Saturday, November 13, 2010

There and back again

Try to set the night on fire!
Slash and burn agriculture is in season here in Madagascar. So far several national parks have been partially burned as well as reserves. This says nothing for the thousands of hectares of private land and farm land that is also burned every year. In the South East (as well as most of Madagascar) this has led to a reduction in the number of trees (combined with good ol' deforestation) and increased savannah. While many adult trees can survive this type of burning, saplings are usually laid waste and thus the next generation of trees never forms. A few plants like ravinala (The Traveller's Palm) end up thriving and become a valuable source of materials since the forests are depleted, if not eliminated entirely.

As I have been travelling lately, these burned areas, as well as fires in progress, seem to be of no particular concern to locals. It's "fire season", not because of any natural fires but rather due to purposefully set fires in hopes of renewing the land for the next year. Having grown up in Southern California the most common fire I saw was a wildfire and this idea scares me. The parks that have burned have been due to out of control fires, largely due to the ignorance of those setting the fires. To stop the fires, everyone must go out and defend their home with whatever they can use to beat back the flames. In many cases this can go on for hours to defend a single community. Since there are no handy fire hydrants nor trucks, nor firefighters for that matter, it is every man for himself. Having walked the perimeter of one of the local fires (using a GPS to measure the size) I am tired of seeing the damage. We'll see about fire education soon.

Travels with French guys:
Imagine trying to go South in a 4x4, the back of the truck entirely filled with people. Next imagine your suprise when 3 young French men also climb in back. Next picture being stuck in an unusual situation where only one of them knows English well, all of your highschool French has blended with Malagasy, and they don't speak a word of Malagasy. To top everything off, the driver will lie about the travel time, leave you in the middle of nowhere, and a group effort of 3 languages is the only way to get out. Essentially everything came in 3's this past week. 3 days, 3 French friends, 3 languages. All in all we kept eachother safe and eventually made it out of a cellphone black hole.

Welcome Back!
Since my travels happened to coincide with a communications test, everyone was aware how out of cell service I was. Everyone I had been in around before or going towards had recieved numerous contacts from PC staff each day. Thanks for all the concern, but it had me freaked out when I got 15 texts and numerous missed calls when I could finally turn on my phone.

The South:
Wholly hotness! I forgot what dry heat felt like for a bit. The kind where you cant work for 4-6hours midday unless you want heat exhaustion. And even then, laying down in the shade, sweating, you still feel exhausted. I did manage to dig a garden with Tatum as well as learn to better transplant Moringa. We walked out to a section of spiny forest (exciting to any botany nerds out there) and experienced first hand the Madagascar hissing cockroaches (this led to some confusion as they sound like a short gas leak or a fart). I also saw a civet, lizards, and two tortoises. I ate my first habobo, which is some form of old milk, on sweet potato with honey and was amazed by the deliciousness. They also produce peanut butter in the South and I was lucky enough (aka: thank you Paul) to aquire some in the whirlwind of my departure.

Travels with Malagasy people:
The return trip from visiting Tatum's site and very briefly seeing part of the South was undoubtably just as interesting as the ride there. After staying at a fellow PCV's house and trying to figure out ride arrangements for the next day, a man arrives at the house to ask if I wanted to go, right now, in a 4x4. Since my other options were less appealing than a WHOLE seat (I am used to squeezing in many many people) I packed up and jumped in. They even gave me a seat with a belt! About 3 hours into the trip something is wrong...the metal rod that connects the wheels to the steering system had fallen off! They rig it with ropes and we are able to get about one kilometer per fix. After hours of this we eventually arrive at a small town and are able to look for a mechanic. This takes a day to fix as the mechanic does not have the correct parts. When the driver finally returns with the part fixed, his eyes hurt. He apparently did the welding himself, without any protective glasses. He is rendered unable to drive until the next morning. We eventually get to Ihosy where the driver announces that the repair cost so much that he can no longer afford gasoline. This leads to a several hour hunt and my eventual return to civilization.

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