Monday, April 25, 2011

The Home Stretch

I am back in Tana, for this, the last visit of my trip. I fly out on Wednesday, which left me just enough time to get sick- I have a miserable cold! But, I am so happy to be heading home that I don't even care. The following is a wee blurb about Tana, and then an overview of my activities of late...

Though polluted, congested and generally horrible, Tana does offer a few things I enjoy. Last night, for example, I had chocolate fondue with fresh tropical fruit for desert. It is made with really good quality 70% dark chocolate from Western Madagascar, and is simply out-of-this-world. This morning, I had cafe au lait, tarte peche, and pain au raisin at the Colbert. I've had lots of yummy treats and pastries since leaving the field, but Colbert pastries are on a whole other level of deliciousness. Also, I bought English versions of Time and The Economist magazines. How exciting! And, I am currently laying in my hotel bed and using the internet. Wow!

Oh, I was almost robbed this morning though. Some older boys surrounded me and one kid put out a hat as if to ask for money. They were very aggressive and way to close or touching me. The boy with the hat held it directly at my purse, essentially blocking my view, while he and the others tried to covertly get into my purse. I just kept slapping them and the hat away and telling them NO and they eventually gave up. Phew. Oh, and some dude was seriously considering either grabbing or robbing me this afternoon. He was really sketchy and aggressive and though we were walking nearly side-by-side he kept trying to get behind me. I was in one of the zillions of rather dodgy stairwells in Tana, so I couldn't get away. I just didn't let him get behind or too close and stared right at him. As soon as I got the chance, I made a quick exit. He yelled a few things after me, but continued on without incident. Double phew.

Before Tana, I took a small trip out to the countryside to stay at "Marc's" (not using people's real names is super weird. Do I have to?) family's farmland. It was nice and quiet and I got to see just how much work people have to do merely to subsist. My goodness. Imagine if every time you wanted chicken you had to 1) catch it, 2) kill it, 3) drain the blood, 4) pluck the feathers, 5) clean and gut it, and 6) butcher it, all before you started cooking. And that is just chicken, never mind what you want to have with it. Or rice. Rice is an insane amount of work. It is amazing that rice ever became popular given the amount of energy that goes into producing it. Crazy. I also got to see peanut plants! For some reason this was very exciting to me. Here is a pic:

And the house I stayed in (can you spot Gary?)

And a piggy

And grandma, chillin'

Before that, I also took a small trip to Andasibe to see Indri. They are so fantastic! I don't make a great tourist now though, as I am totally annoyed by other tourists and want to wonder off into the forest to wherever the frig I want. And, I want to follow the animals. And, I think I know everything, which I most certainly do not. Luckily, for the guide's sake, I was too tired to get into much trouble or to be too annoying. Here is an Indri shot- check out her humungous foot!

And just in case you don't see the Indri, they have a couple in the MNP office

Last, I went to a captive lemur center called "Lemurs Park." Most captive places in Mad are not so great, stemming from the fact that they wild catch animals. Plus, the animals usually are sick, really scruffy and/or fat, and are encouraged to climb all over visitors by way of food treats. For a number of reasons, I have issues with all of these, but was pleasantly surprised with Lemurs Park's. The animals look great and have all come from confiscations or were previously captive. Plus, you must stay at least 2m away from the animals and are not permitted to feed them. Ah, they actually care more about the animals welfare than the tourist money! Also, other than animals that are in quarantine, the lemurs are free ranging. It was really nice to see. Here are a few of the critters I saw:

Brown lemurs (they even made piggy noises for me!)

A very sleepy Bamboo Lemur

Coquerel's Sifaca


Well, just one more day in Tana. I plan to stuff myself with lovely French pastries, get a massage, and do a wee bit of shopping. And I will try not step in human excrement or get mugged. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Update and Lobster Truck Red-Eye, Part 3

I'm back in Tana. I threw a fit yesterday and tried to get an earlier flight. Unfortunately, Insurance providers don't consider mystery parasites a legitimate medical condition requiring attention. I had a wicked fever, was sweating like a psycopath, and would have killed the agent if I could have reached through the phone. Oh well, I've settled down and will make the most of my last week in Mad. I am now heading out of town and am going to see some Indri!

