After a few days of repose (and report-writing) in Vondrozo, I’m in Manambidala. Sarah and I are heading back to Vohimary Nord with Robson to do household surveys; Silvia and Manora are here as well, on their way to Antaninary, and Jamila on her way to Mahafasa and Marolala. We’re about 13km (as the crow flies) from Vondrozo, and, since today was gorgeous and sunny, we walked! Well, Silvia, Sarah, Jamila and I did, anyway, and it was about five hours of beating sun. (My freckles are out of control.) Ryan and Charles biked, and waited here in Manambidala to say goodbye to us before continuing on to Vohilava. Manora hitched a ride on the back of Marlin’s moto, because she’s been having some exciting digestive issues over the past few days, and thought it was in her best interest to get here as quickly as possible. Tomorrow, we all go on to Vohimary Nord, which is about 10km away, and Sarah and I settle in while the other girls continue on to their villages.
Sarah and I are a bit nervous about working with Robson, because he’s sort of the shyest of the agents, and maybe not totally comfortable speaking French. But I spent my zoning weeks with him, and I can happily say that he is a man who appreciates his coffee, which I, in turn, appreciate about him. Coffee twice a day has become a serious habit of mine, sugar cane or not.
I’ll explain a bit about the household study. As I mentioned earlier, the whole Management of the Vondrozo Forest Corridor project is working toward the ultimate goal of sustainable, community-based management of this piece of land. After the ban of tavy (slash and burn agriculture), it’s been really hard for these totally agriculture-centred communities to adjust. They’ve had to move their rice cultivation from hillsides down into actual rice paddies, which is a very different method of farming for them. This is one of the poorest regions of the country economically, and if the harvests are insufficient to feed their families, many people can’t afford to buy food to compensate for the shortages. The distended bellies of malnourished kids can be seen in every village.
One of our projects within the framework of the Explore program has been to design a questionnaire that will gather the kind of data that the WWF can use to gauge what kind of projects would be the most beneficial in the region. We started working on the questionnaire back in June, and tested the draft after zoning. The questions were directed to the “agriculteur” of the family, usually a man, and asked which crops were grown and in what quantities, what other sources of income supported the family, etc. While on our break in Farafangana, we discussed the results that each group obtained in different communities. Jamila and I, in the tiny village of Marolala, went into people’s homes to conduct surveys, one household at a time. Charles, working with Florent in Antaninary, held big group sessions, and surveyed a dozen people at once. So, while Jamila and I did two surveys, Charles did 80 or something. But surveying in a group setting meant that a farmer were more likely to reiterate what the guy before him had said, and other volunteers had found that their data were more varied (and probably more accurate) if they went house by house. So now Sarah and I will go house to house with Robson and our freshly edited questionnaire, in the name of sustainable community-based forest management. Yes!
We walked to Vohimary this morning, which took about 3 hours at a lazy pace. Manora, Silvia and Jamila are staying the night here before taking off for Antaninary and Mahafasa, and there’s a car coming to pick us all up on the 6th, so that’s exciting!
They’ve cleared out a room for us, the same room that we hung out in last week while we were here in Vohimary, and the same woman is cooking for us! She is fabulous. The village kids have become more confident since we last met, and now just come right in and sit down to read over my shoulder and ask hundreds of questions. I’m loving it, though! I’ve walked about 22km in the past 24 hours, so I have that lovely leg exhaustion that results from really satisfying hikes, and I’m definitely in my element, surrounded by children. We try to understand each other however we can manage, including teeny bits of French, English, Malgache, and making bizarre faces. I’m learning a lot from them, actually, especially from Lidier, a boy who’s about eleven and super put-together. He’ll point at an object (book, nose, dog) and ask how to say it in French. “Chien!” I’ll say, and the attentive audience of eight or ten kids will all repeat the word and laugh about how silly it sounds. Then they ask how to say it in English, repeat it again, and laugh even harder. (English sounds even funnier than French to them, because they learn French in school, so they’re more used to the sounds. English is a riot.) Then I get to ask them how to say it in Malgache, and all ten of them coach me through the pronunciation until I get it almost right, and they all congratulate me on my achievement. In this way, I’ve learned tons of new words. No hard feelings, Mme. Victorine, but these kids are incredible teachers. And I’m here for a week! Think of the learning possibilities…
One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, though, was the scene that ensued when I brought out the five or six family photos that I have tucked away in my journal. The kids oohed and aahed about them, passing them around the crowd and begging me for more. Oritaz, the daughter of the woman who’s cooking for us, pointed to my mom in the photo and said, “ino ity?” (“Who’s that?”) I said that she was my “mama”, and they all excitedly cried out, “mama!” She pointed to Nick, asking if he was my “papa”, so I laughed and pointed to my dad in the photo. Then she pointed at Nick, and I said, “Nicolas,” because giving them names in French is just so much easier for them. “Christophe”, Duncan and Fergus were identified as well, and I wish I had a sound recording of the chorus of kids repeating my family’s names as I pointed to them in the photo. Too too cute. I actually really like working (though it’s too fun to be work) with the language barrier. It means that the kids and I have to be more creative in our communication, and we’re doing a great job so far.
Sarah and I are also pretty excited about sharing a tent between just the two of us. Three in a tent for inventory was a little tight, so it will be nice to roll over in the night without waking up to the startling sensation of my nose touching another nose. (This actually happened.)