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giving thanks

 

 

Today, as I wait for a gigantic spaghetti squash to roast in my oven, I’m reeeeeally feeling the gratitude. I’m cozied up in my beautiful apartment, sunshine pouring in, after an energizing morning yoga practice and a leisurely and delicious breakfast (and a whole french press of coffee).

I’ll narrow it down. The first thing I’m grateful for is my health.ImageTHIS is a big part of santosha for me – being personally responsible for my wellbeing, investing time in my yoga practice and lots of sleep, and investing some dollars into the best food for my bod. Is there anything more important? (Thank you to Dara, for being my role model when it comes to this.)

I’m grateful for my teachers.

ImageMaybe not the most flattering photo of Ryan, but a good indication of the joy he brings into every room. I’ve developed in my practice and in the rest of my life through the teachings of Reno, Ryan, and so many others – and, of course, from that little teacher who lives in my heart and my mind. Sometimes that one is the hardest to listen to, but she usually teaches me the most profound lessons.

I’m grateful for the beautiful planet and the places I’ve explored this year.

ImageAdventure is out there! I’ve managed to chase down a few, on both coasts, and a few more in Thailand. I’m grateful for Noah, who is always up for another one, and who has been my best guide on this side of the nation.

Image

ImageThese are just a few of the people who have been on my journey this year – every one of them has lit a little spark in me, and has reassured me that I’m on the right path. I’m giving thanks for my family, most of whom are far away, and my pseudo-family, who are all over the world and also here in Vancouver. I know how fortunate I am to love my job every day, and to be inspired by the people who work alongside me.

Anyway, you get the idea. I count my blessings every day, but today it seems particularly appropriate. I’m off to pack up my squash and scoot it over to Michelle’s place, where I will feast with several other beautiful friends – all relocated East Coasters who make me feel a little closer to home.

Big love!

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the “why” behind it

A quick one.

Yesterday, I had the most wonderful day. To celebrate my friend Ellen’s birthday (and mine), we hijacked a friend’s car and scooted up the Sea-To-Sky to gallivant around Whistler for the day.

Quick review:

– The Peak to Peak gondola is really a feat of engineering. Not for those who are afraid of heights. We went on a perfectly clear day, so the views were spectacular. $50 is a bit steep, though.

– Scandinave is a really gorgeous outdoor hot-and-cold pool spa. It reminds me of my spa “workweek” in Coolum, Australia with Jannine and Kate. Heat, cool, relax, repeat. We spent two hours, but next time, I’m staying all day.

dreamy hillside for an aquatic being like me

Now. This morning, I was to teach the Sunday morning yoga class at lululemon downtown. I woke up at 7, wrote out my little plan, drank a tea, and chipperly slung my yoga mat over my shoulder. Out the door by 8 to catch the bus at 8:11, which would deposit me by the store at an appropriate 8:30am.

swiped the photo from Amazon - please read this book!

By 8:22, I had started to panic. People at the bus stop were doing the frustrated shift from foot to foot, and some were peering around the corner, impatiently waiting. I had my copy of Meditations from the Mat in my hand, and as I felt my heart beating higher and higher in my chest, I slowed my breath down and opened the book to a random page.

“Your breath should be light, even and flowing, like a thin stream of water running through the sand. Your breath should be very quiet, so quiet that a person sitting next to you cannot hear it. Your breathing should flow gracefully, like a river, like a water snake crossing the water, and not like a chain of rugged mountains of the gallop of a horse. To master our breath is to be in control of or bodies and minds. Each time we find ourselves depressed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Thank you, thank you. I arrived two minutes late (for the first, and the last, time) and told this story. This is why I practice.

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homecoming

Today I’m going into HGS to do a presentation for Ms. Brock’s geo classes! And, of course, I’m forcing Chris J to attend, though he told me that I’m absolutely not allowed to tell anyone that he’s my brother. Ha!

After that, I’ll update my blog to wrap up our days in Tana, and then, ohhhhh then, I’ll let you all in on my plans to go back.

(P.S. I’m also doing a 30-day challenge at moksha yoga in Halifax – thirty hot yoga classes in thirty days. Whoa!)

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home again

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the brief lull. I’ve just spent a few days in Toronto catching up with school friends and doing presentations on the Explore Programme at U of T! (Thanks again to Mart Gross for making time for me to present in his conservation biology classes.)

I’ll be updating again this weekend. Thanks for reading, and thanks to those of you who have been asking questions and such. I am thrilled – I think it’s pretty obvious that this is something I looove to talk about! Keep it coming. Oh, and check out my recently improved WWF site :

http://www.panda.org/how_you_can_help/volunteer/volunteer/volunteer_stories/madagascar/vondrozo_forest/elizabeth_johnson/index.cfm

Aaaand, why not? Here’s a direct link to my film.

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…and a few more.

Hi again!

Heads up – on my WWF page, my video is now available! It’s a little fuzzy, which is sort of unfortunate, but you get the idea. And the music in the background is the village of Tsaratanana, whom I recorded singing while I was there one night. Neat, eh?

So. Vicky asked me about the actual results of the work we did in and around Vondrozo. The “Management of the Vondrozo Forest Corridor” project is scheduled to continue for a few more years, so the work is ongoing for the WWf agents there. Our impact was sort of instantaneous, in a way, because the villagers are always excited to see foreigners working in their villages, so many of them are likely to show up for any awareness-raising and projects that we’re involved in. The household survey that we conducted, for example, was really successful because people were really keen to have us visit their homes and talk with them. That data, we analyzed in a big fat report that the WWF will use to determine what sort of help the people around the corridor want most. There have already been training sessions on new rice cultivation techniques (SRI, for example) and agricultural methods to maximize harvest of manioc, coffee, and some other key crops. So the report is most of a long-term contribution, I guess. I’m really interested to hear about it, of course, so I’m hoping to get my hands on reports over the next year and onwards, to see if I can spot any links to our work.

