Two of the Hardest Jobs in the World
Madagascar is a country where hard physical labour is still the norm and this can be seen in particular in the countryside where people toil in rice fields all along the main highways which run up and down the country. Even though agriculture and related work are tough jobs, during my time in rural Madagascar I came across what must be two of the hardest jobs in the world. They made me look on in awe at how tough they are. The first was when we joined a group of locals in a 4×4 bringing people between the villages Beroroha and Ranohira when we were on the way back from the Makay hike.
The driver’s assistant had one of the most difficult and bizarre jobs I have ever seen. Quite aside from it surely ranking as one of the hardest jobs in the world. As we left Beroroha I noticed him hanging onto the side of the 4×4 with feet resting on the wheel arch over the right rear wheel as his hands clung onto the cage which supports the tarpaulin over the passengers. I wondered just what his job was because there is no need for a conductor as hardly anyone would be getting off before Ranohira.
The first time I saw him in action was when we came to a pool of water and the driver stopped and beeped his horn for assistance. With that the assistant jumped down and waded into the water to find the shallowest path for the 4×4. He also directed the driver with hand signals to help him onto the best path. After we were safely through the shallowest part of the water he ran after the 4×4 and jumped back onto his original position over the wheel arch, while the vehicle was still moving. His mounting of the vehicle was done so athletically, he looked like he had done it a thousand times.
It turned out this was only the start of a long day’s work for him. Whenever the driver needed help, he beeped his horn, though sometimes the assistant had spotted the problem first and was already off the side and ready for action. The most impressive and difficult part of this job was road improvement when the track got really bad. In this situation the assistant trotted ahead of the 4×4 and improved the path as he went. This involved picking up stones and putting them into large holes to make the road smoother. The stones used to repair the road had to be the right size but he had hardly any time for this as the 4×4 was coming along behind; so he chose quickly and got the holes filled before the driver lost patience. This part of the job is particularly hard, hot and tough requiring strength, stamina and skill. He also had to take stones off the road when they were jutting up where they could cause a puncture. The man himself had an almost chubby face but a body as lithe as a cheetah’s and went about his work in a stoic manner. I could only look on in admiration whenever he was in action.
The assistant was also constantly tipping bottles of water into the radiator and when the bottle had been emptied into the radiator it needed refilling. To do this he waited until we approached a stream, jumped off the side, sprinted down ahead of the 4×4 to fill the bottle and then ran to jump back onto his spot when it was full.
I have never seen a job like this and to do it for close to ten hours seemed almost unimaginable. There were times when the route was a bit better and he got to have a break and sit in where the passengers were but any break he got was certainly well deserved.
I also wondered if he had ever fallen off his perch over the wheel arch, as it was hardly the safest place to be and all that he had on his feet were flip flops: but I don’t see any obvious scars from previous falls. At our stop for lunch I looked over and saw the assistant hungrily eating his duck and rice to replenish some of the energy he has used in the morning’s work.
The second of what must be two of the hardest jobs in the world; out of the ordinary in terms of its toughness, is one I came across completely by accident. I was on a boat on the Pangalanes canal on the east coast going north towards the port city of Tamatave.
On one straight section something struck me as completely out of the ordinary. A pirogue sat in the middle of the canal with nobody in it. People take good care of their boats here and to see one stand alone in the water is unusual so I pulled my camera out to get a photo. As I took the picture a head popped out from under the water and an open mouthed man appeared and gulped in a big breath like someone who had been rescued from drowning would do. I wondered if he had been fishing, but then he raised a yellow plastic drum out of the water which had the top cut off of it. The drum was filled with sand which he tipped into the boat on a pile that he had been bringing up from the bottom of the canal. I could hardly believe my eyes that this was how he was working but sure enough, after he emptied the sand into the boat, he took another deep breath and went back down again.
The boat was about half full of sand at this stage and as we went past, I didn’t see him come up again which made me wonder how long he was holding his breath for. This job certainly rivals the driver’s assistant on the 4×4 between Beroroha and Ranohira in its toughness because holding your breath and filling buckets of sand underwater without any goggles must be up there with the hardest ways of making a living that I have seen. Two of the hardest jobs in the world? Yep, I think so!