The transit time to Mandritsara from Antanarivo was spent sleeping (sort of), looking at the countryside around us, shifting my weight onto alternate butt cheeks and in conversation with Dr Adrien Ralaimiarison. Of all those subjects I thought I’d talk about my chat with Adrien, though you know I’d most love to talk about just how painful a journey it was. And so I will, a little. After all it took 27 hours of my life that I’m never going to get back. In total, from Balham to Mandritsara was 64 hours; that’s just a little shy of three whole days. There can’t be many places in the world left that take that long to get to.
Anyway, we got to our Toyota Space Cruiser for the scheduled 3.30pm departure time from the bus depot. We left at 6.30pm. This is Africa after all. All our stuff was put on top and covered over with a tarpaulin. Now a more inappropriately named vehicle than the Toyota Space Cruiser, I struggle to think of. It was neither spacious nor did it cruise. But I’m not sure Toyota was at fault. The sheer numbers of people crammed into the back denied anyone any hope of space. There were four rows of seats and about 20 of us in total. Adrien and I had booked three seats between the two of us so that we had a little leg room. But not much. And the condition of the roads meant that cruising was never really going to be an option.
We were due to cover 900kms on road. I’d been told that 700kms of those would pass without much incident, once we’d got out of the urban shambles of Antanarivo. But the remaining 200kms would be a nightmare. And they were. We averaged single figure km/h for those 200kms. The road condition was unbelievable. I’ll include some photos but the two-dimensional image simply cannot do justice to the state of the road. You can imagine what this was doing to my backside.
I slept in fits and starts through the night (which started at about 6.30pm and ended at just before 5am). As the sun came up so did the temperature. It was a consistent 35 degrees and my bottled water was running out. I wasn’t going near anything that didn’t first come to me sealed. All I’d eaten since the flight was a packet of biscuits. I’d been warned not to touch any food until we arrived at Mandritsara. I was famished. And wonderfully, when we got to Antsohihy Adrien took me to a ‘hotel’ and we grabbed a petit dejeuner. Baguette and apricot jam never tasted so good!
Dr Adrien Ralaimiarison, is one of the two senior surgeons at the Hopitaly Vaovao Mahafaly (HVM). He’s married to Giselle, the Head Teacher of the new Christian schools in Mandritsara. Together they have three boys, one of whom is studying in France and the other two staying with family members in Antanarivo where they attend secondary school. Adrien is a consultant surgeon and yet here he was, sat in a Toyota Space Cruiser having met me at the airport so that he could accompany me to Mandritsara. He heads up the hospital with Dr David Mann and, being Malagasy, provides significant liaison with the authorities. In chatting I discovered that his father was a carpenter and his mother a teacher. And he became a surgeon, having studied Medicine initially at the University in Antanarivo and then subsequently trained in surgery in Zaire and studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Tropical. My point is this; he’s a very well-qualified man who could find employment in any number of countries where his standard of living would be significantly higher than it was in Madagascar. He could have his own private practice and earn a fortune if he wanted. He could afford his own Toyota instead of travelling in this one. I asked him why he stayed and why he hadn’t taken the opportunity to forge a new life for him and for his family overseas. He replied simply, ‘the gospel’. Here is a man so committed to the salvation of people in Mandritsara that he’s prepared to forego a more comfortable lifestyle to be a part of that. You can’t help but be impressed by that. And challenged. Mainly challenged if I’m honest. Most London Christians, like me, leave London and leave our churches assuming (if we think at all) that someone else will do the gospel work necessary to bring the gospel to this city. I suspect there’s something that we could learn from Dr Adrien.