The following is a wee update from yesterday (when I was nearly killed), the end (finally!) of The Lobster Truck Red-Eye, and a few pics from Itampolo.

April 19, 2011. 4:46pm. Tana. Side of some road.
Nearly got killed by a semi-truck a few minutes ago. The giant truck was backing onto the main thoroughfare (as one does) and just before the impact I caught a glint of it out of the corner of my eye- it was about 1ft away and heading directly for my head. It scared me half to death. Luckily, the truck was going pretty slow when it hit our car. It smashed the passenger side-view mirror and part of a plastic panel on the back passenger side. The mirror glass went everywhere and contributed to my near heart attack. This is the second time on this trip I have nearly been decapitated, the third MVA of which I have been involved, and for the record, I've seen three dead bodies.

Lobster Truck Red-Eye
I am completely sick of this story. And really could ramble on for ages, but am going to wrap it up. Forty minutes after my near clausterphobia/potential kidnapping/forgotten refugee freak out I arrived in Itampolo! It was 9:30pm and I was stinky, starving, and exhausted but really glad to be off the fish truck.

I got the one room that was available and quickly dubbed it "The Crapper." It was directly above the restaurant/bar, almost like a loft would be, and upon entry had a horrible mold smell. Ick, but better than a fish truck, right? The room was very odd. Barely bigger than the double bed in and although a reasonable height upon entry, was only about 3ft high at the head of the bed. There was no bathroom- I'd have to go downstairs and outside for that. Oh well. The bed, btw, was the cause of the mold smell and was an ancient crumbling foam. There was plastic covering part of the 3ft ceiling and large cockroaches scurrying. No problem, its better than a fish truck. I was able to get dinner and desert- fresh squid and fresh pasta both in butter with parmesan cheese and citrus, followed by apple tart. AMAZING. After dinner I crashed, hard. But was kept up most of the night by a rather loud snorer. Still better than a fish truck.

A little after 5am, when it is getting light I started hearing some buzzing, which I am all too familiar with. I looked around and saw that there were at least 8 active hornets' nests on the walls of the tiny room. Not to long after that, I started to hear a rather unpleasant procession of, uhum, morning bathroom noises, equipped with grunting and horking. I looked out the 'window' (a small hole cut through the wall) to see that my room was in fact directly over the shared bathroom facilities. There was a group of older Frenchmen staying at the hotel who had gotten rather drunk the night before. Now these dudes were vying for the facilities and I was subject to the associated sensory overload. Good god, will it ever end?

After the hung-over French dudes left, I moved to a simple but lovely bungalow on the beach. Ah… The rest of my stay was rather uneventful. I ate. I slept. I swam. I was swarmed by adorable, filthy, malnourished children. Oh, except, a couple of things to note. First, Tay Digs may have caught my lunch. I was sitting at the restaurant, looking out at the water when an unbelievably good looking man (Tay Digs), walked up from somewhere (likely heaven) sporting a tiny pair of swim trunks, a snorkel, and an ore with 10 rather precariously balanced plump shimmering fish atop. One of those lovely, fresh out of the ocean fish, was my lunch. Drool. Second, I am almost positive that Albert Einstein is alive and running Hotel Sud Sud in southwestern Madagascar. Go figure.

Alright, Danny and the fish truck were due to arrive at 10pm on Sunday night. Horrible time to be picked up, but this was the one and only option. There was no other transportation available. None. I am nearly suicidal if I have to stay up past 8pm so there was no way I was staying up. Good thing too, because Danny arrived at 1:40am. I jolted awake and sprinted to the truck, but there was really no rush as it took until 2:30am for the truck to be organized to go. This time, there were no fish. There were, however, thousands of lobster. Thousands. The entire truck bed was crammed up to the canopy with bins on bins of lobster. There was a space about 1.5ft deep at the tail-gait of the truck in which Meghan, myself and five other adults were to sit. Oy. I ended up sitting more out of the truck than in, but held on tight and was happy to get rolling.

