“No mon. He just play the fool, cause for him dass de way life go de best.”
-Peter Matthiessen, Far
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
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 I have coffee with Robson and the porters, and then we have to wait until 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 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 we are eating and here I am at in bed. Two meals a day of heaping plates full of rice. That’s a day in the field with WWF.