Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sparkles yay!

“Look Lorax,” I said. “There’s no cause for alarm. I chopped just one tree. I am doing no harm. I’m being quite useful. This thing is a Thneed. A Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets! Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!”
The Lorax said, “Sir! You are crazy with greed. There is no one on earth who would buy that fool Thneed!”
~Dr Seuss “The Lorax”

A metal so soft it bends to your bite, so hard to find you must dig until night.
Who would want such a metal that’s as soft as a petal? That can’t even be used for a pan or a kettle?
Who would search and dig and sift for these tiny pieces so fine? But look! When it’s polished then oh how it shines, we’ll make a fine sheet and darn all our shrines. Our ears, and our necks, and our fingers and hands will all twinkle and sparkle with this metal that’s grand.

I recently spent some time in the forest, helping a fellow volunteer gather information for his master’s thesis as well as for Conservation International. He interviewed families about how they use the forest while I ventured out on their foot paths to see what they’re actually doing. In order to get to these towns, though, we had to drive in a bush taxi 40 km on a gravel road (bumpy), and then walk 25km on an extremely muddy road that has been destroyed by semi trucks that transported hardwoods years ago. That was all to get to our base point, a town called Raboana, from which we would then trek another few hours on foot to the starting point of our forest walks. These families are pretty darn remote. As such, they’re the ones that should know the laws of forest use best-they’re the ones actually using it- but are often the least informed or just confused by being half-informed.
It was extremely challenging work, physically and mentally. Trudging through fallow rice fields while my Malagasy counterparts just seemed to flit right over the mud was really emotionally straining too. But we encountered something that I had never seen before; gold excavation sites. It was one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in nature.
Let’s set up the scene.

Covered in fresh scrapes from slashing through forest that slashes right back at you, we catch glimpses of an odd change in the forest floor ahead. A small hole appears and lifting my eyes from the constant vigil of my feet, I realize the ground in front of me has been ravaged. Where ground thick with forest humus used to be, there are only holes as far as you can see. The biggest holes are 3 meters deep and 2 meters wide. Some are connected by tunnels, others are smaller holes dug underneath weak palms miraculously still upright. Small streams nearby are milky with sediment, and cluttered with hastily discarded shovels, buckets, and sieves. “How many holes do you think there are?” I ask our local guide. “There’s no counting them. Maybe a hectare of land is wrecked at this site. There are older sites like this near-by,” he responds.
There are hundreds of gold sites like this one (we stumbled upon two more the next day, and often passed random holes where someone tested their luck to no avail) throughout the rainforest here. I’m not one for anthropomorphizing, animals or plants, but I’ve never seen something so brutal looking as that; the ground was masticated and the rivers bled.

I’d like to think I’m not na├»ve, at least not as much anymore. People like gold. I have worn gold in my life. I will probably again; it’s just so pretty.
I also know that the people that discover the gold are extremely poor (economically) and earn pittance for what they find. It’s enough to buy the few things they need money for; tools, salt, a new shirt, a “glucose biscuit” for their child. How can we tell people that have no other option (seemingly) to earn money that they have to stop providing for their families in order to save some trees and a few lemurs. Explaining the extreme endemism of their forests doesn’t work. The carbon cycle is pretty complicated to grasp as well. Forget even trying to use climate change as a reason. There’s the added problem that trying to get sustainably produced crops to market (without spoiling or damaging) is not just limited by the time it takes to get to markets, but as well by the amount they can transport. A kilogram of rice doesn’t rake in nearly the amount of dough as a kilogram of gold. It’s the same amount of weight in your backpack on that 25 kilometer walk out of the forest though. An additional tragedy is that the people that dig and destroy the forest looking for this gold get a fraction of a percent of the money that gold will eventually garner when the jeweler sells it to you in all its 24 karat glory. But that’s a whole other quandary I’m not going to delve into now.