The good thing about taking a lobster truck at 2 o'clock in the morning is that it certainly will not conduct business at every god dammed village for 85 f&*%ing kilometers, right? WRONG. Here is how the ride proceeded:

Hang on while the truck moves forward for 5ish minutes
Nearly fall out 3ish times
Have a series of live lobsters fall on my head/neck/back
Hang on while the truck stops

At each stop we were in another village and Danny would lay on the horn. H-O-N-K. A 30 second long honk is really annoying at 3am, 4am, 5am, etc. And, at every village some one or a few people would come out of their house(s) with 1 or 2 or 20 or 30 lobster. Danny would weigh the lobsters, pay the villager for them and cram the lobster(s) into the truck. Once the truck was literally full, Malagasy full, Danny started to decapitate the lobsters and just stuff the tails underneith the passengers. It was also around this time that Meghan realized she was sitting on a duck. A live duck, of course.

I estimate that we made 30 such villages stops. At around 7am, when I had completely given up on ever getting out of the purgatory that was the Lobster Truck Red-Eye, we stopped in a village for coffee, and my favorite, bokaboka. I recall stepping over some very putrid basins of shark meat. FYI. A some what crazy but very nice Malagasy lady insisted on buying my breakfast, which was very kind. I was going to buy her breakfast but she started to scream at me. Right.

After breakfast, I got right back in and held on for yet more lobster purchasing. I finally made it to Efotse around 9am. I wanted to get right on with the next leg of my journey- the zebu car ride back to camp, but was told that all the zebu were busy in the forest, and that I'd have to wait until the afternoon. Sigh. Oh well, I hunkered right down to take a nap when low and behold, my zebu car pulled up. Alright. I suppose there were some cows on standby. Off I went in my zebu car, which rolled into camp just before noon.

Longest (and smelliest) 85km ever. I did however, take 3 plump squirmy lobsters back to camp and had perhaps the most luxurious camp dinner ever.

Alright, I am off. I think next I will write about the epic journey I've dubbed 'The Car Ride From Hell.' Veloma!

MMM. NOT beans!

Local fishermen

A pirouge at sunset, in the soft sand

Another pirogue at sunset

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lobster Truck Red-Eye, Part 2

Finally, at around 3:30pm a very full, cloth canopied pick-up style truck rolled through Efotse and Fili flagged it down for us. The driver kindly stopped and a few guys got out of the cab to see if it was physically possible for us to fit, some where on this vehicle. There were 5 men in the cab, 5 men on the roof (along with 3ft stacks of roofing material), 6 people in the bed, and 2 men hanging on to the back. Already 18 people in this small pick-up, but here is the kicker, it was a seafood delivery vehicle with an enormous chest (4ft long x 4ft wide x 3ft high) full of freshly plucked sea critters. There was another similarly sized chest but it was empty and upright in the very back of the bed. The heavy wooden lid for this second chest was sitting on top of the first fish loaded chest. The full chest was wedged in between the wheel wells and on the right side of it were the six people. They each had about 1.5 square feet and their knees were somewhere up near their ears. On the other side there was only a small space directly behind the driver (Danny), where they suggested, there was space for Meghan and I. Seriously? How? Fili asked if it was ok for us and repeated that it would only be an hour ride. Honestly, I didn't think we would fit, but said I'd try. Three of the six bed passengers climbed out and a giant game of tetrus ensued. The driver moved the empty fish chest to where the other passengers had been sitting, urged us to hop on in, and then moved the chest back such that we were wedged in and the other passengers could get themselves back in. Once in, we were completely stuck. In order to get out, all the other people would have to get out and the enormous empty fish box would have to be moved. But we fit (barely) and were enroute to the beach.

