15 December 2008

Life is Rice; Rice is Life

Most all of you know by now that rice is a cultural obsession here in Madagascar and that it is eaten by the heaping plateful at every meal. When I am invited to someone’s house, what acts as more of an indicator of how Gasy I have become than my level of fluency in the language is the amount of rice that I eat (“Well, he’s kind of dumb but at least he knows how to eat rice,” I can hear my hosts thinking). It occurred to me, however, that perhaps not all of you fully grasp what it means to eat rice so frequently here. Of course, you know that it’s not buying a big bag at Costco (or reusing your own at the bulk bins of the Co-op), popping it into the rice cooker, and sitting down to meal. But how involved a process is it? I’ll spare you the technical details, which us environment volunteers love so much, on this journey from field to table, but I hope you will nonetheless get a sense of why rice is more than a meal here, why its a way of life.
First stop: tanim-bary, or rice paddy. In the Central Valley of California we have huge paddies - expansive, flat, mechanised operations, complete with aerial pest control – that contribute a large amount to world rice stores. Needless to say, that is a model not readily adopted here in Madagascar. Aside from not having the capital to purchase the inputs (tractors, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.), the topography is too rugged to permit such large-scale operations. There are a couple of areas, like near Lac Aloatra, the so-called bread basket of Madagascar, where tractors are in use, but by and large, what feeds people here are small-scale, organic, labour-intensive, family ‘farms’.
We have all seen pictures of Burma and Thailand with the beautifully terraced hill slopes, neatly distributing water through all the level fields. That is pretty incredible technology and speaks to the power of cultural heritage to pass along and perfect an agricultural technique over thousands of years. We have paddies like those here, too, passed down from that same cultural heritage and thought to have been brought with the last wave of Indo-Polynesian settlers maybe 500 years ago. Their descendants, the Betsileo, live on the plateau and are known for their rice culture. They build terraces every bit as impressive as the Burmese. But many of the tribes, such as those near me in the South East, don’t possess this inherited knowledge and use different techniques. The people in my region have traditionally lived in relation to the forest. Aside from harvesting many products from the forest, they practice slash and burn agriculture. After clearing a tract of forest, they grow rice and manioc on the hillsides using the stored nutrients for a year or two, until they are depleted, and then repeating the process with a new tract. But now that the forest is nearly gone and slash and burn is illegal, they are having to learn how to build paddies and manage the land more sustainably. It is hard work, and rice is now grown mostly in valley bottoms here- not yet on hillside terraces.
The stages of rice’s journey that take place in the tanim-bary will be recognizable to anyone who has spent some time on a farm. First, before rice even enters the story, the paddies need to be prepared. Here, that means men and cattle will be out tromping in the pudding like mud, mixing in manure, and flattening whatever weeds grew in the off season, until man and beast are equally unrecognisable under their sun-baked, grey plaster coats. It takes a few days and if there aren’t cattle, the work is all done by hand.
Then for the next couple weeks women will be transplanting seedlings, one by one, throughout the valleys. They are bent over for hours and their work is punctuated by the sounds of conversation and laughter (at least every time that I walk by or help out). I find it to be a really pleasant activity, but were I to do it for as long as they, I am sure that I would awaken moaning from a sore back.
After the planting comes the weeding of course - a couple times over the next month until the plants are big enough to shade the competition. The men use tools if they have them and the women use their hands. Rice takes about three months to grow so the next two months will then be turned to other tasks.
My favourite part of the process is harvest, not solely because I get to indulge in the pleasure of playing with sharp things. The men work in a line, spread out shoulder to shoulder, cutting swaths with their razor sharp sickles, as the women follow behind bundling the severed stalks with a stray piece of straw. A morning spent harvesting is an incredibly rewarding experience. It is the climax of a story that we have been telling repeatedly for the last 12,000 years (not to mention the, what, 2 million? year old roots of playing with sharp things). A fair comparison is made in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, when he describes the exultation Levin feels while participating in the wheat harvest.
I think most North Americans, including myself, have a hard time picturing what happens to the rice next, up until we see it on the shelf at the grocery store. Maybe it travelled across the world; but even if you live in California and are lucky enough to eat Lundberg’s organic basmati grown along the I5 it’s no less mystifying where that rice has travelled and what machines, factories and warehouses it has visited along the way to transform a petulant stalk of seed heads into those pearly white maggots in a bag. You’ll have to turn to other sources to solve that mystery. I do know, on the other hand, what happens every step of the way from the fields surrounding my town here in Madagascar to my plate. It may be laborious, but it is intelligible.
Once it is taken from the field, and before being dried in the sun, the rice needs to be threshed. In my area, the women take a bundle of rice on a straw mat or tarp and knead it with their feet. The loose grains fall from the matted stalks, which when removed, leave a golden pile of unhulled rice. You can imagine how much time it takes to thresh a whole hectare worth of rice in this manner, which is how much one family can reasonably handle, provided they are lucky enough to have rights to that much land.
I don’t know where the origins of the word ‘thresh,’ as I neglected to pack a good dictionary in my suitcase, but after participating in the use of another threshing technique I’m sure it must be related to the word thrash. In out training village on the plateau, a big rock or oil drum is laid out, again on a mat or cleared area, and a big bundle of stalks is taken in each hand and beat against the object repeatedly until all the grains have flown loose, showering the area with loose rice. If any of you enjoy beating a punching bag when you are stressed, you should try this. Another great thing is that the whole family gets to participate.
After threshing, some poor girl gets suckered into watching rice dry on woven mats laid out in the sun for a couple days, fending off the voracious chickens, ducks, pigs, and whatever else attempts to gorge itself on the oh so tempting bounty. If it is for family consumption it will get stored in this state in large gunny sacks until needed. But if bound for market, it will need to be hulled. In wealthy areas it is taken to a hulling machine, but for most families (wives) this means pounding it in a giant mortar and pestle, sometimes in a rhythmic refrain with one or two other women.
If you are be or another ‘city’ dweller, this is when you get to buy the rice. In my market there is a row of people from the country, all sitting with their baskets of rice and one of the ubiquitous kapaoka, or tin can measuring devices. All the rice is the same price but there will be different varieties and varying states of unhulledness and bug-filledness (very technical terms) and it is your job as a shopper to find the good stuff.
Before cooking, it still must be winnowed and washed. For many families, this process is repeated before every meal. After being picked through for unhulled grains, bugs and stones, it is tossed in a sahafa to remove any light bits of hull that are left. It now looks like what you are used to eating, except that it is of a varying shade of red, a characteristic of our special Malagasy varieties.
It remains paradoxical to me that for how much effort goes into the cultivation and preparation of this culturally defining foodstuff, there is next to zero effort in the actual cooking. Attention all good Persians: read no further – what follows may horrify you. In the absence of temperature control, the idea seems to be to get the flames as hot as possible, toss rice into a pot full of water, cover, and wait. Sometimes its too dry, usually its soggy and mushy, and always the rice on the sides and bottom are burnt. Turning this into a virtue, we re-boil water in the pot and drink this as a tea. Being that most Malagasy seem to drink nothing else, this has become the national drink. In fact, it is important enough that technologies introduced to help reduce fuel wood consumption (like solar cookers) have failed here because while they cook the rice just fine, they don’t get hot enough to burn the rice.
The Malagasy obviously take pride in their rice culture and know more about the varieties and subtleties of the farming practices than us volunteers can ever hope to learn, even though we are busy teaching them new techniques (S.R.I. is cultivation process that has spread throughout the rice growing world. It has yet to catch on here, even though, ironically enough, it was originally developed in this country). Nevertheless, that pride has infected us volunteers, too. There was one volunteer who, while doing business in the capital for a few days, bought a bag of clean rice at the Malagasy Wal-mart because he was tired of winnowing it. When we saw what he bought it took a little while to register in our brains, but then we all burst out laughing at the novelty of it. Now if you see me in a couple years standing petrified in front of those bulk food bins, you’ll have some idea what might be going through my mind.

