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.