By: Jonathon Shacat, Front Royal, USA
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
"Norbert est mort." Mama Antoinette said it so matter-of-factly
that the magnitude of it didn't register in my mind until much later.
These were three words I didn't want to hear. Norbert Makita was
one of three very successful fish farmers who worked as a team to
raise Tilapia in a clay pond in the village of Mbenga Mamba. I knew
his death could result in drastic effects on the project.
On this day, I was in the village of Mikouandza in Gabon, Africa.
I worked along the road there as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998-2000.
I had returned now, a little more than five years later, to check
on the status of the projects. I was staying in this village for
a few days to visit people like Mama Antionette and Papa Joseph
Kobani, who were like family to me. I looked forward to traveling
further down this road later in the week to Mbenga Mamba to talk
to Norbert's wife, Honorine, and his brother, Ettienne Foumoulu,
about their work.
In 1999, we harvested more than 100 kilograms of fish from their
pond in one day. There were too many fish to sell in a small village
like Mbenga Mamba. It made
sense to bring them to the market in the town of Mbigou. But Ettienne,
Norbert and Honorine were reluctant to spend money for a bush taxi
ride without a guarantee they would get it back. I convinced them
they had to take a risk. I said that in the end they would profit
so much it would be worthwhile. Fortunately, I was right. The fish
sold very quickly at market. It turned out to be a tremendous success.
Then in 2000, I told Ettienne, Norbert and Honorine to harvest the
pond without my assistance. I knew Peace Corps was not going to
assign another fish culture
volunteer to work with these people. I wanted to prepare them so
they could do it by themselves. On the day of the harvest they were
unable to find a ride into town. But we had a back up plan. The
village did not have electricity and we realized the fish would
go bad without a way to preserve them. So, they built a smoke rack.
Again, they were successful. They harvested about 45 kilos, smoked
the fish and
sold them gradually in Mbenga Mamba.
Ever since my return to the United States, I wondered what happened
to the fish farmers in Mbenga Mamba. I also was curious to know
updates on the other ponds in the area. There were a total of about
15 projects on the road from Mbigou to Malinga. I made a list of
the four that I thought would be most successful. Besides
the farmers in Mbenga Mamba, the others were Victor Lefoumou in
Mambonga, Victor Mwinga in Malinga and the team of Raphael Wombo
and Daniel ibambagne in Baposso.
In February of this year I arrived in Gabon. When I checked on the
projects that I had worked on there, it wasn't all good news. Some
of them are no longer in existence. Others exist but are not really
that impressive. One, however, has been quite successful and that
was in Mbenga Mamba.
When I got to Mbenga Mamba, I talked to Ettienne about what took
place since I left. He said they had harvested the pond twice and
brought the fish to town to sell at market. That news was very satisfying.
To me, this was like finding a sparkle of gold in a pile of dust.
But I was concerned that more than a year has passed without harvesting
the pond. Ettienne explained to me that Norbert's death caused considerable
complications to the project. He said Honorine moved to a faraway
town after her husband died. Ettienne was not sure what to do. I
told him he has to find a way to move forward with the work and
he agreed to do so.
I asked Ettienne what will happen when he dies. He told me his son,
Desiree, will inherit the pond. I asked Desiree if his father had
begun to teach him how to raise fish and he said, "Oui."