Photographer Cory Plowman has lived in Madagascar on and off for the past 20 years. Her teaching experiences, both in the capital city of Antananarivo and in the rural villages that dot the island nation, inspired her to take up photography — documenting daily life and the work of her company within the country. Along the way, she’s created relationships, learned to speak fluent Malagasy, and built a portfolio of work documenting life in her adopted community.
I was traveling to the village of Marontandrazana, located on the east coast of the island. The remote villages in Madagascar are filled with adventure, hardworking people, and breathtaking views. My journey to this specific village was exciting, as I was traveling alongside local community organizations to take photographs of the village leaders and their families.
The road wasn’t the best I’d been on, to say the least. It started out as a paved road, but it soon turned to dirt. A trip that would have taken a little over an hour on a paved road turned into a three hour adventure as we tried to avoid the holes in the dirt. We also needed to cross a wide river without a bridge. Those without cars went by canoe. But for those with cars or trucks, a large raft was available as a ferry.
I stood, watching my friend position the wheels of his truck just right on the raft, making sure he didn’t turn too far to the right or left and end up in the water. Off to the side, people passed us and clamored into a large canoe. The canoes not only transported people across the river, but also any possessions, including bicycles or motorcycles.
Safely on the other side of the river, we rolled the windows down in the truck, and I looked out the window at the life all around me. So much can be seen and learned on a trip to a rural village. I saw men retrieving sand from the rivers in their canoes. They had their canoes sitting in the middle of the river, using their shovels to retrieve sand from below the water’s surface. We passed another area filled with people on the side of the road, sitting among piles of large rocks. They had their tools in hand, hitting the large rocks in order to make smaller ones to sell. I saw children running around, chickens pecking at the ground, and cows meandering along the side of the road.
When we arrived to Marontandrazana after hours in the car, we started our trek up the hills and through the rice fields to visit each of the village leaders.
That day was pretty warm out, but even with all of the walking, it was an amazing experience to be with the local community. Together, we walked up mountains and forged through small rivers. My view throughout this entire adventure was breathtaking. We were surrounded by trees, other vegetation, and rice fields on all sides. Everything was so incredibly green.
The long walk gave me an opportunity to speak with the village leaders. We talked about our homes and cultures. They loved learning about America and had many questions about what life in the U.S. was like, what the weather was like, what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They were amazed at how large America actually is. In return, they told me about life in Marontandrazana and I learned about the incredible amount of walking, trekking, and hiking they had to do on a daily basis to navigate the area.
When we stopped at the first bamboo hut, home to one of the village leaders and his family, they invited us inside to rest and continue chatting. I followed the lead of our local guides to make sure I was following the right custom. Once inside, we took off our sandals, set down our things and took a seat. I explained why I was there and asked them to participate in the photography project. After we had gotten to know each other a little bit, I was able to take a family photograph either inside or in front of their home. The leaders and their families were happy to host me as a foreigner. They were warm and welcoming, which has always been the case in my experience living in Madagascar.
As I trekked these small roads, walking through water and narrow pathways, my sandals almost falling apart and my feet covered in mud, I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t have changed any part of my experience.
At the end of the day, I was tired, hot, and covered in dirt and sweat. But when I thought about the people I met and the conversation and laughter we shared, all the exhaustion faded away and I felt a sense of love. I looked forward to visiting them again one day.