03 November 2008

Break from Site

It has been a few weeks since I have been at my site. My WWF agents are in the field right now and my work with Stan and the meeting I had in Fianar precluded my going with them this time. The last month I was there, I was really unsatisfied with the work I was doing. I tagged along with WWF on our last field tour, but I didn't really bring anything to the table and didn't feel like i really made a difference in any of the villages we visited. So I am travelling around a bit, trying to get reinspired. I think it's working.

I spent about a week at Brittany's site.
We farmed vanilla and did compost and double digging workshops, held a meeting with her nascent womens group (they want to farm ducks, for eggs) and built a bed for rice transplants. The amount of blisters I got definitely told me that it has been way too long since I got my hands in the dirt and I was very glad to be doing some agricultural work.

Then we spent my birthday in a coastal city near her village. We had to walk 11km to get to the crossroads where we could catch a ride, but then we instantly got in a camion (cargo truck) and were on our way. It was amazing! I mean, can you imagine not having to wait for hours to catch a ride? oh yeah....well it was an amazing thing here, but nevermind. We met a couple of health volunteers and and had 'Gasy food and beers (batter fried peppers stuffed with onions anyone?) and then crashed at a hotel that was full (they graciously let us sleep in their defunct restaurant turned meeting room so long as we vacated by 8:00, and they even gave us a Peace Corps discount). All in all, a memorable b-day if rather mellow. Kind of how I prefer it.

I have since been in Fianar for the past few days. We had a provincial meeting with all the volunteers in the area. i think about 20 of us attended. We discussed house issues, had spiels from Diversity and Women in Development committees, and discussed the big Halloween party we were throwing that night. We were co-sponsoring with a major cell phone company. It was at a discotheque and was advertised around town. They don't celebrate Halloween here so it was a good cross-cultural experience (they do honor the dead on Nov. 1 though). i couldn't believe how many Malagasy showed up and how good their costumes were. they definitely prefer the scary to the farcical with all sorts of ghosts and demons abounding. They had a kicking sound system too, which was the first i had seen here; that could be explained by the fact that this was the first club I had ever been in. Periodically the DJ would call out to people to wave their cell-phones in the air - I guess to appease the cell-phone company. I went as a common sack of produce with the ubiquitous can of milk measuring cup on top. When I get a hold of some pictures I will show you all. it was a really fun party for me.

Tomorrow evening I will head down south to help open an English center, visit an Environment volunteer, and go to a Malagasy music Festival. This is my first time off the plateau or out of the rainforest so I am really excited. It is the spiny desert down there and the culture is totally different - they don't grow rice, for one thing, and their dialect is very different as well. Then Lisa, an Education volunteer near me, and I, will try to make it up the coastal road back to site through an area with no public transport. It should be an adventure.

So unless you get to me in the next 24 hours, The next time we can correspond my computer will probably be Christmas. I of course still love letters though, just a reminder...

18 October 2008

Introducing Peace Corps

The mayor points towards a building that was a little further up the dirt track from the cluster of houses we just rolled into. “Erryyy,” he says with the upward inflection used when indicating a location a little ways off. He directs the driver to his office, which is across the soccer field from the elementary school. As we pull up to the office and get out, we are swarmed by hundreds of students in their green and white checkered school uniforms, curious to see who the guests are that have arrived in such a nice Land Cruiser. The teachers must be in a meeting because it seems like none of the children are actually in the classrooms even though it is midmorning. Then again, as I later learn, they have 1300 students and only seven teachers in this commune, so maybe they are just waiting for their turn to get to learn.

This is one of two towns in the area that we are visiting as part of the site development process, in the hopes of placing a new environment volunteer here early next year. Stan, my fearless leader, is based in Tana and on this road trip to make sure all the preselected sites are up to snuff and that the villagers are still motivate welcome a series of Americans into their community for the next 6 years to help them with environmental work. He has invited me along to these two sites to give a volunteer’s perspective about the town and the potential work, and to introduce me in case any follow up needs to happen before the volunteer arrives.

On paper, these sites are very similar. Both sites are in the south-east, are both of the same tribe and are both commune seats, meaning they have all the county level offices and if there is a hospital or middle school, it would be in these bigger towns. Still, there are big differences between these two, due largely to the location of one along a major road with easy access to bigger cities, and this other, where we are now, a several hours walk to the nearest public transport and shipping route.

