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.
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...