We made the trek (ha! It’s a one-hour stroll) to Tsaratanana this morning after a most gloriously long sleep. The walk was lovely and I felt in peak form, which was surprising after a week of decadent pastry gorging, after a week of sickly fasting! But I was at the front of the pack with the porters, rocking my jelly shoes, feeling like a nimble little mountain goat. I was literally prancing, borderline skipping. I hopped from rock to rock. Flashback to two weeks ago when I was dragging my pale, sweaty, nauseous self up hillsides, trying desperately not to throw up, fall and die. I just feel totally excited to be alive, in Madagascar, and in Tsaratanana in particular. I love this place.
It was also really cool to arrive in Tsaratanana 15 or 20 minutes ahead of Sarah and Augustin – they had stopped so that Sarah could tend to some wounds or something. I was met by a smiling crowd and ushered into the Coba president’s house alone, where he and I tried really hard to chat in Malgache and his six words of French. (His only verb is “donner”, “to give”, which makes 90% of his sentences quite funny.) I tried to update him on where Ryan, Robson and Manora were, and we laughed together about my limited Malgache vocabulary, even after being here for over a month. I actually felt pretty pathetic today in that respect – I think he was asking me really simple questions. But I did have the absolute pleasure of giving the president the photos of his family that Ryan had taken during zoning and had printed in Farafangana. His wife squealed and snatched them out of his hand, and pretty much the whole village was crowded around the door anyway, peering at me, so they all passed the photos around as well. They were beyond excited, and so endearingly grateful. It was a really special moment, and I’m glad that I got to experience it by myself. (Is that selfish? It just felt wonderful to make them so happy.)
The Coba president is totally my pal. I just might be the new Manora. He just brought coffee to the tent for me! I love it. We had tsaramaso for dinner, which were fabulous, and the president came and sat with us and chatted with Augustin. Augustin said to me – get this! – “the president says that you have gained weight since he last saw you.” Ha! This is a) embarrassing, b) considered a compliment, c) true, since I was sick last time I was here. All of the above. Funny though. A man could get himself slapped for saying something like that at home.
I have some new health concerns already though. I had some mad blisters coming along on the bottom of my feet (a flip flop disaster in Farafangana), and they are being seriously exacerbated by my kiranis. I may have to re-evaluate a bit, after this day of mountain goat bliss.
Woke up to the bustle (ie. ROOSTERS!) of Tsaratanana this morning and had cookies and massive bananas for breakfast – no time for rice and beans, we needed to get moving! Augustin has led me to believe that we get to camp in the same spot throughout the inventory, which is exciting. Moving every day during zoning was exhausting. Our campsite is alright – it sort of seems to be in the middle of a swamp, but such is Tsaratanana. The porters are fantastic though, and they can cook! What more could I ask for?
Last night I kept getting itchy in my sleeping bag, as if things were crawling on my legs. I ripped my leggings off in frantic frustration a few times, but didn’t see anything. This morning, though, I squished two little bugs on the blanket that looked like (I shudder at the mere thought)… big fleas. Ugh. I guess at this point all I can do is shake out my sleeping bag and blanket and hope for the best. Three weeks with fleas sounds remarkably not-fun. Oh! Again, communication is somewhat unclear, but I think that we get to leave here on the 16th and go to meet the boys in Antaninary! It will be great to have a change of scenery and some new company. Not that Sarah’s bad company at all! I just think that we might run out of stories and start going crazy by the end of two weeks alone together. And I really hope that Jamila’s alright in Farafangana. Knowing her, she must be so bored!
The enormous blister on the bottom of my foot woke me up last night. It hurts SO much. I opted to stay at the campsite today to give it a rest, rather than killing myself inventory-ing. Sarah stayed too, and we donned our lambas and headed to the river to do some laundry. It was really lovely, with the bizarre bird noises and the cool water and hot sun. When we got back to camp, my favourite porter had crafted a table out of sticks and ravinala leaves. A table! I am in awe.
Jamila showed up today! What a lovely surprise. And she looks so much better. Marlin and Rodin accompanied her; they came on motorbikes (Jamila on the back of Marlin’s) to Ambohimana, then spent one night in Tsaratanana and came straight out to camp in the morning. She admits that she probably should have stayed in Farafangana for another few days, but she’s so incessantly productive all the time (a quality that is both a blessing and a curse!) that she insisted on coming to meet us immediately. Marlin and Rodin headed back toward town after dinner.
For the inventory, we (Augustin, about ten porters, and we volunteers) are going into the forest to set the placettes first, using huge measuring tapes to find the boundaries of 20m x 60m rectangles, and marking the corners with pink flagging tape. Within the 20m x 60m, there is a 20×20 “A” compartment, and there are two 10×10 “B” compartments and two 5×5 “C” compartments. We measure different things in different compartments – more on that later.
There isn’t an awful lot of forest left in Tsaratanana, though. This village had a mayor in recent years who had a pro-tavy campaign with the slogan “Coupez! Brulez! Plantez! Mangez!” (Cut! Burn! Plant! Eat!), and the forest suffered greatly. Of the 30 placettes that we’re supposed to inventory, 18 have been set. Tomorrow we’ll set the rest, and the next day, we’ll begin the actual counting.