The smell of years of fish transport was completely overwhelming. I was facing backwards and could see nothing. Completely cramped and not at all comfortable, but it was just an hour ride and I could survive. It was only 3:30pm and by 4:30 I could be drinking a cold beer, ordering my lobster dinner. You have no idea how amazing a cold drink and new meal are after months of warm drinks and beans and rice. Mmm.

I immediately took dramamine (gravol for my Canuck peeps) but still had a pretty rough start to the trip. For someone who gets carsick, sitting backwards in a hot truck next to a pool of smelly fish is not exactly a good idea. Plus, I had to sit really awkwardly because the heavy wooden lid for the second chest waxed and wained at every turn, each time threatening to decapitate me. After about 45 min we stopped at a village and were asked to get out. Fili warned me that this would happen, so I wasn't too worried. I took Garry with me and my purse, but my bag was tied way on top of the truck. I asked if I should take it but Danny said it was ok and they would be back in 5 minutes. I stupidly said ok. Very stupidly. The second they were pulling away, I was worried about my bag, which among other things contain my medications, computer, camera and two camera lenses. Very stupidly. I sat down and promptly got swarmed by village children. They want to watch and touch me, to converse, and of course want for me to give them gifts. They were harmless, malnourished, filthy, and adorable. A slightly odd looking woman whom I would guess was about 40 sat down near me. I smiled and said hello, as I do with anyone that approaches me. She sort of grunted and then was quite obviously making fun of me and being quite rude. Other people were just looking away or ignoring her. She started demanding something from me but I could not for the life of me understand her. That's whenshe started throwing rocks at me and continuing to demand I produce whatever it was that she wanted. She was yelling now and making flamboyant hand gestures. I was really getting a bit worried at this point and just wanted the fish truck to get back before I got stoned to death. Plus, it had been more than 30-minutes since I had, very stupidly, left my bag on the missing fish truck. After hucking a few more rocks, the woman simply up and left. Go figure. But the fish truck was nowhere to be seen. It was 5:00pm and since it is dark a little after 6pm I was starting to think that I may be stuck in this horrible village where its ok to stone Vazah and that I would never see my bag again. I got really worried when the Malagasy passengers started to question where the truck had gone and how long had it been. Thankfully, at quarter after 5, our fish truck and my bag came back and again we piled in.

I knew that Itampolo was 85km from Efotse and that where we stopped was 50km away, so we had 35km to go. Given how long the drive had already taken, I figured I'd be drinking my beer and eating my lobster before dark. What I didn't know was that the fish truck now intended to conduct business along the way. We zigzagged from every beach to inland village wherein the driver would stop, lay on the horn, and wait to see what had been caught that day or what people wanted to buy. Once it was dark, I felt like a refugee crammed into a really smelly dickie-dee ice cream truck. No one could see me, I couldn't see them, it was pitch black, men were yelling in a language I couldn't understand, and there were octipi legs dangling beside my head. The cephalopod legs have nothing to do refugees, but it added to the strange factor. By 8pm I had an intensely sore back, which hasn't been the same since I was sick in December, and was getting a bit worried that we had either been forgotten about or kidnapped. And, I started to get claustrophobic. I was so cramped and sore and still trying to hold the wooden lid back that was repeatedly trying to decapitate me, and knew that even if I really wanted to, I couldn't get out.

The next time we stopped, I yelled for the Danny to come back. Thankfully he did. I asked if we were still in fact enroute to Itampolo and if so, how long would the rest of the trip be. He assured me that we were almost there, and would arrive in 10 minutes. Ok, ok, I would survive another 10 minutes and not freak out...

The White Flag

I have 9 days to go, but I am officially DONE with Madagascar. I am too tired to care about sightseeing and really just want to go home. That being said, I am gently reminding myself that I should at least try to enjoy my last week AND am drinking more. One helps a bit more than the other, oh, and there is a new beer in Madagascar called "Skol."

