We’re back in Ambohimana, having walked here yesterday from Tsaratanana. Marlin just showed up, saying that the truck (that is supposed to come pick us up and take us to Vohimary Nord) is stuck in the mud about 5km away, so Ryan, Robson and Augustin took off on their bikes to go help push it out! Manora, Jamila and I are just lounging in the sun, waiting for them to show up.
I was thinking today about how it no longer feels weird to camp in people’s yards, metres from their homes. They’re just so welcoming. This morning, for example, this cute little old lady with hairs on her chin knocked on our tent (if it’s even possible to “knock” on canvas) while we were getting dressed, and when I unzipped the door, she was smiling at me, holding out a plate with three cups of sweet coffee. Oh! Motor sound! That must be the truck.
We arrived in Vohimary Nord last night, wiping away tears of laughter and excited to share our stories with the rest of the group, who awaited us there. (In the car, Ryan made some sort of crack about an aye-aye using its bizarre bony finger to unzip a tent door in order to terrorize Jamila… you get the idea.) Unfortunately, our enthusiasm was not matched by the other groups, who were exhausted and complaining about their strenuous weeks of zoning. Instant downer. Charles had already left with Florent, to do his surveys in Antaninary, and the driver was to take Sarah to Farafangana with him, because she had been passing blood for about a week and it required medical attention. So our arrival was chaotic and sort of heavy, but we got organized. I was supposed to go do household surveys in Vohilava with Ryan, but as soon as we were out of the truck, Marlin announced that the two of us were to go to Vohilava with Robson to mark the strict protection zone. I had to put up a fight on that one, because I haven’t eaten in like five days and the thought of trying to keep up with Ryan’s long stork legs and Robson’s sprinting zoning pace was terrifying. So I’m going to Marolala with Jamila and Héry to do some household surveys.
We’re in Marolala now, and it’s beautiful! We stopped at the site of the new school to admire the view.
The village is quite small – I was told that there are 20 households, but I can only see about six houses, so that may have been an over-estimate. In other news, I realized today that I haven’t really bathed (beyond washing my hands and face and feet daily) in… eight days. But I’ve been washing clothes fairly regularly, so it doesn’t feel that bad. My standards have changed.
While we were walking here from Vohimary (only about an hour’s hike, mostly across a maze of rice paddies), Héry was telling us that the former mayor of Tsaratanana had a farming campaign whose slogan was “Coupez! Brûlez! Plantez! Mangez!”, which would explain the insane deforestation we saw there. The legacy of tavy. Also, the main path up the hill to this village is cut out of the hillside, and it’s basically a big red mudslide. It was hard enough climbing up… I think it will be hard to descend it in a controlled manner. I foresee us pretty much sliding down on our asses. We will probably test this hypothesis tomorrow, as we walked past a spot today with a view of an enormous waterfall, and Héry said he’d take us there to check it out.
Marolala is turning out to be incredibly exciting, considering there are, by my estimate, only about thirty people who live here. We were told today that Jamila and I are the first vazahas ever to visit the village, which explains why the kids have been terrified of us. They’ve never seen a white face before. I’m finding that to be a really heavy thought. We’re the first white people ever to visit this spot on the planet. That’s a huge thing.
One week until my birthday! It’s raining again today, but we’re in high spirits after a great night’s sleep and EGGS for breakfast! A serious treat, and my appetite is slowly coming back. And while the sun was waking up this morning, the mountains all around us looked like they were swimming in a lake of mist, with only the tops peeking out. So lovely.
We did our first household survey last night, which was interesting. We walked out of the village a little and met with a family who had body paint on, which was shocking to me, at first, because I thought the splotches were some kind of sores, haha. Now we’re sitting in the tent, sharing my iPod (Sloan!) and waiting for the rain to let up a little so that we can do some more surveys and possibly go to the waterfall (I think it’s called Renaomby – “cow falls”).
We did make it to the waterfall! Although the rain only let up for a few minutes, and we did, in fact, end up just sitting down and sliding down the muddy hill, laughing the whole way. I’ve never been so muddy in my life, and I love it. The falls were gorgeous, with several cascades below the main chute. There’s a pool at the top where Héry says you can swim, but we hadn’t planned to swim and so weren’t dressed for the occasion. But hopefully we’ll make it back here before the summer’s end. It’s only half an hour from Vohimary Nord.
Tomorrow we walk to Vohilava to meet with the rest of the volunteers, which should be really fun. Jamila and I are having a great time together, and we’re hoping to bring our positive energy to Vohilava so that we all have fun and our sensibilisation is a huge success. I’m optimistic. The walk is 9km from Marolala, and Héry said that most of it’s on an actual road of sorts, so it should be a breeze. Oh! And I found my packet of missing Malarone this morning, which is a relief. Why I thought to stash it in my bag of socks and underwear, I’ll never know.
