A Joyful Adventurous Life Together

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Antananarivo, Madagascar
VAZAHA = foreigner VAO VAO = news

Friday, August 27, 2010

Updates from Andavadoaka

Hello dear readers. Greetings from Andavadoaka! For those of you who don't remember my stint here last year, we are at Blue Ventures' research site on the SW coast of Madagascar. (Blue Ventures or BV is a small NGO.) The marine protected area (MPA) we are studying surrounds 40 km of very remote coast; Andavadoaka is the central village. Despite the temptation of diving, azure waters, white sand beaches, warm sunshine, sailing on lakanas, ... we've been keeping ourselves busy. Tom is working on analyzing the octopus landings dataset that BV has collected over the past 6 years. Octopus is the major income source for these very poor fishers, so getting an idea whether the management techniques being implemented are working is very important. I am tangentially involved in that analysis as well -- but really I will be asking different questions of the data than the biologists. While they want to show that the
reserves "have an effect" (on size of octopus, catch per day, etc.), I
want to know if the sacrifice made in closing the fishery is made up for
with the gains. My questions come next...

While Tom works on the biological analysis, most of my time is spent setting up an economic valuation exercise. This involves asking a lot of questions to a lot of people. I'm learning a tremendous amount designing this. I'm taking my time -- trying to do the best I can with foresight. Still, I know some things will go terribly wrong. I just hope that it won't be because I made a stupid mistake in the sampling or something equally preventable. If the survey team gets stranded because of weather...fine...but if I can't draw conclusions because my sample isn't representative or there is some bias, I will cry and/or beat my head against a wall. I'm in the process of testing the survey method now -- it is a complicated game where we ask people to make a series of choices across some future scenarios. Not an easy task with folks who have different values and very different time horizons that I do. For example, a Vezo saying says something like: today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow. Basically: "why save a fish from today's catch for tomorrow? Tomorrow I can go out to fish again. If the weather is bad, then the ancestors don't want me to fish...but they will provide." Designing questions that get at the essence of what I need to know without obscuring what their values really are is incredibly hard. The next month is going to be very, very busy!

So that's an update from project octopus and project valuation #1. Our other project continue to keep us up late into the night (until our computer batteries die -- the generator cuts off at 9 pm). Tom is currently cussing at his machine as he runs code to analyze data from the Rapid Assessment Program he worked on in March. He has to compile all the other scientists' data into one comprehensive report. I keep hearing the Mac ribbit-ing or whatever sound that is when something is bad. He is also, of course, immersed in about 100 projects of other folks here on site. All BV staff come to him for advice, ideas, help...of course, his teaching is a hot commodity and while it keeps him from working on his own stuff, he loves it! I have my other NSF projects -- hopefully I'll have a couple of weeks to finish one of them when my survey team here rolls out before our data comes in.

All in all, life in our decrepit hut is lovely. The weather is turning a bit warmer. We are going to dive this weekend for my birthday (I hope -- weather permitting).

lots of love, Kirsten

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

late May - early August update (= slackers!)

Months and months
I’ve gotten some worried emails from friends about our lack of updates the past months. I don't really have a good excuse...after all, Madagascar is training me to WAIT -- for everything -- thus the glacial internet to upload photos shouldn't be a hindrance to posting. Short version: everything is well.

Here is a quick summary of our lives:

The start of the month saw us both us in the northeast of the country doing different parts of the same project. Conservation International is doing a “Rapid Assessment Program” of the coastal/marine environment. Tom was on a boat most of March doing the coral reef surveys, and returned to do one more site. I passed him in the night in Diego (literally), when I went up to do 2 weeks of household surveys with a Malagasy collaborator, Ando. After that, Tom went to Hawaii to marry our good friends, Anthony and Nicole. He then headed to CA to work with his old Stanford team, and to Nantucket to visit family. I traveled to Holland for 3 weeks to work with a professor at the Free University Amsterdam to design the next project. Oma came all the way to Holland to hang out with me – amazing at the ripe age of 90 to travel across the Atlantic! We walked 3 – 5 km each day we were together, hanging out at a cafĂ© newly built at the bottom of the water tower in the dunes of Scheveningen (a landmark that figures prominently in both our childhoods).