I took a trip to the Andringitra Mountain range where some friend are doing research. It is an extraordinarily beautiful area with quaint mud houses, staggering mountain tops and rice fields for miles. The first day was a short-ish hike in, which took about 2 hours and went straight up- literally. I think it was about a 1000m gain. Two hours is about my physical limit right now, so I was really tired but enjoyed learning about a brand new (for me) lemur habitat. The next day we got cracking bright and early. I knew the 2nd hike was longer, but really had no idea how much longer. It may have been the most beautiful and heinous 10hrs of my life. Yes folks, 10 hours. And not 10 easy hours. More like 10 unbelievably strenuous hours. And another 1000m gain. It was nearly 30km during which I climbed and descended to 2800m 3 times. At one point I remember catching myself closing my eyes while shimmying down a cliff. Not cool. Once I finally made it to camp number 2 I was (and still am) one hurting unit. My feet looked like they had been mauled by a really drooly dog and I'm pretty sure they hurt more than if they had of been mauled by a really drooly dog. I went straight to bed. No dinner. No rhum. Just bed. The next day the guy who took us on this beautiful heinous tour said, “You are very strong! Most people I take up there can't finish and we have to turn back.” This little tidbit would have been a bit more helpful about 24hrs earlier.

Always an adventure! In fact here are a few things that have happened over the last few days of driving across Madagascar:
1. We ran over a cow.
2. Paid off 8 crooked gendarme.
3. Saw my third dead body of the trip.
4. Got stuck in a traffic jam of approximately 1000000 cows.
4.1. Got stuck behind a million cows, two of which decided to get busy.

My word.

A few pics recent pics:


A wee village house

Rice feild

Tsaranoro mountains. Can you see the lemur?

My poor disfigured post-heinous hike foot! Check out the blister on my middle toe.

Cow jam.

Sorry, I know this is a bit crass. But seriously, how often do you get stuck behind, well, mating cows. Seriously.
I changed my mind. X-rated cow pic removed.

More Lobster Truck to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Commercial Interuption

All sorts of somewhat interesting things have happened here in Toliara over the last day or two. So, I've decided to interrupt the 'Lobster Truck Red-Eye' to share a few tidbits. Also, I will be out of internet range for 4-ish days, but will continue my stories afterwards.

Yesterday, after getting waved through a gendarme stop for the first time ever, traffic was a bit jammed up as there was something blocking the road. I could hear lots of voices and commotion and as we (Marc, my Malagasy colleague, and I) crept forward at a snail's pace. Once we got close enough I could see that there were many men, maybe 50, sort of chanting and trotting along. They were all wearing athletic shorts, athletic tops, jelly shoes, and had traditional fabrics tied around their waists. Once we got closer still, I exclaimed "ooh ooh, that is a coffin." And then once we were even closer than that, I exclaimed "ooh ooh, that is a corpse!" The men were in a bit of a procession, with one man in the front and one in the back blowing into enormous conch shells. The other men were either wielding spears and chanting, or acting as paul bearers for the coffin lid or the actual coffin, and chanting. I have no idea why the lid was off the coffin, but it was. Right in the middle of the main road. To my exclamations Marc responded "yes" in a rather nonchalant manner. Just another day in Madagascar.

Today, I visited a doctor, a spice lady and a masseuse. The doctor did blood work yet again and although my calcium levels are now within normal range (they were dangerously low in February), I now have a magnesium deficiency. What?! Likely from Parasite X which I cannot seem to rid myself of. On the bright side, I do not have Hepatitis B or C, but on the gloomier side, may have been exposed to typhoid. My Widal test results indicate that I have been exposed to either Typhoid, some other gram negative bacteria, or malaria. Huh. Well, for the time being I have more antibiotics, another two weeks of 'ovimag' supplements, and the solace in knowing I will be home in 15 days.