Regarding the language barrier, there were definitely some funny moments. The trickiest part, for me at least, was trying to remember which words are used for dogs and which for humans. This may sound a bit odd, but being called a dog (or treated like a dog) is an enormous insult, and though they usually give vazahas a bit of wiggle room with respect to the cultural taboos and stuff, I still always felt like an idiot. For example, the verb “to go”. Sometimes they say “aller”, like in French, but sometimes it’s “mandeha”, the Malgache word. And even now, I forget which is appropriate for humans and which is for dogs. Ugh, how embarrassing. Also, if you’re motioning someone to “come here”, in Canada you sort of wave your hand toward yourself, with yout palm facing yourself. In Madagascar, no. That’s for dogs. You have to stretch your hand out, palm facing the person, and kind of grab the air, as if you’re grabbing them to pull them toward you. (If this doesn’t make sense, I’ll demonstrate in person next time we see each other.) Whenever I made one of these errors, the kids would laugh at me, and the WWF agents would have to remind me of the difference. Sigh.

Here are links to some kilalaky music videos:

Vicky also asked me when I’m planning on going back to Madagascar, because it must be hard for me to stay away! This girl knows me. Of course I’m already working on my next project, and I’ll tell you all about it as soon as it’s a little more solid : )

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my WWF page is up!

http://www.panda.org/how_you_can_help/volunteer/volunteer/volunteer_stories/madagascar/vondrozo_forest/elizabeth_johnson/index.cfm

I’ll let you know when my video is up and running on this page too. I’m so excited!

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a few answers

I guess people actually have been reading this (yes!), because I’ve received a few questions about my trip, and I’ll answer them here.

– At the bottom of each entry, on the right, it will say “No comment” or “Two comments” or whatever. If you want to add a comment, just click on those words!

– I’ve been mentioning a lot of place names, and not giving a lot of information about where these places are. It’s hard to find a map of the Vondrozo region on the internet (or in print), because the area is pretty remote and I’m not sure there’s a lot of demand for maps! Part of the reason why we did zoning was to help create a better map of the area. I’m attaching the map from the WWF fact sheet on the project, which isn’t very high resolution but shows the village of Vondrozo (in red) sort of at the bottom. To the North you can see Ambohimanana, Tsaratanana (if you look closely – it’s really small!) and Mahazoarivo, and to the East you can see Vohimary. It’s a bit confusing but it sort of gives the layout of the land. I’m trying to get a copy of the map that we helped to make, though, and I’ll post that when I get it.

– Who are we? I’ve been dropping lots of names, but here’s some clarification, I hope.

left to right

Left to right: Sarah (half-hidden), Aurore with her leg sticking out, Charles, Manora, me, Jamila and Silvia

Sarah is from Montreal and studies at McGill; Aurore is from Switzerland and works at WWF International in Geneva; Charles is from Quebec and studies at Laval (currently on exchange in La Reunion!); Manora is from France and studies at Singapore Management University; Jamila is from Austria/Vancouver and studies at Carleton in Ottawa; and Silvia is from Spain and studied at Manchester in the UK, and is now living in Paris (I think). I’ve also mentioned Ryan, who is a Peace Corps volunteer from California. He’s living in Vondrozo until 2010, and he looks kind of like this:

haha... I love this photo.

haha... I love this photo.

– We all uploaded our photos onto computers and then each took our favourites from everyone else’s albums, so not all of these photos are mine.

– Security. The WWF organized all of our accomodations and transportation from city to city, and we stayed in very decent hotels everywhere. None of us had anything stolen, and I’m not sure if that means we’re lucky or the Malgache are just generally very respectful people. (I think the truth is somewhere in between.) I didn’t take my laptop with me, because I thought I’d be worried about it the whole time, but I actually wished I had brought it (and Charles did bring his, though he left it at the WWF office during fieldwork because really, the rain was the biggest computer concern). In Tana in particular, we were encouraged to be back in our hotel by sort of 10pm and to take taxis if we wanted to go anywhere after dark, because muggings are not uncommon, especially for tourists. So, with the exception of Tana at night, I never really felt unsafe. Camping in the small villages was really no sweat, because everyone knows everyone and we were under constant observation, so we felt like everyone was looking out for us. Mostly, the people we encountered were just really excited to see us in their communities.

– A fosa looks like this:

It’s sort of the size of a fox, I’d say, and it’s the “biggest and scariest” predator in Madagascar, though they aren’t really known to attack humans. They’re more into lemurs.

– “Mora mora” literally means “slowly slowly”. It’s sort of a big part of the national identity, as far as I can tell. People run on “l’heure malgache”, which usually means they’re running late, but “running” isn’t the right word. When we wanted to have a village meeting before noon, we’d announce that it was scheduled for 8am, which usually meant that it would start around 11, when people showed up.

– We were able to charge our cameras and iPods and stuff in Vondrozo when we were there. The village has a generator that provides electricity from 5pm to 11pm daily, and from noon to 11pm on weekends. (Again, this is “Malgache time”, so the times were pretty flexible, as you can imagine.) Our guesthouse had a lightbulb in every room but no plugs, but the WWF office did have some outlets, so we could plug our things in overnight. I think now that the village has cellular reception, more people will be getting outlets installed in their homes so they can charge their phones.

I’m sure I’ve been spouting out a lot of things that require explanation, so definitely send me your questions!

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