Walking into the office, we greet everyone, saying hello and shaking hands with all the men present, left hand placed under right elbow. Then we sit and say hello again, ask the news, etc., before getting to our business. This is a procedure I have grown used to over the past few months, repeated every time I have entered an office or been invited into someone’s home. Stan introduces us and then we go outside and wait, as the mayor spreads the word for the town meeting. Within half an hour we are seated in the shade of some mango and litchi trees (it is sweltering hot), on a woven mat that has been brought out for us, joined by the mayor and a couple of his side kicks, with all the men and women of the town gathered around us. The women sit together with their babies under one tree, the men under another, with the mpanjaka, or traditional king, sitting at the sacred north east corner of the assembly. For about an hour, Stan and the mayor take turns explaining the situation, what peace corps is, what their responsibilities are and the like. Villagers ask questions, they debate about the house and then things start winding down. I have been mute until this point and even though it has been explained that volunteers speak Malagasy, they clearly don’t yet believe it. But then Stan asks me to speak. I say nothing more then my name, where I live, who I work with- all totally basic and not even that in good ‘Gasy. But they love it. Everyone gets really excited and they start asking me questions and applauding and praising me. It is a really beautiful moment for me, and I see that their whole understanding has changed about what it means to have a Peace Corps volunteer in their village, how different it is than working with other NGOs. A vazaha speaking their language is as seemingly wonderful to them as if I had made their forest regrow. The rapport built from that simple act will make regrowing that forest with the community that much easier.

We are treated to lunch in the mayor’s house: Rice (duh!), canned sardines (a luxury item, meant to impress), beer, cola, and bananas for dessert. Then we spend the afternoon wandering around the countryside, checking out all the cool things they are already doing. They already plant cloves and pepper, vanilla and coffee, transplant Albizzia and Gravilia which are two nitrogen fixing shade trees. They are really excited about new techniques and are excited to share their knowledge with me. We head down to the river where there is a beautiful swimming hole. We have been regaled in true country side manner. We finally leave, feeling really excited about the site.

The next day we head down to repeat the process at the second site. The Minister of Transportation hails from the city just to the south, so the road here is amazing. Traffic flows both ways here between the two regional hubs at either end of this 100 km section of road. It takes us a third of the time, to go the same distance as yesterday, and we aririve to find that it is market day, which means are Moses of an SUV has to part the sea of people that pool everywhere.

When we get to the office, greetings are done as usual but then we find out that the mayor is busy because someone has died but we should be able to have our meeting in a couple hours and we are left to explore the market in the meantime. It is the crowded market I have been in; we are constantly being elbowed aside and have to fight to move along. I have to duck my way under the shade tarps, being a head taller than most folks around, and am luckily still aware enough to catch the would-be pickpocketer as he tries to reach into my pocket in the chaos. At one point, Stan and I get stuck, or way blocked by a current of bodies that we are unable to break into. We have to retreat and decide to go out into the countryside, to wind our way among the coffee and rice to eventually get back to the mayors office.

When we finally have our meeting, it is in the school house. This town is much to big and chaotic to assemble everyone; instead, it is the lehibe in town, the big shots (all male of course), who show up. Stan, the mayor, his side kick, and I are seated up front as a panel facing the other 25 or so men. I see that this meeting is going to be more formal, sticking to the power hierarchies. This time, when Stan speaks, he does a kabary, the traditional Malagasy speech. He thanks the big wigs, apologizes, does an introduction and uses proverbs, all before actually talking about Peace Corps. When he and the mayor are finished, and after a few other men have stood up and given speeches, too, Stan asks me to speak. I am nervous because I haven’t memorized how to do a kabary yet, but I screw convention and just start rambling about all the same stuff I talked about yesterday, trying to throw in jokes about eating so much rice and what not. Grafefully, they were as receptive an audience as any I have had in this country and ate it up just like the day before. They got really excited and we chatted about swimming and being afraid of sharks and all formality was dropped for a few minutes. That couple minutes of connection was well worth the stress of the market place.

This time, when the meeting ended, there was no other plan. We didn’t walk around town or go to see projects with the mayor or the forest they are supposedly trying to protect. The mayor was busy. He paid for us to eat in a little hotely across the street from his office, though he had to run to eat with someone else. The laoka was tilapia, that ubiquitous farmed fish, despite the fact that we were only a few kilometers from the ocean and right on a major river. Says something about how depleted the fisheries are around here (sound familiar to anyone?).

As we leave this town I am questioning whether these folks will actually come together to build the house the volunteer needs and wondering about what rapid development has done for the people their. I know which of the two towns that I had visited in the past two days I would prefer to live in, but the real question, which I can’t yet answer, is which one they would prefer.

26 August 2008

A Couple Quick Plugs

I just wanted to give you all a couple of links to other blogs and pictures. These will round out your ideas of what I am going through a bit.

Brittany has a blog that you all should read. She lives in the same region of the country and is the closest environment volunteer (only a day and a half travel) to me, but is having a quite different experience. You can find a lot of great links on her page, too. She has some great pictures of our trainings and other travel (including to my house) that you might also want to check out.

Liz just sent me the link to her blog. She has posted some wonderful pictures and stories from the summer she spent here in Madagascar as a WWF volunteer. We worked closely together (I can't wait to work with her again come January!) and you can get a really good idea about some of the stuff I have been doing the last few months, and the places I have been.

Also, I have a few photos uploaded though I haven't yet got them sorted at all, but you can find them here.

I hope I am not bombarding you all but I want to give you as much as possible before I disappear off the map again...

For the Love of Petrol!

As I am traveling back to site after a month of training and meetings and fine dining (where else can you get an exquisite French meal for $10 except Tana?) and merrymaking, I am reminded about what havens gas stations are in this country.

Its not that they are anything special from an American perspective - in fact they look just like gas stations back home - but that is what makes them amazing: they are like gas stations back home in a place where nothing is like back home. Not only is it comforting for the homesick, but also for the road weary traveler in Madagascar.

Just like home, it is a few pumps with a convenience store and a bathroom. Imagine a convenience store in a land where nothing seems to be designed with convenience in mind. This is a tropical country, so its hot, and it is easy to get overheated or dehydrated. For many of us that is a constant struggle and the only thing to find is a warm coke or THB. But at the gas station they have refrigeration so I can get a cold drink or, heaven forbid, an ice cream! Many shops here don’t even have an electric lightbulb, let alone a refrigerator.

Then there is the bakery. Not all of them heave this feature, just like not all gas stations back home have an Aztec Grill or some such. If you are fortunate enough to have one of this style in your area, it becomes like Mecca: If I had one I would know exactly which direction it is when I am surveying trees in the forest and would be constantly pulled by it’s energy. While the bread is twice as much as the stale baguette on the corner, it is warm and soft and ….oh so delicious. With the puff pastries and turnovers and other Frenchie thingies, it is hard not to come back multiple times a day when you are near one.