The spice lady is kind of frightening and although she yells at me (and everyone else), I sort of love her. She has a dusty shop jam packed with wonderful unbelievably fresh and fragrant spices (curry, masala, peppers, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.). She seems to only have one volume and tone, both of which make me feel like I am in big trouble. While trying to pay, she yelled at me "TWO GIFTS", and pointed in the direction of a large wall of spices. I was a bit puzzled, so in a marginally huffier tone she yelled "TWO GIFTS", again pointing to the spice wall. Ah! It turned out I had purchased enough to warrant receiving two spice packs of my choosing, on the house! After that, she yelled at me to give her back the change that she had just given me. Wide eyed and terrified, I obediently passed back the cash, which was equivalent to about 75 cents (recall a house costs 50 dollars and a coffee costs 5 cents). She continued to yell at me and demanded that I take two more spice packs, which would cost $2 for the 75 cents. I am thrilled to have extra cinnamon, saki piment, and pepper, even if it was forced upon me!

I love nothing more than a good massage. Well, no I love cupcakes and wine more, but you know, a massage is up there. And, since my back is giving me trouble, I decided to go for it and try a Malagasy massage. It was ridiculously inexpensive and wonderful! There were a couple of differences when compared to getting a massage at home, however. First, it is expected that you disrobe out in the open with the masseuse and various other staff around. Second, once your clothing is off, it is socially acceptable for the masseuse and various other staff to give you a good once over and make comments about your nearly-nude body. Third, full breast rubbing is included in a back massage, which feels kind of awkward after your bosoms have been the topic of discussion by the masseuse and various other staff. I am not to sure if the massage was a bit weird or if I am a bit weird since I am kicking myself for not partaking in the Malagasy massage sooner. Just saying.

Ok, our regularly scheduled program shall resume in a few days time. Until then, here are some lemur action shots:

Awesome, right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lobster Truck Red-Eye, Part 1

1. Three weeks ago now, I took a little trip to a some-what nearby beach town called Itampolo. Over the next few days, I will detail the adventures that ensued on this wee vacation.

2. I've changed the names of people in my writings, lest they have no interest in being discussed on the www. The exception to this is people who expressly tell me I can and should use their actual names, or those that don't have a choice (ie Ron).

3. Disclaimer. This ones for my cultural peeps. Given that I am not a cultural anthropologist (although I do tend to wear gourd-type necklaces) the stories that I relay are merely my experiences and impressions, and certainly do not represent Malagasy people as a whole, nor their rich, diverse and variable cultures.

March 25, 2011. 8:36am. Mialy's porch.
I took a zebu car from camp to Efotse (the closest village to camp) this morning and am now just waiting for the car to arrive and take us to Itampolo. I'm eating bokaboka (a deep-fried breakfast cake) and I freaking love it. However, sitting here gives me just enough time to fret. I'm worried that the car won't arrive and there won't be room at the hotel. I'm worrying that something will happen to/with the lemurs when I am away. I'm worrying that the sky will fall. I've taken to worrying of late. Oh, I just found out that the car will be here around noon. Huh. Bummer I got up at 5am.

Zebu car ride

March 26, 2011. 7:33am. Hotel Sud Sud. Restaurant on the beach.
I decided to come to Itampolo as I felt the need to get away from camp. After Sid (the pet lemur who I am not yet ready to discuss) escaped and I spent a few days crying, I was feeling exhausted and so very melancholy. Fili was able to get us a car, so why not? A couple of days of fun, fresh food, and R&R sound wonderful.

The beach at Itampolo

Well, getting to Itampolo was a little more 'interesting' than anticipated. I am not sure if "our" car did not arrive or if we ever had a car in the first place. We waited and waited. I got a bit cranky around noon. I just didn't really want to be hanging around doing nothing. Its ok to not take a couple of days and not do any forest work, but I need to be doing something. Doing nothing will drive me mad and I get all anxious because I am not working. We had some lunch and biscuits- I must give a shout out to Mialy and her family for completely spoiling me every time I am there. Not only do I take over her house but she also feeds me constantly. I have a sick love for Bokaboka and I seem to have a perpetually full dish of it beside me. And then meals arrive out of nowhere. Its really very sweet.