Life is full of many such quandaries. I have no answers. I wish I could patch the forest back up. I wish I could change societal desires for pretty things, rare things, precious things. I wish the 300 year old hardwoods would be left to feed the lemurs and house the birds. I wish the rivers would run crystalline, clean, and full of fish. Wishing just doesn’t cut it.

This entry, my first in a while, is not meant to be a downer. It’s not meant to scold or guilt. I’m simply sharing my thoughts with you all (whoever you may be). These are issues that affect us all, whether we care to stop and think about it for a moment.

Also, go read “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss.

Peace and mirary soa.
Until next time...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Still learning...

Let me preface this post with the fact that every Sunday I’m at site without something to do I go to church with a friend of mine. It’s under the pretense of cultural exchange but really I just enjoy singing really loud and they really enjoy having a “vazaha” as a church member. It’s win-win.
SO…About a month and a half ago, my church friend Mamaniando invited me to night time services. For some reason that’s still not clear to me, they have service the 11th of every month. But why have a 3and a half hour service the morning of the 11th when you can have a service that starts the night before and catches the first hour of the day. Especially when the congregation wants to use its new generator that has two light bulbs strung to the beams of the roof. PARTY!
It was a hectic day, and I’m not sure why I agreed to go at all anyway. I had to run home, wash off the dirt, eat a pitiful dinner of cold rice and mushy greens, and hurry over to church half an hour late and services already started. I tried to be stealthy and sneak in the back that way I could sneak out as well if I got too tired and wanted to leave. Trying to be anonymous and under the radar is not really possible when your church is a small shack and you’re the only white person that lives there, so they put me in my regular seat at the very front of the church.
At 8 pm, after an hour of pre-service service, they stopped to have dinner (wish I had known), and play BLARING music over the speaker system also being run on the generator. After an hour and a half break service resumed again, but this time it was more like a regular service. At about 12:30 the generator died and I thought to myself “alright, they’ll wrap up now, they don’t have that many candles.” However, they had more gasoline for the generator- so they kicked that sucker back on and resumed.
I kept looking at all the tired faces around me. I go to sleep at like 9 which is late on average for the residents around me, so I just kept wondering…
Why do they like praying so much? Can’t we go home already? It’s already 1…1:30…2.
Dear goodness they must be about done, I’m exhausted. They already did collection…LET’S GO ALREADY. Man I’m getting a little angry, they lied t me. They said the service would g t midnight. It’s already 2:15 and the pastor isn’t slowing up. Wait what did the pastor just say about me looking tired and angry? Why does he have to call me out. Alright Sara, pull it together. This isn’t so bad, you’re being insensitive and you really should have known…come on just rally!......Phew service is over. What time is it? 2:30!?!?! Man! Alright, let’s all go home now. Wait why is no one moving? Wait why are they fiddling with the speakers again? NOOOO, not the blaring music, anything but the blaring music. No one is leaving. Oy. That’s it, I’m going home. I live right next door. It’s a short walk…But I don’t want to make Mamaniando and her husband leave early to take me home. I’ll stick it out, but man this music is LOUD…Oy 3:10 already? It’s 6 hours past my bed time…
“Hey Mamaniando, when are you guys going home?”
“Oh we’re not going home until the morning.”
“Wait, what? You said this was til 12. I thought you’d be going home.”
“No, it’s not safe out right now, we have to wait for the sun. We can walk you home, you’re close. You look tired and mad. Do you want to go home? We’ll take you hme now. You need your sleep so you aren’t weak again tomorrow. Let’s go.”
…Wow, I feel a little offended by all the unintentional stabs you just took at me, but I am too tired, so yea, let’s go…

End of stream-of-consciousness.

|I got home at 3:45 that night and even though I could hear the music from the church reverberating in my house, I passed out and slept late until 7:30 am.
Lessons learned:
Even church goers don’t necessarily tell the whole truth all the time.
A society where all houses are shut by dusk time due to a fear of witches and bad spirits of the night will not walk home at 1 am, so they will just party until the sun rises.
Never EVER say yes to non Sunday church events ever again (outside of Easter).

