A Joyful Adventurous Life Together

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Antananarivo, Madagascar
VAZAHA = foreigner VAO VAO = news

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fombas and finoanas

Today, I went to a funeral in my slippers.

Saturday night's all-night party at the neighbors, and the singing I disparaged in my Facebook post on Sunday, were to mourn the death of our neighbor. Mourning involves an all-night singing session. This morning, Madame Bernadette, the self-proclaimed 106 y/o nun (maybe 86 but who am I to say), asked me to meet at the end of our street at 6:30 pm. The 'gasy custom (= fomba), it seems, is for neighbors to stop by to offer condolences and a collection. I was immersed in editing octopus when she came to get me -- I darted out the door only to realize that I had fuzzy feet. No problem on the dark street, but when we were in the family living room, all in a circle, with eyes cast downward, praying, well, I thought I might die. (Maybe they think it is a vazaha custom?!)

What other customs might there be? My favorite so far is the ingrained belief (= finoana) in ghosts and witches. Witches, in particular, are a real problem. So much so that our language/'gasy culture teacher did not want to teach us about them. Eventually,she capitulated, but we had to plan the lesson to avoid Wednesdays because that day is when you can/are more likely to see them. I'm not sure anyone has ever seen a witch, but the say, "They say that witches..." and continue the rumor. Witches are often possessed and suffer greatly, and if you allow them to touch you, they can pass on the evil spirit to you. They dance on graves (of course). If you see a witch, you much talk first or you will be turned into a horse. Luckily, you can identify witches by their messy hair and "alternative" clothing. And you can keep them out of your house by putting some voangabory (my favorite bean here) on the doorstep and window sills. You can also indirectly accuse someone of being a witch by feeding them voangabory -- apparently witches can't eat them, so you know right away. (Much nicer than Salem!) But now I know to make a joke when I ask Juliette to make us voangabory -- she was minorly offended the first time.

Witches are kind of handy when you think of it -- when things go missing or creepy things happen (someone breaks into your hut, for instance) -- you can blame a witch. This way, you don't need to confront anyone. It fits in well with the tendency of 'gasies to avoid conflict.Witches can be male or female, and are different from witch DOCTORS, who can cast nasty curses to, for example, kill your competition for your paramour. Witch doctors are a legit business. Um, calling. They use herbs and spells...and have immense power. (I wonder if I can give nasty peer reviewers bad diarrhea??)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New photos posted!

I put up photos from biking, Andasibe, and other fun things.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Research updates...

Once again an apology for the lack of communication. Busy, busy with gasy lessons (a upcoming blog post will detail some interesting 'gasy fombas (customs) and finoanas (beliefs) about WITCHES and CREATURES. Look for it...), research, and fun. For the moment, let me try to tell you why we've bad bloggers.

The octopus saga continues, dear friends. Last month -- it seems so long ago! -- we had 2 biologists from Blue Ventures living in our house for 3 1/2 weeks. Tom taught them statistics. A surprising realization for both of us was that biology training in the UK does not include stats. But Sophie and Haj worked their tails off, learned basic stats and a hardcore computer coding language called R, and are now well equipped to run some analyses on the enormous datasets that Blue Ventures continues to collect. Tom volunteered for a month to teach us. (Really in the end, my octopus problem became his octopus problem. Fetsy aho! (= sly I!)) We now have biological results about the successes and failures of the reserves. WOOHOO! Let the economics begin (a year late)!

But in case you think that is all we were doing last month, not so! Tom was preparing for a "Rapid Assessment Program" of biodiversity and ecological health in the northeast. While he is paid for the work by Conservation International, he worked days and days off-contract to gather materials, herd cats (a.k.a. the other marine scientists), confirm the methodologies, etc. He sat on our patio cutting and assembling quadrants...try explaining THAT in 'gasy. A wonderful coincidence of the RAP is our first friend visited Mada -- Sea flew in the night before the expedition. I got to spend more time with him than planned because Air France kindly left all his luggage in Paris (including enormous amounts of gear for the expedition that he schlepped). Lovely for me!

(News flash: Tom is well. He's in Vohemar, the infamous shipping port town from which all rosewood is being illegally exported. In fact, a friend of mine told me that this morning 'gasy radio reported suspicion of the RAP boat -- CI team are illegal exporters of rosewood! They clarified that the boat was full of SCUBA divers, and they had no idea what they were up to. So much for the communications push CI did -- Tom was on TV before they left.)

I have been working (for Blue Ventures) on a funding proposal for a UK call regarding ecosystem services. It was a nightmare -- the proposal was 2 pages, but the call included 36 pages of instructions. And then their online systems kept adding up our budgets incorrectly. Finally we gave up and left the sum 2000 pounds off, only to receive an email weeks later acknowledging the mistake and asking for spreadsheets. (The best part was that ALL the applicants were copied on the email, so now I know who else has applied -- Gretchen, Peter Kareiva, and a bunch of other usual suspects! Tough competition.)

Back to octopus, I've been developing the economic models to value the marginal benefit of the marine protected area. It bends my brain a bit. Lots of fun, though, now that I have data to work with. Unfortunately, sometimes I can't break my connection to my model (just one more adjustment! one more run!) and I don't sleep until the wee hours of the morning. I'm hoping to have a rough draft to vet with some folks here by the end of this weekend.

My climate change policy analysis project is cooking as well. I hired a fantastic research assistant (a law/environmental policy student) who is helping me gather the myriad documents and understand the legal/institutional context of marine conservation here. People in the NGOs have been incredibly generous with their time and with information. Soon I'll approach government agencies for interviews, which is going to be a whole new can of worms...

Tom and I have narrowed our potential sites for fieldwork, I think. I'm going to meet him up north the end of next week to check out two of the sites. One on the NW coast is an existing MPA where WWF is working on climate change integration. The other is on the NE coast, a new MPA co-managed by Conservation International. Projected climate impacts are quite different in the two sites. I don't know enough about the sites and management regimes yet to know if they offer interesting contrasts.

Then there are all the extraneous things going on that an economist can sink her teeth into. Commenting on World Bank policy notes, discussing environmental impacts of ginormous mining projects, debating export policies, tracking down facts about illegal concessions being sold by a corrupt government...

We've also been having a lot of fun. Amend that. I (Kirsten) have been having a lot of fun. While Tom taught octopus, I went to scope the marine parks on Masoala Peninsula (and hike for 4 days). Masoala is the largest remaining standing forest in Mada (its protection is run by the 3rd big NGO here, Wildlife Conservation Society). Unbelievably fun. I'll blog soon about that trek. While Tom herded cats the weekend before last, I went mountain biking through the rice patties about 3 hours outside of Tana. I suffered a bloody knee (I didn't realize we were supposed to bike on the tiny dike, I guess, and literally went INTO the rice patty). I have some great photos I will upload (of the landscape, not the bloody knee). Then this past weekend (Easter), I joined a group of folks to go back to Andasibe to worship the lemurs. We got up close and personal with indris and Goodman mouse lemurs (OMG! Like, SOOOOO CUTE!).

The inter-tubes have been clogged recently, so this is probably all they can handle. I'll post again soon!