So, I was waiting and waiting and at 1pm wandered up to Gino's (the restaraunt-ish type facility) to see what Fili thought about chances of there still being a car. He said maybe around three there would be one, so I sat down to have some warm, actually hot, beer and kill time. Along with Meghan, Fili, and Luc joined me. They are always interesting to chat with and speak very good English. Interesting may be the understatement of the day.


First we talked about kids going to school and the value of children in the village. Remarkably, girls are more valued than boys and when a girl is born, she is celebrated, while a baby boy warrants no celebration. How lemur-esk! For the vast majority of children, school is not encouraged. Their parents and grandparent did not go to school and don't feel that their children need to go to school. Plus, there is work to be done. Tending to cows and goats, getting water, caring for younger siblings, attending to crops. Each child that that spends his or her days in a classroom is a child that could be working and lessening the burden for the rest of the family. Many girls, once at the ripe old age of are twelve or thirteen, are pregnant, which relates to why girls are considered an asset. Pregnancy is positively correlated to marriage and when a girl is married, her family is given a cow by the boy/man's family. Each cow is worth about 200USD, which is a lot of money (a typical village house costs $50USD and a cup of coffee is 5 cents). Additionally, the husband is expected to give gifts to his wife's family during fete. Fete coincides with the onset of winter and is a time to celebrate the dead, and if you are a married man, time to cough it up to your in-laws. EVERY. YEAR. So this is why girls are important. A family with many girls can expect many cows and annual gifts, which can greatly improve their standard of living.

Polygamy is also practiced, but a man must be very rich in order to pay his wives families. There is a man who lives south of Efotse who has eight wives, twenty-five children and 800 zebu. Wow. Apparently, a man will have no respect from fellow villagers if he doesn't have at least a herd of goats. I asked if women ever own cows or goats and Luc said "yes, women can and do own livestock." However, its not really that common for women to have many cows or goats, because in the event of a separation or divorce (which is socially acceptable and very common) the women gets the house and the contents of the house, while the man gets all of the livestock. So it doesn't really behoove women to stalk up on goats as they essentially belong to her future ex-husband. Huh.

Second, we learned that the Little Bastard (Galidictis grandidieri) farts are lethal to flamingos. You heard it her first. Word on the street is that the Little Bastards go down to flamingo nests at the lake, get up close, release their ever powerful wind, and a flamingo will instantly drop dead. After the flamingo is deceased, the Little Bastard gets a tasty pink meal. Having Fili tell this was really bizarre. He gestured to his stomach and said "when you have a stomach ache and you have a lot of gas," and then he waived his hand behind his backside and said "what is the name for the air?" OMG. Meghan responded with "fart" and they kept repeating the word "fart" "fart" "fart" and pronouncing it really badly. Imagine a frog saying fart. That's what the sounded like. Fili then wanted to know how to spell fart, so again, Meghan helped him out. "F-A-R-T." Ah, "fart" "fart" "fart" they continued in their froggy voices.

Third, they explained the significance of what I used to call the 'cesspool of filth.' Out in front of Maily's house is this persistent puddle that is foamy and completely putrid. The first time I saw it I recoiled in horror. People use the water for washing and every animal (cow, goat, sheep, dog, cat, chicken, duck, turkey, etc.) around drinks out of it. And what goes along with lots of animals and a village without public sanitation? A) Garbage and B) Poop. So, the lake/puddle looks a bit nasty.

Sacred puddle

It turns out that the "cesspool" is in fact a sacred site that is well know through Madagascar. How it became sacred, I don't know, but for what it is now used, that I know. It is a repository for umbilical cords. Yes. It is thought to bring luck to the newly born infant if its umbilicus is deposited in the sacred pond. People make the pilgrimage, umbilicus entow, from the capital city (Antananarivo) and beyond to plunk the slimy shriveled tissue in and ensure the futures of their babies. Oh, and I should have apparently know this given that 'Efotse' means the place of umbilical cords. Freaking awesome.