Just after Tom and I both returned to Madagascar in early July, 3 good friends from Stanford came. Erin, Andy, Kate joined us for a week-long adventure traveling part of the Route National 7 to Ranomafana national park, taking a train into a community-managed forest, and attending an exhumation just outside of Ansirabe. It was our monster truck’s first voyage. Its name is “dimy” as a result – it means 5 in Malagasy. Kate thought “dimy” meant “everyone” until late in the week because we kept ordering beers for dimy, food for dimy, … Anyway, I guess you had to be there. It was fun to see Madagascar through their eyes. The exhumation is a ceremony that highland families do every 5 years or so. The village throws a big party – 3 bands competed at the one we attended –food (rice and boiled pork, replete with hairs and a thick layer of fat. Mmmmmm!) and toaka gasy (moonshine) are consumed before a parade heads to the family tomb. Anyone who died in since the last opening of the tomb is removed and a new “lamba” (material – usually silk) is wrapped around the corpse. I was expecting a really gruesome scene, but the bodies just looked like white sausages, loosely wrapped. They were never unwrapped, so no bones and sinew.

I had a week to get a lot of work done before our next round of guests arrived. Gina and Hannah (Tom’s aunt and cousin) flew in to help us with our fieldwork. They joined us and Ingrid, a master’s student from Holland who is working with me this year, on another voyage along the RN 7. This time, we drove all the way to Tulear. We again stopped in Ranomafana to visit the rainforest and our friendly lemurs and chameleons. Then we headed south of Fianar to a community-run ring-tailed lemur reserve nestled in mountain canyons. Hannah was especially popular with (human) children as she perpetually had a bag of candy with her. We spent two nights at a luxury hotel in the Malagasy Sedona. The good news is there are no Sedonans there. Gina, Hannah, and I spent the afternoon riding through Bara villages. The Bara are a tribe best known for the habit of stealing cattle. In order to get married, a man has to steal cattle. A kind of coming-of-age ritual, I suppose. And since the people with cattle are also Bara, I suppose what goes around, comes around…

The week-long journey brought us to Tulear in the southwest. I split from the Dimy-travelin' crowd to fly back up to Tana to attend a workshop at WWF with the park managers from Nosy Hara (my next field site, in the north of the country). I’m 2/3 of the way through the workshop now, and very glad I came. Aside from meeting everyone, I have a good idea of what climate change adaptation measures the park is considering integrating. On Friday I will discuss with WWF about my next steps to help their project move ahead. WWF is enthusiastic, but the trick is going to be to get Madagascar National Parks excited. They are the association in charge of running the park day-to-day. They are over-worked and swamped with bureaucracy. I can imagine that they roll their eyes at a foreign researcher with all sorts of ideas about ecosystem services, their values, and how important they are to quantify!! I think I’ll focus on wooing a senior woman who seems open to new approaches. If I attack the park manager with my research ideas, he might keel over…

Saturday I fly back to Tulear, and 4x4 up to Andavadoaka. Tom, Ingrid, Hannah, and Gina are already there (although no one has called or texted me to let me know they made it – grrrrr.) Blue Ventures is also holding a workshop this week which I needed to miss because of the WWF one (wouldn’t you know it!), so Tom and Ingrid are representing me there. Ingrid and I kick off our big Total Economic Valuation exercise this week. It will run through the end of September at least. Tom has been hired by BV to do the statistical analysis of the octopus landings data. Finally, FINALLY I might have some data to finish my study from last summer. If you hear some frustration in my tone, … well, let’s not go there. Nothing good will come of a rant right now.

So, as you can imagine, there has been little time to catch our breaths. Nor to write blog posts. Still, I’ll try to be better…the next 2 months I’ll be out in the boondocks but supposedly there is now a cell phone network so I might be able to post some updates.

Rest of August and September:
Andavadoaka! Visitors will include: Bob, Danna and Anton, Eline and Natascha, then...our parents in October! As I said to our friends in an email last night, I think Tom and I alone are responsible for doubling Mada's tourism figures this year...

- Kirsten