Madagascar Anatihazo

Madagascar - Anatihazo

by Fausto Cadei

It’s the day of departure, 7 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday 4th of April, the flight lasts about 18 hours, but the only scheduled stop-over is at CDG Paris, which reassures me, after last years’ experience. Naturally, nothing can be painless, and the first hitch is met at the baggage check-in at Malpensa. The polite check-in agent points out that my work baggage does not meet with the company’s regulations: there are lithium batteries and my drill inside. This isn’t all; given that I am benefiting from a discounted ticket for travel on a humanitarian mission, I must have not only the ticket, but the declaration from the institution which has requested my work. Fortunately, I managed to entrust the drill and screwdriver to my travelling companions. As to the document, I had to wake the local priest in Madagascar and get him to send me the request. Result. We arrive about 23:30 in Antananarivo and after a couple of hours we are in the centre. My travelling companions are all Italian volunteers: Mario e Francesco, father and son, experts in the electrical sector and Gigi a Telecom technician. They are not experts in this field, but the first day of work with them was good and we were in company with other volunteers: Antonio, Adriano, Elisabetta and Cinzia.The person in charge of the centre, Don Luciano Mariani, is a simple person ....but what missionary isn’t? The thing that disorientates me a little is the meal times which change continually, perhaps to leave space for the clerical life of the young people who study at the centre.
The other group of Italians, all volunteers, arrived before us and is mixed and lively: from people who are grandparents to those in their twenties and I rather like seeing that they help us enthusiastically. The facility is new and sturdy. Before leaving we had instructed the Madagascan staff well and it shows: everything is ready and I believe that the photovoltaic field could be assembled as soon as tomorrow. The centre is perfect, big clean rooms and really good food... The chocolate, they tell me, is always appreciated, even though the provisions are almost used up.
 
Friday April 7th
Under an almost limpid sky and moderate humidity, the assembly of the photovoltaic field is finished before lunch, another photo of the group and we come down from the roof. The “Don” is happy and the helpers are very satisfied with the work they’ve carried out.
Now we are organising the installation of the conversion mechanism and planning the jobs for the day after tomorrow. I believe that we’ll make a good job of it and think that we can guarantee that the users will be connected next week. The secondary electricity system was fitted by the other “young” volunteers: Gino (76 years old) Alberto (74) Adriano (71); who, following the orders of an Italian technician Beniamino, have enabled us to connect the centre’s users.
The landscape seen from on high is like many other African cities: tiny houses, dovetailed one against the other, and life flowing frantically - the usual multitude of people who plod on to survive. The land on which the city is built is an immense marshland, with wooden stepping stones which are used as pedestrian pathways.
There are almost 4,000 students in the centre, the majority of whom dress decently, but are tormented by fleas and head lice; many have completed shaved heads.
Good Night
 
Saturday April 8th
The long table, laid for the morning, fills up and we cheerfully eat an abundant breakfast. I organise the technical group, now close-knit, and we assemble in succession: the conversion system; the wiring; and lastly the batteries, which demand almost all our physical resources due to their considerable weight. Fortunately, the centre is equipped with a forklift truck and a lifter and soon the work is finished. I still need to do some tests and small checks to guarantee that there are no cabling errors and tomorrow morning I will be able to complete the connection of all the management and control interfaces. In the evening, with Don Luciano, we make an ice-cream tour of the city; it’s the first time that we pass beyond the gate, the evening is fresh and the group is in high-spirits.
 
Sunday April 9th
LThe alarm goes off and breakfast is at 06:00. Today there is a huge party and everyone is invited to Mass. A great number, almost 3,500 people, participate in Palm Sunday.
At 7:00 I restart the work which I had yet to finish, connecting the last of the apparatus and configuring the system. All that remains, to have energy, is to wait for the sun. I believe that the checks and fine tuning may still occupy me for some days. In the afternoon, I make a brief tourist trip. I will probably buy something to take home; I need many things, but what presses me most is a present for my wife, Fulvia, without whose support these trips would not be possible.
 
Monday 10th & Tuesday 11th
NDespite rigorous checks of the simulated data and of the assembly, and various tests, it is necessary to modify some of the inverter parameters and post, on the website, the page which enables access to the data-log and the production history. In order to render future interventions, here or remotely, easier, I have configured the web access only for those directly involved in the project: myself, the Don and Massimiliano. The days are particularly cloudy, but the photovoltaic field generates enough energy to fully load the batteries.
 
Wednesday 12th
Visual inspections are no longer necessary, as I will now be alerted to any anomaly via the web. So, I put myself at the disposition of the other workers: installing the re-phasing group, coating the main lines to the blocks and salvaging the old, obsolete plant that doesn’t conform to the current requirements.
 
Thursday 13th
Today I have arranged a trip of about 6 hours to a hospital managed by Change, a Non-Profit Organisation based in Milan. The facility has damage to the plant and various other problems have been reported.
After a quick check, I believe that the most sensible thing to do is to take a look at the secondary distribution, downstream of the inverter - the Madagascan staff had erroneously connected the loads only to one phase, thus overloading and compromising the inverter.
 
Friday 14th & Saturday 15th
I have continued with the modifications to the existing plants and I think that I will leave the completion of the work to the new arrival, Beniamino.
 
Sunday 16th
Easter and everything is still, so to speak, after the evening Mass which lasted almost 5 hours, until mid-night... then another Mass with loud speakers booming, choirs, and dancing, starting at 6:30 in the morning.
Finally, at 10:00, I push myself out into the courtyard across from the church; here, there is an incessant coming and going of people, who enter and leave the churchyard. Even if the Mass makes me uncomfortable, I find myself standing still in the middle of all these people, admiring the crowd - a river of colour, gestures, words. From Monday 17th to Thursday 20th we are going to continue the tests on the plant, which works very well. I still have to put security measures in place and instruct the staff in its use and in small maintenance tasks. The work to adapt the plant in the old buildings is almost complete. Now we need only do the online check and return home. We have arrived at, yet again this time, and excellent result; thanks to everyone for their help.

 

 

 

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