I’ve flourished during my first full week in one location. It’s been wonderful to have a base where I can leave my things and just carry with me what I need, rather than toting everything around the countryside. My host family continues to be wonderful and gracious. Although, we have had a few interesting encounters regarding health and medicine. You see, it turns out that in Malagasy culture when somebody gets sick, the logical thing to do is eat lots and lots of food. Unfortunately, for me, that just doesn’t float my boat. I’m not sure how to put this, but I’m just going to throw it out there: when I feel like I need to vomit, the last thing I want to do is stuff my face with rice. So. As you may have gathered, knocking on wood only did so much good, and I finally succumbed to sickness (check that off my list of things to do here). It was a longer affaire than I would have liked, but I managed to still have an excellent time and attend class. Probably the funniest part of being sick was that it struck me during school, so when I headed home, my parents had no clue that I was sick. So, as the timing would have it, I arrived home just in time for bible study chez moi. I did not think that God and the people congregated would appreciate the heavenly sounds of vomiting through paper-thin walls, so I tried with all my will power to refrain from sin for the duration of our study. Side note, I can now sing a Malagasy hymn if anyone feels like learning.
We officially started our classes on Monday, although we’ve been learning things since the moment our plans landed. Our first unity of study was QMM (Qit Madagascar Minerals) since it has such an impact on every aspect of life in Fort Dauphin. Here’s the basic overview: Rio Tinto owns the mine and since this was their first mine in an underdeveloped country in addition to Madagascar being a biological hotspot, they decided to have a net positive impact, both socially and environmentally. So, they have their tentacles in many different parts of the community, such as providing scholarships for kids to go to school, helping/donating to larger NGOs that are involved in the area, and building new schools. But, not everything is roses and rainbows, for instance, the inflation during their construction from 2006-2009 was greater than 200%, and now is still around 75% higher than before they came to town. Additionally, the tourism in the area, which was one of the greatest sources of income, basically has come to a complete and total stand still, despite this being one of the most beautiful and welcoming places I have had the pleasure to visit. On the environmental side, they have to clear littoral forests to mine the illmenite (which is used as a whitening agent), and there are many locally endemic species…but they also have established several new conservation forests that can’t be exploited. So, in a nutshell, trying to form an opinion about whether QMM is a good or bad thing for Fort Dauphin is like trying to solve a rubics cube that has one too many rows and is missing several colored squares. Way too complicated. Oh, and there is currently a large strike going on concerning the mine and government corruption, so we have been advised not to walk near the solders carrying machine guns.
Thursday was probably the best day of my life, and that is not an exaggeration. We all met at 7:30 in town to board four 4x4s for our first legitimate field trip. Let me start by saying that our destination was only maybe 14km away. So, logically, that only takes about 20 minutes right? You guessed it, wrong. It took us just over two hours. But every minute was amazing. The roads are horrific, as in they just aren’t even roads at some points, more like ponds or beachfronts. We drove through your classic rainforest, over rolling green hills, through small villages where all the huts don’t quite sit perpendicular to the ground, and through recently cleared forests. On several instances one of the cars had to take a second try at a stretch of road to get through it because it just wasn’t happening the first time. But man, we saw so much along the way and the slow speeds meant that we had time to snap pics and appreciate the sights.
Once we reached our destination, we hiked up over two hills down to the most beautiful little ocean cove/beach possible. There we helped the returning fishermen drag their pirogues (traditional canoes, think hollowed out tree status) up onto the beach. We then watched as they sold their catch (all except one small fish which they gifted to Alyssa) to the middle man, who takes it back to Fort Dauphin to sell in the market, previously described. We spent the next hour sitting under a tree on the edge of the beach interviewing the fishers about their work, from questions about the fish species to what taboos exist regarding fishing (only one: women can’t do their hair until their husbands return home because women only do that to look attractive to their husbands and if they do it while their husband is at sea, it is like flirting with other men…). We then hiked back to the vehicles and took, if possible, a road in worse condition, to yet another beach where we ate lunch, debriefed our interviews and had a Malagasy lesson. In the lesson, we paired up and created skits using our limited language skills. Clair and I made a skit that went along the lines of:
-it is a beautiful day
-Do you have any water?
-I don’t have any, but I do have some Three Horses Beer.
-I would love some THB because I need to drink.
-I am thirsty too.
*Mime opening bottles, clink, glug*
-It IS a beautiful day.
Now before you start thinking that that shouldn’t count as a class, I’m speaking Malagasy with my parents and have used several of those phrases since creating this skit. Life skills. I’m also working on a cultural analysis paper.
We followed our presentations with a nice refreshing swim in the ocean and then headed home. On the way back we got to stop and see a carnivorous plant, I would like one in my room to eat the mosquitos. At home, my parents surprised me with vegetables for dinner (this was the first time we’ve eaten them at home and trust me, there is nothing so delicious as crunchy, sweet green peppers and carrots after a long day on the road).
Ok. That’s basically the end of this long blog post. This coming week we are going camping for the first time and doing a field study on the biodiversity of a littoral forest (coincidentally, one that is being conserved by QMM-told you they are everywhere).