20 January 2010

It's a Different World Up Here!

Pardon the typos, but I'm back to having to use a French keyboard in a slipshod internet cafe. That's right, I'm finally back in Madgascar! It only took me 10 months of frustration to get here and I'm still not even sure this was the right decision, but I'm here for the next 6 months so hopefully soon I will feel like I belong again.

Part of my difficulty is the rapidity of the transition. I arrived a week ago and had two days of orientation before being brought to site. Last time around I had 10 weeks of training and the opportunity to gradually get used to things. I certainly appreciate the confidence that everybody has in my ability to thrive despite any real idea what the hell I am doing but it would have been nice to at least see my friends first...

Now I'll put away that grumbling voice that seems to have arisen in me some time in the last few months. Hopefully, next blog I will be able to post some pictures; I just have to find a place that I could plug in my own computer so I could prepare the next blog ahead of time while the clock is not ticking. For now, though, maybe I will just highlight a few of the similarities and differences between my old site in the South-East, and my new one, up on the plateau but still near the rain forest corridor.

Similarity: I'm still working with community based management groups (COBAs) charged with managing swaths of a large new protected area. Again this time there are way too many (16) to work effectively with all of them during my 6 months but at least i can try to meet with them all and really benefit a few (which is the realization I came to after my first year in Vondrozo). The work should take me out into the forest again, though just like before, I live a few kilometers away (in fact, where I am now, I can't even see it for all the eucalyptus that has been planted).

Difference: Before, I was working with a field team of 5 Malagasy WWF empoyees who were pretty knowledgable and quick to learn, who had connections and a good rapport within the communities already and who were dedicated to conservation and helping the locals develop. This time around my aim is the same, but I'm working with Conservation International and I AM the field team. That's right - just me. Melissa and Lety are doing the same job in nearby areas but we all work independently. So my hopes of accomplishment are much lower this time around, though I should be able to transmit enough insight about the reality of things on the ground to CI that they decide they aught to have a field team here (the local office closed during the political crisis). This time around though, there are federations that link the COBAs together. There was nothing like that in Vondrozo and I think it is a great idea. So maybe I can spend much of my time developing the federation instead of working directly with the COBAs. We'll have to see how this goes...

Difference: People are really friendly here! I walk around my village and everybody smiles and says 'hi', they seem stoked to have me around and not put off by me. In Vondrozo, I was the first PC volunteer and they hardly ever get white people out there so they were scared of me and didn't really know what to do with me. Up here they are used to vazaha, foreigners, and in fact called me "Aaron's replacement" for the first few days! I'm working hard on establishing my own identity and assuring them I wont leave after a few days (maybe thats why they seem so friendly - they are really trying hard to make me like them so they won't lose their vazaha again!). It took a long time before I really found out who I could work closely with in Vondrozo and to build the trust needed to be effective. I've already here had the head of the Parent's association at the school come to me seeking advice on a grant proposal, right after she handed me the curtains and sheets she had offered to sew for me (I never even ahd curtains in Vondrozo!) Seems like folks are a little less kamo (lazy) here and ready to work. I better step it up!

Difference: They are really good farmers up here. My village is on a fairly major road, 30km off the road to the most visited tourist site in the country and the main shipping thouroughfaire in the country. Im near if not in the breadbasket of the country and man do people know how to farm rice here! I've been walking around taking pictures (which i would have been self-conscious to do in Vondrozo) of rice fields, tractors, fertilizer, etc. because I am so struck by the knowledge base and ensuing wealth here. I won't subject you all to another blog on rice, don't worry, even though i do want to post the pictures. I'll just have to write my next update about some of the wildlife so I can show off the beautiful birds and moths that I have been seeing (all very commonplace but still beautiful).

Ok, Im sure that's more than enough to sate your appetites for now. I do wish this computer's spellcheck wasn't in French...

Miss you all! Mandrapihaona!