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading this confusing blog.

PS thanks to lea and rachel for commenting on the previous blog

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My alarm clock

One reason why living here is awesome: these guys are my neighbors.

There are many more reasons, but this is one for right now. Think of reasons why living where you live is awesome and then comment. (i.e. Boston is awesome because..., Coral Springs, FL is awesome because...)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Year One in Pictures!

First an introduction…
Well hello dear friends and/or family and/ or strangers, welcome to my house. Please won’t you come join me on my porch…

Isn’t it wonderful weather we’re having here? I couldn’t see beyond this hedge here before 7 this morning! That means it’s going to be hot today.

Oh and hear comes my young friend Naina. He’s certainly a character and maybe the most inquisitive child around. Beware however to guard your shiny things or else he’ll start to tinker…

Please come on into my house. I was just about to cook myself some lunch. Would you like big leaves or small leaves?

Well now that we’re both full off of indigestible roughage, come with me while I go to work. It’s just another afternoon teaching Santa how to graft his citrus trees.

If you stay for tomorrow you’ll get to come along with these crazy characters while we plant native forest trees!

You know it’s all just another day in the rainforest over here. Hey Ndrina what is it you smell? Something bad huh?

Yea, look Mampionina smells it too. Just take a look at her face! Probably those fruit fly cultures we started doing the other day. A few of them got a little moldy, but you know it’s all a learning experience.

But you do know what they say, all work and no play makes Tolatra a dull boy. So come on over, we’ll have a fresh coconut break with my friends. They’re great. The goofball with her hand in her mouth next to me is Katie. Smile Mcsmileson in the black sweater is Chantel. Nicki, the red head in a red tank top, is next to her and is receiving lessons on how to properly drink a coconut by my friend Brittany who decided to take a Macarena break as well. Aren’t they all just so crazy? Love them!

Just back from another great vacay but this time we traded me for Kelly and Brittany for Dan. Kelly and Dan are chuckleheads too so we all make a good group. I hope you’re a chucklehead too or else you might not be able to hang.

If you’re not a chucklehead perhaps you could hang with either of these rad fellas. One’s Malagasy and the other Welsh (guess who is which) and therefore not of American decent so probably have a bit more sense to them. Then again, maybe not…

Please family/friend/stranger, won’t you come with me on a bike trip around Madagascar’s largest lake? We can stop at towns along the way to teach the local people about AIDS, safe sex, gardening techniques for an immune boosting diet, and we can dance on stages and purposely act like fools since either way they’ll be talking about us. I promise it’ll be a hair pulling, butt chafing, dehydratingly good time!

Or perhaps you’d like something a little less active? Like sitting in large circles on small children? Well come with me as we join my fellow volunteer Amanda at her children’s environment camp. We’ll teach them about trusting each other and how all things in nature must rely on, must trust in everything else to keep it supported, to keep it from falling flat on its butt!

Hate crushing small children? Yea that’s fair. Well, at this project with a Dutch Habitat for Humanity International group from the Netherlands, we didn’t sit on small children but we did get them to pass bricks and learn some songs!

Or how about this trip with Hope for Madagascar? They took 30 young school kids from across the country to go see the beach, plant trees at a rural school a few hundred kilometers (a big deal to them) and share their cultural differences.

But perhaps sometimes you don’t want to be surrounded by small children. Perhaps you just want to cherish some time spent with the ones you love. Like maybe, kickin’ on a beach with your parents (Hi Mom and Dad)…

Or dancing in the rain on a beach you’re your older brother (hey Matt!)…

Or trekking over spiky things called tsingy...

You decide what kind of adventure you'd like over here in Madagascar and you let me know. For now, however, that is all. Thanks for visiting! Please allow my living alarm clock to show you out. If you ask him nicely he might sing a song for you. Take care!