Now, some places in this country are more sanitary then others. In my area, as in many, people don’t even use latrines – they just do their business in the woods or, after dark, wherever they please. You can imagine the stank around those places people pick as their favorite doodie spots. So when you have been traveling and have to use the kabone (latrine) it is amazing to come across a gas station where you can use an actual toilette that usually flushes. And the sink might even have soap.

There are some differences from back home, however. Here, the ‘Gasy seem to know how amazing this Western convenience is and take pride in it. Gas stations are actually clean here – usually immaculately so. They are also quite conspicuous here, where most buildings are more like shacks or crumbly brick leftovers from colonial days. They are apparently such targets that they need to hire guards at night, armed with 50 year old rifles, to deter theft, though I guess maybe it is just that gasoline is so frickin’ expensive these days.

Those of you that know me probably won’t understand how I can write such a post. While I may have avoided these cesspools of capitalist exploitation like the plague back home, I have learned to appreciate even the lowly gas station in a place where everything else makes me feel like I am on a different planet.

25 August 2008


Several of you have asked if I need anything and if they can send packages.

DHL will ship to the Antananarivo address but I am not sure about the other one. The packages will then be forwarded by Peace Corps.

Personaly I don't need anything- I like living on a basic diet of rice and beans and can get by just fine on what is materially available, but luxury is lacking. I would really appreciate anything you sent though, from a letter to granola bars to Dr. Bronner's (the soap here is straight glycerin). It is nice when I visit other volunteers to be able to bring them a small gift like a snickers bar, or Oreos. Also, any pens, or coloring books, or soccer balls and pumps, arts and craft supplies. etc. for the kids will be appreciated more than you can know. Oh, and if you have any pictures of your homes and towns and families, it would be wonderful to be able to give these people a wider perspective about the world, and for me to see your wonderful faces again. Oh yeah, and any semi current magazines like the economist or newsweek would be very much appreciated - I am in way more of a bubble than all you in Humbloldt/Trinity think you are.

When I can get people more organized around the projects they want to carry out, I will be hitting you all up for donations so you might want to hold out for that.

I think this will be my last post for a few months so I look forward to corresponding by letter with you all. Peace and love and all that hippy shit that I am so fond of...

Goodbye to WWF Volunteers

So yesterday the last of the 6 volunteers who I had been working with for the last 10 weeks left to their respective home countries or to continue their journeys elsewhere. We worked closely together and they became fast friends of mine and I will miss them dearly.

I just wanted to plug their program really quickly. They came to learn about conservation/development work, and what it means to do it on the ground rather from an office desk. They are all passionate young adults who want to make a difference in the world. WWF gave them the opportunity to come here and work side by side with the field team, doing awareness raising activities in the villages, and helping to carry out the forest surveys. If they aren't up yet, their stories and short videos should be posted soon at this link: http://www.panda.org/how_you_can_help/volunteer/volunteer/volunteer_stories/madagascar/vondrozo_forest/index.cfm

Check out the videos for some possible cameos by your's truly.

Thanks again to all of you volunteers for easing my transition into Malagasy life and for helping me to build bridges with the communities we worked in. You are always welcome back.

06 August 2008

Long Journey to Tana

So about 3 months have elapsed since I have been at site and it is time that I head back to the capital to have a Peace Corps training. I happened to be out in a small village for about a week and needed to leave a couple days earlier then the rest of the team, so a friend was found for me who was going the same direction as I and we walked the 8 km together to the main town in the region.

There I met Charles and Honore, who were staying in another tiny village close by. Honore shuttled our bags with his motorcycle and Charles and I got our bikes out of the mayor’s office and proceeded to ride the 11 km back to my town of residence. Oh, did I mention that it was raining constantly the whole day? The rode was slimy red mud and we had a great time getting caked in it, though our bikes weren’t so enthusiastic. It was a MudFest - the mud is clay and cakes everything so you can imagine how we looked...

When we got back to town, we showered (I mean poured water on ourselves from buckets, of course), and I had some friends help me clean my bike, then we proceeded to celebrate with THB, the national beer in Madagascar, since I was leaving the next day by car and we were drawing to the end of the WWF interns stay in Madagascar. This was the first time that I had gotten drunk in Madagascar, indeed the first time I had gotten drunk in 3 years. We chatted about development theory, peak oil, Christmas plans, etc. until late. The next day, I woke up with a fantastic hangover and at 8:00 a.m. Honore was at my door telling me that the road was too muddy for even a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get through so if I was to get to the town where I could catch a taxi-brousse to the capital, in time to make it to training, then I would have to bike it. That town is 68 km. away over a horrendous road. So I threw some stuff in my panniers, strapped a backpack to my rack, had a coffee with Charles and set off at about 9:00 a.m.

Now, had I been prepared, I would have only had to ride halfway (given, it was the much tougher half) and then been able to catch a ride the second half. Instead, I had miss judged my money situation, because I had not been able to get to the bank (in the town I was riding to) and was waiting on a courier to bring me cash. It was supposed to be in the car that couldn’t make it to me, so I set out with 1000 ariary in my pocket, which is less than a dollar and not enough for a meal, let alone a ride on a taxi. So I had to ride the whole way. 68 muddy, muddy, muddy kilometers. I was dead tired after 40 km., parched, and fuelless. I suffered through the next 8, walking my bike where I didn’t have the strength to ride, and finally came to a small village where a woman was willing to sell me some fried manioc balls, and a little further on, some bananas. Down to 200 ariary, a third of a liter of water, and 20 km. to go. 6.5 hours after setting out, I made it to Farafangana. Before, this ride sounded like a fun recreational activity to do on a whim; now I dread ever having to do it again (which is certain to happen).

The fun just doesn’t stop. I arrived to find that the person who was supposed to have my money was out of town until the next day and I had no food and nowhere to stay. Wondering if I could get accommodations on a tab, I made it to the bank 10 minutes before they closed and was able to withdraw money.

The next day I had a meeting, got another friend to help me clean my bike again, and the day after left for a 16 hour taxi-brousse ride. This time my luck faired better and I got to ride shotgun, instead of crowded in the back with 15 others. And the driver even had an auxiliary cable so I plugged in my iPod and we listened to Manu Chou, the Beatles, and Coldplay. They love the Beatles. I arrived safely in Tana at 2:30 in the morning and got to see all my friends for the first time in months.

I wonder how it will be in the wet season?

