When I asked the man waiting in the MAF hangar for the reason he is traveling to Marolambo, he said that he was the “Depositer de Medicament” of Marolambo. A position, he explained, which had been assigned to him by the Ministry of Health. He is responsible for transporting medicine from the capital to local town, where the dispensary and the clinic make use of them. After explaining his task he looked at me with great seriousness. “You know,” he said, “during the rainy season it takes three or four days to travel to Marolambo! This makes my job so difficult. But with this plane,” he gestured to the Caravan which was being loaded with freight whilst the waiting passengers enjoyed a coffee in the hangar’s passenger lounge, “the travel takes only 35 minutes!” His eyebrows arched high with the incredulity of it. Indeed, 35 minutes is an impressively short amount of time for such long a journey.
MAF or Taxi Brousses?
MAF flies charters for mission organisations and operate a shuttle service called Madagascar Mission Run (MMR) to serve Christian missions, NGOs and churches in remote areas. Today, MAF pilot Josh Plett is taking Etienne Jean Baptiste with him. Etienne is one of the passengers registered as “Marolambo NGO”—which indicates the rate he pays for the short flight to his hometown. This airstrip, built by MAF and re-paved in 2007, is only used by MAF. Because of this, MAF is permitted to take commercial passengers on the MMR flights to this destination. Etienne is one of these private commercial passengers who saved the 3-4 days it takes to travel by taxi-brusse, not to mention avoiding the dangers that accompany such a trip. Taxi brousses are the Malagasy version of “bush taxis” and are quite slow and uncomfortable. It seemed to me he was quite appreciative of the MAF service.
At one of the tables with her husband, drinking a coffee, was Olivia Haingomalala with her one-year-old daughter Arielle. They live in Maralambo and had been to Antananarivo (Tana) visiting relatives. She smiled as she mentioned how the plane journey home is significantly better than the days of traveling by bus. I nodded in understanding. With an infant in a crammed taxi-brusse filled with sweating bodies due to the summer temperatures of +30C, no air conditioning, bringing food along to cook on the side of the road during mealtimes, sleeping sitting up, the time it takes to get home would feel interminable! I’m sure I would choose rather not to travel the distance to and from Tana at all if faced with such an experience!
God using MAF… Beautifully and Quietly
As I watched the vaccines, bound for the village of Marolambo, being unloaded from the aircraft and ported out into this highly isolated area cut off from the most basic healthcare services, I marveled at how God is using my MAF colleagues in such a beautiful way. I watched them working quietly, bringing the much needed vaccines to the isolated village as it was the most natural thing in the world.
I watched the porters lashing the boxes of syringes together with rope onto a thick wooden pole, trotting off down the mountaintop airstrip towards the village across the river. Carrying quality-of-life on their backs. While we often write thrilling stories of urgent medevacs and lives being saved before our very eyes, these vaccines are accompanied by no fanfare. Yet they are the cause of lives being saved quietly, without urgency or fear—enabling the people of Marolambo, and their children, to bypass disease and illness, bringing increased quality of life.