March 21, 2011

Report from the Realm of Lost Marbles II (Photos)

Turtle: It's what's for dinner!


Emerald Bay, Diego

It's not easy being the dirty kid.

Diego Suarez


These are NOT friendly.

Emerald Bay, Diego


Modernity is overrated.


Bay of Diego

My preferred method of travel. I am not joking.

Diego Suarez

March 14, 2011

Indisputable: 10 Signs you have "Gone Native"

1. You wake up with your teeth discover it's 84 degrees.

2. You take coffee with your sugar, consider any rice-less meal merely a snack, and think fossilized sponge bread is the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread.

3. You lie consistently; you feel no guilt about this.

4. You begin to seriously consider the marriage proposals of cow herders.

5. Sorry, I fell asleep: what was this list about again?

6. You no longer notice the following: flies, garbage heaps, mud puddles, cat calls, bug bites, nudity, public urination.

7. Likewise, the absence of the following is no longer of note: flavor, social tact, entertainment, motivation.

8. You have lost the capability of sarcasm; your humor is (generously) one-dimensional; you laugh when a small child falls off his bike.

9. You just spent four hours on the side the road, counted three cars pass, and felt not the slightest twinge of boredom.

10. You...just...might...not...leave.

Report from the Realm of Lost Marbles (Photos)

There are perks to being a fly site.

Evening in the village.

Yes, I have a chameleon problem.

Marovato Sud

Round the Corner


Never lacking for company.

Despite indications otherwise, this is a road.

This is what it looks inside a cyclone.

Marovato Sud

Yes, this mango is indeed the size of my head.

Rice Paddy Fishing


Rainy Season Sunset

March 11, 2011

Trees Please (Photos)

This little tree will save the world!

The kids from Ambodimanga

Yes, they are this excited about planting trees...

Who says I don't have friends?


The cyclone fails to damper enthusiasm.


The kids from Marovato Sud AGAIN win the cutest outfit award.


No really, it was raining quite hard.

They love trees.

Tree party!

March 10, 2011

Madagascar, by my Count

Maximum number of passengers in...

15 passenger van: 38

5-seater taxi: 14 (adults)

Longest wait for a taxi-brousse: 9 hours

Separate occasions on which I have thrown-up out the window of a taxi-brousse: 12

Pages in a Malagasy/English dictionary: 103

Pages of words beginning with the letter 'M:' 40

Town population: ~10,000

Town population under the age of 15: ~5,000

Children under the age of 15 resident in my four neighboring houses: 16

Consecutive weeks without a drop of rain (dry season): 13

Consecutive weeks without a trip to the water pump (wet season): 10

Students in my 7eme class (5th grade): 63

average age: 13

Students in my 3eme class (9th grade): 46

average age: 19

Separate occasions on which I have been robbed: 4

Books read: 110

Journals filled: 7

Mefloquine taken: 67

Sleepless nights: ~67

Cost of secondhand “Does everything taste fake or is it just me?” shirt at the market:

2,000Ariary = One dollar

Ounces in a THB: ~22

Cost (with bottle return): 1,600Ariary = 80 cents

I am the Lorax, I Speak for the Trees

Walt Whitman, in his “Salut au Monde,” speaks in praise of the Red Mountains of Madagascar. He cannot be blamed for his failure to mention that these mountains- even 150 years ago- were melting irreversibly into the sea. A natural leveling process to be sure, but one which, in the modern world's neglect and disregard, has accelerated to an astronomical degree. This not a casual word choice: astronauts orbiting over Madagascar have observed that as the red rivers fan out into the ocean blue, it appears the island is bleeding itself to death.

On the ground, it is not difficult to connect the dots. Deforestation is rampant. Communities- a small cluster of houses, a single house- are surrounded by rings of destruction, protruding stumps and bare ground. In the dry season, one cannot scan any horizon without the interruption of smoke pyres; land is being cleared for rice cultivation, or just for the hell of it. Come the cyclone rains those charred and scarred hillsides are simply gone, swept into rivers choked with mud and debris, rivers that sweep away their banks and hemorrhage their red sediment out to the sea.

Rice fields are silted, limited top soil lost, local fisheries interrupted. To all this, people offer only a fatalistic shrug: we gotta get by, gotta eat. This is by all means a valid point, but also a terrifying one on an island of exploding population growth. Someone once told me: “We [Malagasy] think only of today, never tomorrow.”

The same might be said of the powers that be, though a PCV must be very careful treading this particular ground. [Peace Corps is a working partner of the Malagasy government]. Suffice to say that wide-scale and highly profitable logging and mining operations, nearly all foreign-owned and operated, double, triple, quintuple the damage wrought by any Malagasy environmental ethos.

It is difficult at times- in the face of such wanton and senseless destruction- to maintain optimism, difficult to feel so small and helpless, so limited of scope, so feeble of effort, a Lorax among a sea of stumps. Forgive, but I am not alone in succumbing to this bleak outlook. The island's default travel guide offers this among its opening quotes: “My advice is to see Madagascar before the Malagasy people finish with it.” That is a travel guide, hardly a genre known for peddling pessimism.

So yes, sometimes it feels quite hopeless: the scale of destruction is so vast (almost 90% of Madagascar's primary forest is already lost), the cultural mindset that permits it so deep-rooted, that one struggles to find the rays of light. Frankly though, after an inordinately depressing series of paragraphs, I feel honor-bound to deliver them to you. The Lorax is not always the bearer of bad news.

Thus I offer you this: over the past month, three large-scale reforestation projects were undertaken in my area. Though “organized” (in the most flexible and generous sense of the word) by Madagascar National Parks and various other agencies, the community was undeniably the force behind the effort. They raised the trees in pepinieres, turned out in droves to climb hillsides and muck through the mangrove mud, high-fived over tree-holes, killed cows and picnicked and were generally jubilant in their environmental efforts. It was refreshing. It was astounding. It was, for someone who was spent the past year among stumps and gullied hillsides and thick muddy rivers wondering if anyone else cared, genuinely inspiring.
So take heart. Madagascar may be bleeding but it ain't dead yet.