11 July 2008

Waterfall recuperation

Right now I am sitting on an outcrop of rock, in the middle of a river, at the top of a waterfall that is at least 500 ft. tall, looking out at a series of ridges that transition from rainforest, to cultivation to meadow covered rolling hills, all the way to the ocean, with my foot in a bucket. This is camp, where I, 2 WWF field agents, 1 WWF intern from Quebec and 8 villagers who are learning to manage this forest, are living for 20 days.

I should be out in the forest with the others, training the villagers to take tree diameters and learning from them the names and uses of dozens of species. Instead, I am sitting at camp with the two villagers who are the cooks for the day, one of who has a 3 inch gash on his shin from chopping firewood, the other who walked to his village this morning to get tobacco and bananas, with my other foot in a bucket now.

Last month I was using GPS to survey some highly disturbed land that had recently been rainforest. The most common plants which invade these cleared swaths all have thorns and I managed to get a few scratches on my feet, due in part to my efforts at cultural integration which lead me to wear jelly sandals (they really are the best things for swampy, steep forest walking; they blow my chacos away). I also scratched open a few mosquito bites.

13 June 2008

A Day in the Life...

“No mon. He just play the fool, cause for him dass de way life go de best.”

-Peter Matthiessen, Far Tortuga

A few days ago, Jamila, Liz, Manora (three of the volunteers working with us this summer), Robson, Augustin (two of our filed agents), and I set out from Vondrozo for Tsaratana, a hamlet 30km. away. This is the start of a 2-week field trip to do some forest mapping and awareness-raising in the villages. We were on bike, with 15 porters carrying our stuff. The porters get paid a daily rate of 3000 Ar. or about $2.00, which is good by local standards. We made it about 20 km. the first day because we left in the afternoon, then stashed our bikes in a mayor’s office and had to walk the last 2 kilometers, through rice paddies and across a small river, into town.

That first evening, the village presented us with two chickens, as an offering, and they were to be our supper. This was the first time yet that I was confronted with the dilemma of whether to eat meat and I took it in stride. It turned out to be the most spiritual meal that I have eaten since being in retreat in Nepal – pondering every bite and really experiencing my food. Parts don’t go to waste hear and I even ate the liver.

Then that night there was kilalaky, or a village dance. In silvery moonlight, a plastic drum and makeshift symbol led the beat as boys danced in a circle with the girls in a line behind them, breaking into the circle every so often in pairs to do a sort of shimmy punctuated with the blows of a whistle. When I tried to dance with them they all ran away giggling, so I had to dance off to the side as I watched with the adults.

I was explaining to the volunteers how much I am changing here and they all agreed that I seem very at home here, in my element, and that this place is good for me. That was very reassuring considering all the doubt that I have been dealing with.

Our tents were set up in the center of the village, which is strange to me. We were constantly on display and had to seek refuge in our tents in order to avoid constant stares. I was glad to head off to the forest the next day, to get a rest from feeling like an alien. I was really wishing I were better with language because the villagers seem so cool and we would try to talk but it was just so strained most of the time.

Then yesterday we headed into the forest. Our job is to map out the lines of delimitation between different usage zones in the area of forest that is to be managed by the COBA of Tsaratana. So we have to walk along, using whatever trails or ridges or rivers are available taking points every couple hundred meters for about 4 kilometers, making sure that the villagers understand where the line is and what the difference is use is. Because these zones are all towards the edge of the forest (only the last, strict protection, is solid forest) they have been cut in spots and cultivated in others, and the regrowth is often spiny and brushy, and the valleys are swampy – one volunteer fell in up to her waste yesterday. It is tough going.

Today started at 5:00with me having dreams of having to pee and in my dream I keep looking at my watch because I want to get up but it keeps showing a time like two in the morning so I keep waiting until I finally realize that I am dreaming and get up to go out of the tent. At 6:30 I have coffee with Robson and the porters, and then we have to wait until 9:00 for breakfast of rice and voanjobory, a groundnut related to the peanut but more like a bean in flavor and texture. I am proud because I can finally eat a ‘Gasy portion of rice like the rest of the guys. By 10:30 camp is packed off and we split into two teams of an agent and a local guide, with volunteers, to do the work. There is also a group of porters that will move camp while we are out to a spot a couple km. up the way. For the next 6 hours we have the pleasure of fighting through thorny, swampy, pathless lands, swatting mosquitoes, picking off leeches, etc. Not my most pleasant forest experience to date, and damn hard work. I am stoked for my cup of coffee (though I never use sugar back home, here it is very sweet and concentrated, about a shot and a half) when we finally make it back to camp. By 6:00 we are eating and here I am at 7:00 in bed. Two meals a day of heaping plates full of rice. That’s a day in the field with WWF.

24 May 2008

Even Peeing can be an Adventure

“But Angeles Alfaro left as she had come, with her tender sex and her sinner’s cello, on an ocean liner that flew the flag of oblivion, and all that remained of her on the moon lit roofs was a fluttered farewell with a white handkerchief like a solitary sad dove on the horizon, as if she were a verse from the Poetic Festival.”- Love in the Time of Cholera

Oh, what a day.
After breakfast I went to go pee next to my latrine (it makes the shit compost better if keep the pee separate, and I can fertilize the plants) but instead I met an old board. The board had a nail sticking out of it. I was wearing shoes. The nail was very rusty. I don’t remember what we were arguing about but whatever it was, I lost the argument. The board decided to stick its nail right through the sole of my shoe* and into the sole of my foot, leaving the soul of my being stunned. I stood there for about a minute. I kept trying to use my leg muscles to pull my foot free but it wouldn’t come up. I thought I was in shock because I didn’t feel any pain, but I wasn’t. Just stuck. I finally bent down and used my hands to pull my foot at an angle off the nail. It didn’t bleed as profusely as I had feared but it was a good wound – a centimeter deep, eo ho eo (pronounced “yo yo”, meaning approximately).
When I came out from around the back of the house there was a guy there who I had briefly met the day before, and seeing me hurt he helped me bandage my foot. I cleaned it out as well as I could but don’t think I did as good a job as I should have. Then, because it was market day, I hobbled down the hill to do some shopping and he came with me and helped me carry my groceries. I was getting some funny looks in town but was pretty used to that by now. After we came back to my house, I got my first not-so-friendly visit from the gendarme (rural police). It turns out that my new friend was a known thief and they carted him off with them.
I spent the rest of the day reading.