Its truly amazing what you can learn while waiting for waiting for a ride. More tomorrow...

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Thanks for the pic Bronwyn. Taken in Toliara during the "Dictator Day" fireworks.

Well, I did it. I survived my dissertation field work. Barely. But I did. Though I have/am/will write about my experiences of this year in greater detail, the following is the condensed version of what I survived:

• 10 months of Rice.
Strange but true fact: I don't like rice. "What", you might say, "how is that possible?" I don't know, but rice is just not something I would choose to eat. Plus, its none too kind to my gut. However, I have actually come to love beans and rice. You'd be amazed at the variety and diversity of beans and preparation thereof. Along with a smidge of rice my meals are lovely and not horrible at all. And very easy on my stomach. My favorite is the bean goo called Carbarra. Sounds and looks a bit gross, but it is wonderful. Especially when topped with Lanto's special homemade saki sauce, which is a very spicy garlic ginger onion sauce.

• The Heat.
Day time high of 55°C and an overnight low of 32°C is miserable. Especially for months on end. There is no way to acclimate. Its horrible.

• Working amongst limestone/thorns/spines.
I had lots of spills but I've thus far managed to escape without breaking my face. I am however sporting a new snazzy souvenir scar on my right knee. Thanks limestone!

• The tormenting flies.
They simply torment you. Endlessly. And they are everywhere and so gross. They barf on you and then lick up their own barf, for goodness sake. And on your food and dishes and eyeballs. And then they continually land on the same spot, like the tip of your freaking nose, and fly up your nose or down your throat. For months. Sick.

• The incessant mosquitoes.
Actually, the verdict is still out on this one. I suspect I had dengue fever, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Also, I will wait until I get my post-Madagascar blood work done to see if I've officially survived the thousands of mosquito bites I've gotten. Emotionally, I am screwed. And it will take a long while for me to stop affixing panty liners to the areas of my clothing that mosquitoes most often get through. If you see me wandering the streets with panty liners stuck to my shoulders, swatting at the air, or slapping my own butt, you'll know why.

• Everything I own falling apart.
I arrived in August. In September my hiking boots died. In October my radio receiver died (this is how I track my animals). In November my tent and water filter died. In December my body kicked the proverbial bucket, as did my duct tape. Seriously. In January my second radio receiver arrived, and promptly died. In February my generator died. In March, I was given a human raised pet lemur, who I am sure died after escaping from my tent- I will elaborate on this soon, once I am not so heartbroken. In April, I dropped Discosaurus (my 80G video Ipod) in a bucket of dirty laundry water and it died.

• Illness and mystery parasites.
After being ridiculously sick in December, I continued to have one malady after another. I just knew something was wrong and finally saw a doctor in February. After antibiotics, supplements, and time, I am feeling better, but am certainly not 100%. Maybe I am just a bit worn out. Maybe I have a super parasite. Yay!

• The car ride from hell.
Normally a 10 hour drive that turned into a 5 day epic journey. Probably the one and only time I will sleep inside a car (with 4 others) which is a) cozily parked in the middle of a lake and b) short a functional transmission. I did more than my share of wading in stagnant water over the 5-day period and yes, I had open wounds on my feet. FML.

• Cyclone Bingzia.
The 2011 "cyclone season" opened with Cyclone Bingzia and was responsible for the car ride from hell. It was much more destructive on the Eastern coast of Madagascar (I am on the West) but did manage to make rivers out of "roads" and bring a 2ft deep flash flood to camp.

• Attempted assassination on the president and a sequential 4 day internet black out.
To be honest, this happened when I was out in the forest and I actually had no idea, but it sounds pretty dramatic. The government has been unstable and under dictator rule since 2009 when a popular 30 year-old former DJ decided to stage a coup and ousted the actual elected president. The former DJ has been in power ever since.

I've just arrived back in Toliara and am completely overwhelmed by, well, everything... More to come, when I get my wits about me.