A Joyful Adventurous Life Together

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Antananarivo, Madagascar
VAZAHA = foreigner VAO VAO = news

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 café 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

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