* A good shoe, too. My brother Shawn, for Christmas before I left says, “You’re going to a hot climate so I thought shoes with holes would be good,” and he was right – they are my favorite footwear here. Thanks Shawn. Unfortunately, now they have one hole they weren’t supposed to have.

11 May 2008

Ambassador to the Boonies

“Ambassador to the Boonies” - Is that my job title? I forget that just being here is doing something. I am discouraged because it seems that WWF already has a handle on things: they have already done a lot of participatory rural analysis (one of the things we are trained to do), already helped COBAs create development projects, already know how to survey the forest, already speak Malagasy (my whole team is Malagasy), etc. And I have no idea, yet, how I can really make a difference in their efforts (yeah, yeah – I’ve only been hear two weeks). So I just try to talk. I share a little bit about my love of coffee and my French Press (thanks again, Tanya), about how I don’t like cars, how we don’t eat rice 3 times a day in America but how my mom prepared me well in this department, etc.

Is just sticking it out success? I don’t think so. I am starting to feel like I am doing some sort of self-imposed penance. But for what? Being born into an affluence and not doing anything with it? For having no clear vision, no vocation? Obviously I came because I want to help people, help the environment… but that is so vague. Supposedly I am gaining skills here that will be useful towards that end in the future but I am not sure what they are. I don’t rightly know if I am helping anyone by being here, but I am not willing to leave.

Hopefully I can grow to enjoy being a star, in a freak show kind of way. Right now it is a definite challenge. I am sure that with time I won’t feel like I am in a zoo. There is a fence around my house and always when I am home little eyes staring through the bars at me. Many aren’t polite (or Western) enough to stay outside the fence – maybe if I bite them and post a “Don’t stick your fingers through the fence – Vicious Creature” sign then they will stay out. It reminds me of how we treat monastics back home: with a sort of awe and respect but a definite barrier due to lack of understanding. Back home I was sometimes apprehensive about going out and interacting superficially with strangers. Here, it is my job but the apprehension is worse. It is definitely something to work on. I am finding aspects of the Peace Corps experience, like social interaction, more challenging than I anticipated. I’m up for the challenge and am sure I will come out of this having grown a lot – the real question, though, is whether I can find a way to make a difference in the short time that I have here.

04 May 2008

I Guess I Really Am Living Here for Two Years

I am currently sitting in the bungalow that Brittany and I are sharing in Mananjary on our way to our sites. The plumbing here at Hotel Ideal is faulty (typical) but the loft is cute.

We swore in five days ago, along with our 28 other fellow trainees, as Madagascar’s newest Peace Corps volunteers. I am finally getting around to write about it now. It was at Tsimbazaza, the national zoo and botanical garden in Antananarivo. We had an hour or so to walk around and see the animals and then had a ceremony with the Ambassador and Madagascar’s Minister of the Environment, along with assorted other folks. Unfortunately, our Peace Corps Country Director was at a world director’s conference and couldn’t make it, which was a shame. For the actual swearing in, we were never asked to raise our right hands while we gave our oaths, so I don’t know if we are actually servants of the state or just pretending.

Afterwards, we hung out at the ambassador’s pad for a celebratory lunch; you know, the typical Peace Corps life – swimming, and lounging, eating and schmoozing. Really though, it was an amazing treat.

Then, the next morning, that’s it, vita, done. Two months of spending all our time together and then, poof! we are all off to our respective corners of the island. Brendan, Brittany and I left at 6:30 the next morning. We spent the next two days together shopping for mattresses and stoves and whatnot, as well as visiting partners and government officials (It is a typical cultural practice here that whenever somebody goes into an area to do any sort of work they meet with everybody in charge from the chief of police to mayors to traditional kings. To not do so is perceived as anywhere from disrespectful to downright suspicious). Then after setting up Brendan’s BLU antennae (there is no phone coverage around his site so he uses a radio to communicate – it has an antennae that is about 30 feet long and 20 feet high, strung across two poles that we erected), putting his bike together and eating lunch, we leave him at his site.

To get to his site you have to take a ferry across a river. When we were leaving, as we waited for the ferry, a funeral procession caught up with us. They came walking down the road, singing and chanting, seemingly cheerful and nearly ecstatic. The corpse was on a sling wrapped up in cloths. We rode across the water together, the body not more than five feet from me, and it stunk. It was somehow refreshing to be washed over by such a potent display of life and death. Though we were by no means a focus of their energy, I felt like it was an appropriate welcoming to us as we were in the process of beginning our new lives, adding cultural and existential perspective to my myopic self-centered view.

21 April 2008

We're Eating WHAT for Dinner!?

Tomorrow is the day of our final presentations and then in two days we have our final language test. Then, granted we pass, we finally get to be sworn in as volunteers. So the whole last week has been either studying language or stressing out about language, though I actually feel pretty good about things. My final presentation is a game about beekeeping and I am pretty excited about it. All of our host families will come tomorrow and we will give our 15 minute presentations in ‘Gasy. Making it interactive, aside from any pedagogical benefits, means I have to speak less, which definitely has its peace-of-mind benefits for me.

So guess what my family had for dinner tonight? I got to eat the usual, but my family’s laoka, or side-dish (you know, everything other than rice) was a bowl of invertebrates, mostly small black shrimpy things, that my host-mom sieved out of the rice paddy mud. Among other creepy-crawlies, Tslavina, my 7-year-old brother, got a giant water boatman about the size of a quarter; he relished biting its head off and sucking out the juices. This coming from a kid who cries (throws a fit, really) if carrot salad even touches his plate! So while I have been pondering eating meat, I can definitely say that I was not the least bit tempted, nor expected, thankfully, to join in this culinary adventure. I felt like someone inserted a clip of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom into my Madagascar documentary. Though really, it is a good source of protein that, as a rice growing culture, is readily available, so it makes perfect sense to eat it.

14 April 2008

First Rainforest Excursion

We are at Mahatsinjo, a private reserve run by an NGO where another volunteer works, literally across the street from Andasibe National Park, the most visited park in the country. We are all excited to finally see the rainforest after 1½ months of seeing only the transformed landscape of the plateau. Most of us are in a hotel but a few of us have chosen to camp at the park. They have a few sand pits with ravinala roofs over them that you can set your tent up in. They even have a light bulb, which I think is a bit excessive.

It is really nice to be in the rainforest, though it is awfully dry and there are eucalyptus and pine trees all around. But as soon as one gets back into the forest proper it is clear how much incredible biodiversity there is here and how totally unlike the rest of the plateau it is.