Sensibilisation day! Vohilava is really pretty, and everyone has been in a great mood since we all reunited two days ago. Ryan and Robson showed up looking pretty scrappy after their days of intense (and rainy) zoning – Ryan had been attacked by tons of leeches and their party had run out of beans, I guess, so had been surviving on coffee and rice, and picking things off bushes in the forest. But everyone emerged relatively unscathed, and we’re all excited about our week in Farafangana. We’ve been playing a lot of asshole (the card game) and drinking lots of sweet coffee, and generally enjoying each other’s company. A fluorescent-clad dance troupe appeared out of nowhere as well, and have been putting on quite a show.
We did our sensibilisation today, which went really well, I think. We had about thirty people show up, and split the group into three sections – older men, younger men, and women. Silvia and I facilitated the activities with the women’s group, which was really interesting. The idea was for each group to map out their village on the ground, using dirt, twigs, rocks, etc. Then we were going to discuss which places were the most important – we expected the women to emphasize the river, for example, because a woman’s main function in a rural Malagasy household is to fetch water. Then we were to talk about how the forest affects the quality of the water supply and what sort of effects deforestation might have on their access to clean water.
However, we weren’t prepared for the social norms in this village – women did not speak in public, and needed a man to express their thoughts. We tried all the ways we could think of to work around this, but there was one old woman in the group who was really adamant that they wouldn’t participate unless one of the husbands would come and dictate to us. So, finally, we had to agree. And though it was hard to say if his words were really indicative of the women’s sentiments (he seemed to do all the talking, with very little verbal input from them), there were a few younger women who really stepped up and expressed their hopes of establishing aquaculture in their region, so that they could help to generate income. It was really interesting, and Silvia and I were really pleased with the discussion.
Today was so great. We felt like we were actually having an awesome impact on the community. Also, as of today, I haven’t washed my hair in two weeks. Impressive, no? Farafangana tomorrow!
Today was such a blur. We woke up in Vohilava, had the greatest rice and bean breakfast of all time, hiked the 2 hours to Manambidala, where Ryan, Jamila and Charles hopped on the bikes that had been left there, and Manora, Sarah, Silvia and I climbed into the Land Rover, and we all headed back to Vondrozo. We stopped there for approximately eight seconds (long enough to inhale some nems) and then continued right on to Farafangana in the Land Rover. There were the seven of us, plus the driver, Héry and his daughter, Rodin and his son (mini-Rodin, he is adorable), and some tag-along who I have fondly dubbed “extra dude”. It was crowded, but the music was killer, and we jammed all the way along the bumpy road. We’re settled into the Hotel Austral, and I HAD A SHOWER! (It was mostly by candlelight – the power went out halfway through.) Too tired to elaborate. Sleeping in a real bed!
I am in a bikini. The sun is shining. Jour de fête! 4 Croustillant pastries and two yogurts later…. (or, if you’re Manora, seven pastries and three yogurts…) we have moved to Coco Beach hotel, which is -gasp!- ON the beach. Sigh. We bought cell phones today too! for about 5 Euros. Hopefully I’ll be able to call home!
Dear goodness, I think it’s midnight! I haven’t seen midnight in weeks. (Note: In the field, you pretty much go to bed with the sun, or 7pm at the latest. There’s not much to do once the sun goes down.) We spent the day soaking up UV rays and reading on the beach, and had dinner (and a few THB – the local beer) in town at Hanitra, then (after picking up a few more beer) made the trek out to Coco Beach in the dark. And my mom called! I am essentially floating on a cloud at the moment. We went down to the beach to check out the stars, and the milky way, as usual, did not disappoint. As an added bonus, across the ocean we could see a distant lightning storm flashing away. It was so … exhilarating.
Today the good vibes were strong. We sat on the patio and worked on revising our survey questionnaire this morning, which went pretty smoothly. And tonight, after a super relaxed afternoon on the beach, Manora made beautiful vegetable-y macaroni for dinner. We couldn’t shut up about how glorious it was. More star gazing, and plans for tomorrow – it happens to be both my birthday and Madagascar’s independence day, which means, we are told, that the whole town will be drunk before the parade at noon, and will stay drunk until approximately June 29th. Yes!
6:45 am: wake up
7am-8am: yoga on the beach (I was the only one around, it was beautiful)
8am: ocean dip with Jamila, followed by a surprise treat of jam and cookies that she had saved for the occasion
Manora and I stayed at the hotel to lay on the beach for a while and to start getting things ready for our super quiche omelette extraordinaire, while the others ventured into the festive town to buy provisions for the day. They returned with pastries and beer, and our omelette breakfast was complete. Absolument hallucinant. We spent the afternoon on the beach (obviously), swimming and reading and laughing and sharing iPods, and Manora created another culinary masterpiece involving even more macaroni. Marlin came out for dinner and a drink, and they surprised me with an enormous birthday cake that they had ordered from le Croustillant. SO wonderful.
And, as per my birthday request, someone tracked down firewood and we had a beach bonfire, complete with Marlin on guitar and a clear sky. Best birthday ever. How can I possibly be so lucky?