultural land. Banana trees, groves of coffee, sugarcane, rice fields and freshly grown greens. We step to the side to allow two enormous oxen to climb the path pulling a sled behind, they don't want to go on the steep part until their owner snaps a branch from a nearby tree. Entering Ankoraka, the town is bustling with daily activity. We follow a few small girls carrying buckets of water up from the river, men pass carrying planks of wood harvested from the forest, a group of turkeys cluster near a feed trough and a rooster proudly stands along the roadside oblivious to the boys rolling hoops made of vines down the road. Up on the hillside a group of young girls call out to get my attention then wave and cheer when I take their photo as they pound the hauls off of rice for dinner. Chickens scurry around scampering to get the rice grain as it blows in the damp breeze.
Before departing we once again sit in a small wooden house. The village elder is in front of us and gazes into our eyes. His voice is low and he speaks slowly. His speech is like a well rehearsed oration, and expressing gratitude he presents us with another chicken and more rice. We tranquilly sit, nothing goes through my mind, I am unaware to what is going on around us except for the words of farewell as the Tangalamena sends us on our way.