Two days ago we went on a night hike. I didn’t see any nocturnal lemurs, but rather a huge chameleon, and a nocturnal moth and snail, both of which are the size of my hand. We also saw Brookesia, the family that claims the smallest chameleon in the world.

Today, we got to see and hear the Indri, who’s haunting song carries for kilometers and is one of the most incredible noises I have ever encountered. Sifaka, brown lemurs, couas (one of the five endemic bird families on the island), paradise flycatcher, giraffe-neck weevils, you name it. Everything but the golden bamboo lemur, one of the rarest primates in the world, which was recently discovered in the area.

It is very inspiring to see all the scientific work that this local NGO is doing, and how they are using ecotourism to fuel the development of their village. I also got a chance to build some rainforest trail and help plant trees in a forest restoration project. They collect mycorrhizal soil and seeds form the forest, grow the seedlings in the nursery, then plant them in strategic patches close to the forest, paying attention to the interspacing of fast and slow growing, short and long lived trees. The forest is given enough of a head start this way that it can out compete the invasives that one finds all around where people once cut and burned the land. It is an incredible process to see and unfortunately in danger from loss of funding.

28 March 2008

Life in Our Training Village

So I have been in Madagascar for over a month now, and am finding my training both challenging and rewarding.

I live in a small village on the plateau, within easy driving distance of Tana, by means of a nicely paved road (which is a rarity in this country); that is, once I walk the two kilometers to the bigger town next door.

The main income in town, aside from housing all of us volunteers, is rice farming, and the valley bottoms all around this hilly area are filled with paddies. On the hillsides, people farm other subsistence crops like manioc, carrots, potatoes, and taro. There are also several stores in town, rooms in the bottom floors of their mud brick homes, that sell candles, soap, toilet paper (the first kind I bought was more like sandpaper than tissue), bananas, dried fish, and assorted “Made in Mad” (or China) processed foods.

I live with a family of 4, very small my Malagasy standards, and have a room to myself. Christin and Noeline are 32 and 28, respectively, and their girl, Ioni is 11 and Tslavina, their boy, is 7. There is no electricity or plumbing, even in this fairly wealthy area. Life is simple and nights are ling. I use a chamber pot at night and empty it into a latrine in the morning. It is not culturally appropriate for us to go out at night here, everyone is in doors after dark, which arrives at 6:00ish. One reason is fear of witches, of which there are many stories, but there may be others as well. Since I have a separate entrance to my room and am shut in by myself after dark, I am often asleep by 8:00. I find a full belly and candlelight less than conducive to staying awake (though many a Monday and Tuesday night I have a hard time sleeping at all because I am still having crazy prophylaxis dreams after taking my weekly dose of mephloquine).

My shower is a bucket with water heated in a pot, on a grate, over the wood fire that serves as a kitchen. It is certainly a challenge to learn how to cook over a fire. As for food, I eat rice 3 times a day and am actually fond of it! I’ve already come to the point where I don’t fell full unless I have rice, and a lot of it. In addition, I usually eat beans and carrot salad and bananas or pineapple for dessert (oh, the pineapple!) Some days though, we do eat pancakes or latkas for breakfast, though I think Peace Corps taught them how to cook those so that we don’t go crazy. And, thank Andriamanitra (or God), my family drinks coffee every morning (even the seven year old, though I have tried with my feeble language skills to warn against that).

Apart from everything that we learn just by living with our host families, we have daily workshops on topics from building fuel efficient cookstoves, to improved rice growing techniques, to maintaining tree nurseries, farming chickens, community needs assessment, the nature of sustainable development, etc. Mostly, it is current volunteers who do the training, but sometimes we have guest speakers, Like Dr. Steve Goodman, a zoologist who is an expert in the biodiversity of the island, and Mark Freudenberger, head of a USAID program here with many years experience in development work. When we aren’t doing technical training or learning about Peace Corps policies (my favorite – boy do I live bureaucracy!), we are in language class. I am the only one headed to my particular region of the country in the Southwest so I have a language class to myself and nobody in the village speaks my dialect. As you might guess, I am having a challenging time learning to speak Antefasy. I am progressing though, and by now can have what would at no other time be considered a conversation, but right now is the pinnacle in cross-cultural communication:

“It’s hot outside.”
“Yes it is. I’m tired.”
“Me, too.”


“What did you do on Easter?”
“I went to the lake for the party and ate fried bananas.”
“I ate samosas.”

So tomorrow, after five weeks of training, I leave to visit my site for the first time. Then four more weeks of training before all 32 of us are cut loose across the country to do our best to make a difference (I’ll settle, for now, on just having a conversation).

24 March 2008

Easter, Gasy Style

“There are too many of us and we are all too far apart”- Kurt Vonnegut, Adam 1954

It’s Easter, known as Paka here. Being a largely Christian country, this is a national holiday, as are Pentecost and Asuncion, whatever those are (I am ashamed of my ignorance but there you have it). On Sunday, everybody goes to church in the morning. And I finally went with my family, though dad stayed home. We went to the church farther up the road in another village where my host-mom is from. Two other volunteers and their families came here, but most others all went to the bigger church in the bigger town.

It is interesting to see everybody in his or her Sunday best. Here, that means a clean, unholy (but maybe holy?) outfit of the most random assortment: from ill-fitting prom dresses to “Beijing Basketball” hoodies to tailored suits, with most people wearing flip-flops.

We sat through all the usual rigamoral of sermon, singing, baptism (I think?), but then something unexpected happened and I didn’t know what to make of this at first. A man in a lime green suit walks up to the front, and standing behind the podium he holds a live chicken up high over his head with both hands. Then he starts to yell. I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand him if he was yelling slowly, but he wasn’t anyway – he was on a roll, very passionate persuasive. Then people started calling out to him. It seemed to me that he was getting the audience worked up for something that something appeared to be an animal sacrifice. I knew already that they do practice sacrifice here, as an offering to the ancestors when someone dies or there is another major life event. But I didn’t expect it here in church, and was shocked and considering getting up and going outside (which, incidentally, wouldn’t have been inappropriate because they sell concessions outside and people go in and out all the time). But then, he handed the chicken to somebody who brought it to the audience and placed it under someone’s seat. Now I was thoroughly confused but that was short lived. Someone then handed the would be Master of Death a pike of bananas, that he then proceeded to hold up and yell about. Then a couple of bottles of milk, some eggs, a cake… that’s right, it was an auction to raise funds for the church or maybe some other cause. Typically, instead of passing the basket around, they will have the whole assembly file to the front of the hall where a box is and you put your donation in there. This may happen two or three times during the service so they tend to drag on. But this was a special Easter fundraiser, and I was damn glad that they weren’t spilling chicken blood all over the church.

We harvested and threshed rice in the afternoon and then had Easter supper. Usually they turn the radio off for the meal prayer but this time they didn’t for some reason and I found myself straining to hear my host-mom over some country song. Dinner was rice, eggs, carrot salad, pasta, and greens, and pineapple. Nutritious and delicious.

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Easter Monday is also a holiday and everybody goes for a picnic. My family for some reason though, ate lunch at ten in the morning and then walked the couple of kilometers to the dam on the lake where everybody was hanging out. The place is called Pasi-potsy, or White Beach, and it was more of a small fair than anything. There were booths set up selling foodstuffs, a shack with a generator and television showing Fists of Blood dubbed in French, a human powered carrousel, and motor boat or canoe rides. I mostly wandered around eating mofo akondro, which is deep-fried battered bananas, played some soccer and lounged around in the shade of a tree. I think that I like Gasy holidays.

15 March 2008

First Rainforest Excursion

We are at Mahatsinjo, a private reserve run by an NGO where another volunteer works, literally across the street from Andasibe National Park, the most visited park in the country. We are all excited to finally see the rainforest after 1½ months of seeing only the transformed landscape of the plateau. Most of us are in a hotel but a few of us have chosen to camp at the park. They have a few sand pits with ravinala roofs over them that you can set your tent up in. They even have a light bulb, which I think is a bit excessive.
It is really nice to be in the rainforest, though it is awfully dry and there are eucalyptus and pine trees all around. But as soon as one gets back into the forest proper it is clear how much incredible biodiversity there is here and how totally unlike the rest of the plateau it is.
Two days ago we went on a night hike. I didn’t see any nocturnal lemurs, but rather a huge chameleon, and a nocturnal moth and snail, both of which are the size of my hand. We also saw Brookesia, the family that claims the smallest chameleon in the world.
Today, we got to see and hear the Indri, who’s haunting song carries for kilometers and is one of the most incredible noises I have ever encountered. Sifaka, brown lemurs, couas (one of the five endemic bird families on the island), paradise flycatcher, giraffe-neck weevils, you name it. Everything but the golden bamboo lemur, one of the rarest primates in the world, which was recently discovered in the area.
It is very inspiring to see all the scientific work that this local NGO is doing, and how they are using ecotourism to fuel the development of their village. I also got a chance to build some rainforest trail and help plant trees in a forest restoration project. They collect mycorrhizal soil and seeds form the forest, grow the seedlings in the nursery, then plant them in strategic patches close to the forest, paying attention to the interspacing of fast and slow growing, short and long lived trees. The forest is given enough of a head start this way that it can out compete the invasives that one finds all around where people once cut and burned the land. It is an incredible process to see and unfortunately in danger from loss of funding.

01 March 2008

Sickness During Pre-Service Training

My energy has been taxed to the max by training so I haven't had the ability to write regulary or to do much self reflection. Plus I have been SICK for the past three days! For two nights I was completely delusional - I wasn't able to tell sleep from being awake and when I was finally able to figure out how to wake up, I was more exhausted than when I went to sleep. I'm sure it was caused partly by the malaria medicine and partly by the 101-102 degree fever that I can't seem to shake. to compound it, I half a cough that bends me double and my lungs feel like they are slowly filling with liquid, soon to suffocate me. Two others have the same thing, though one thinks she has Malaria. Wouldn't that be a hoot.

This afternoon was the first time we have had off, then we get tomorrow off as well. I don't know what to do with myself; maybe go for a walk and take pictures or something...

This morning I gave my first presentation in Antesaka (the dialect of my region). It was only two minutes long, on composting, or komposta, as it is known here, but it was fun and seemed to go over pretty well. Then, host mom and I went for a walk to the next town up and bought beans and peanuts and stuff.

I haven't been yet, but I will try to get out of going to church tomorrow: I still need to rest, a lot. I ave had a hard time adjusting to the rhythm of the sun. When it goes down (or dies, as they say here...maty ny maso andro... the eye of the day has died) then I am locked in my room (they are very afraid of witches here) and it is hard to keep myself occupied for long my candlelight. Then, in the morning, I don't want to get up until 6:00 when everyonr else is up at 4:30.

24 January 2008

Useful links for getting to know Madagascar

So here are links to some sites that share a good deal of info to get you started learning about Madagascar.

The place to start, if you like the bland facts laid out in an indigestible manner, is the CIA factbook. They really do have some startling facts about pop. growth rate and literacy levels and the like. Did you know that one natural disaster that Madagascar is prone to is locust infestations? If you read the factbook you would.

One area of conspicuous absence in the world factbook is the natural history. This is weird considering that Madagascar has one of the most unique biological regimes, with over 150,000 species found nowhere else on the planet. Try going to PBS's Madagascar - A World Apart, or Conservation International's Biodiversity Hotspot - Madagascar. These are good starting points and the related links sections on both pages are gateways to a plethora of info on Madagascar's biological world.

Another really good site, with tons of info and beautiful pictures of flora, fauna and people is WildMadagascar.

A few other sites to check out:

Madagascar Embassy

Lonely Planet Madagascar

Cortez Travel and Expeditions

That should be more than enough for the most curious of you. Let me know if you find anything else that might be good for me to share or read.

07 January 2008

Getting ready to depart

So I think that I have everything that I need for my journey across the world. I'm a pretty simple person so I shan't need to bring a lot of creature comforts like granola bars and my blankie and things like that. I am lucky enough to have a camera so I will hopefully be displaying photos for all of you in the near future.

February 17: fly to D.C. for three days of paperwork and shots.
February 20 - April 22?: live in Antananarivo for two months with a family learning Malagasy language and the culture and technical knowledge for my job. If they think I'll suffice, then I get to be sworn in as a tried and true PC Volunteer.
April 2008 - April 2010: serve as a PeaceCorps volunteer somewhere on the island doing something related to their protected wildlife areas.

Check out the the video at the bottom of the page to get an idea of what some of the environmental issues on the island are. I will post links soon so all of you can get more info about the 4th largest and 1st oldest island in the world.