Saturday, May 29, 2010

Case In Point

So a blog or two ago I mentioned how I was procrastinating more than usual. Remnants of a more laid back way of life in Africa perhaps? Either way, I finally finished unpacking today and vacuumed all the sand that I had tracked into the guest room upon my arrival home. I came across some things I had forgotten about like some dirty socks and some gifts I need to send to my family. Best of all, for my Azafady friends mostly, I came across the "Conservation Proclamation" rap written for the environmental education week. (More proof that my top ten list from before has merit, things are just funnier in the bush and may not translate outside of that.) Enjoy!

(Beatbox intro)
"Saw a girl on the side of the road, she pitched her Bolo wrapper and I said, "Oh no!"
"Trash is whack, you need to put it in a sack"
"I thought don't do that, yo, pollution is cracked"
"Keep your space clean, I don't mean to be mean"

(Chorus sung)
"Because the earth is our friend, keep it clean or it's gonna end"
"Let's learn together, it's our job to make it better"

(More beatboxing)
"When trash sits around it starts to smell, you gotta put it in a bin and compost it well"
"Put it in your garden it helps things grow, mix it all together with a rake and a hoe"
"So this week kids this is what it's all about, we're gonna do things that make you wanna scream and shout"
"Playing, building, learning weeding and drawing -- planting, watering, digging and sawing"
(Chorus out, repeated as many times as you want)

(And just because I am a little behind on posting the rest of the pix, here is a sleeping chameleon just for you.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cool Site

So I fly on different airlines all the time. Since I usually travel for work I often have to go with the cheapest option, not always my preferred airline. In doing this I have accumulated many frequent flier accounts and random amounts of miles on each. I do earn free tickets but they are usually gobbled up by emergency trips home to Maine, weddings, etc. On the less traveled ones I renew my subscription to Money magazine incessantly (I think I now have a Nov 2012 expiration). I can never seem to save them for vacations and I also lose track of all those numbers, expiration dates and levels needed for awards.

Enter,! I just discovered this website this week and I am loving it! It lets me track all my frequent flier miles in the same place and it stores all the details of all my upcoming trips. (I realize I sound like a commercial but you should check it out.)

In other news I tried calling Delta about my missing miles from Jo'Burg to Chicago and struck out again, I had tried to get information this weekend at the Delta ticket counter and they couldn't help me either. Now I am going with my third attempt to fax everything to some agents, we'll see...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in the Swing

So, I still have a few more stories and photos to share but things have been a little busy these last couple of weeks. Weddings, graduations, catching up with friends and family. I am also suffering from a little procrastination. It may be residual from my time in Africa, but I am feeling less urgent about my to-do list when I am not at work. I am somehow more motivated at work though, which is good with all the things we have going on there. In my off time though I am relaxing more and doing less. I'm not sure how long that will last but I am enjoying it while I can. I haven't even unpacked yet, which is so unlike me.

In travel news I am going to New Jersey this weekend for my best friend from college's baby shower. I am excited to see Vanessa and her family and have a relaxing weekend. Cheers!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nuts and Bolts - Part IV

Okay, two more chapters to go in the "work that was completed" posts. This is about the process of catching and counting mammals and reptiles. We also caught a lot of things that we weren't specifically looking to count like giant crickets, scorpions, centipedes, pill bugs and spiders. The point of the catching and the counting is to show what is in the forest - we were hoping to find skinks, tenrecs, frogs and lizards - to protect the forest from being depleted through the publishing of reports. We partook in a labor intensive process called "buckets in" where we dug holes in the forest big enough for a bucket every 10 meters (with holes drilled in the bottom to prevent drowning any critters if it rained) and put a 100 meters of plastic tarping over the buckets in three 100 meter lines and covered the lip of the plastic on the ground with leaf litter. The idea is that animals take the path of least resistance so if they found our lines they would walk along the plastic and fall into the buckets to be counted and released twice a day for eight days. The pictures make it much more clear than that all sounds, trust me. And we'll start off with a good old fashioned machete fight...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nuts and Bolts - Part III (if you can stand another)

My first module in Madagascar was two weeks of conservation work, which included a lot of random things - including the bee keeping/bee hive building you saw a couple of posts ago. Another aspect of this module was to prepare little plastic bags of manure and sand (aka. pot-packing or shit-packing) for trees to be planted in them to mature in the tree nursery across from our camp ground and then be planted in the wild in the future. We also monitored some trees that had already been planted to see how they were growing. We gauged their progress by taking notes on how the soil in a transect (or line) was supporting other plants or if only sand or rocks were present (which in the long run is going to make it harder for the trees to thrive). I got stung by a hornet one day while taking notes but the other bugs and animals we saw made that worth it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nuts and Bolts - Part II

Even though I only survived one of the two weeks of environmental education, it wasn't all bad. Having 100 students in the morning class and 60 in the afternoon class was a bit overwhelming, especially considering their ages (anywhere from 2-3 year olds up to maybe 10-11 year olds). At some point during the outdoor instruction some of the boys started peeing in the schoolyard and the boisterous noise and energy from the kids got me a little frazzled at times. That said, the kids were so excited that we were there. We were teaching them about the food chain, composting and gardening. They all wanted to help and tried hard to understand my limited Malagasy language skills. We played some games and had the kids get their hands dirty planting a school garden. In all it ended up being a pretty good week. Enjoy!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nuts and Bolts - Part I

So, I know I have filled you in on the living situation and a little about the village, etc. By now you are probably wondering what I was actually doing in the way of conservation and biodiversity work, so this week I will be giving you a pictorial look at the work that was done by me (and the other volunteers):

Up first, building and repairing bee houses and their roofs. We also harvested honey (without any protective clothing, not a great idea) and learned how not to find new bees for a hive. Below are also some photos of the compost pile we made, the garden bed we made for flowers to be planted near the hives and the result of a day of weeding.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I am getting back to normal. My sleep schedule is still a little out of whack; I have never accomplished anything before work besides this past week. I have finished my malarial meds so my dreams are starting to calm down. I am sure I will stop waking up before my alarm goes off soon.

I have enjoyed sharing stories with those of you I have seen and hope to see some of the rest of you soon. In the meantime, I have been posting photos by topic on Facebook so as to not overwhelm myself with trying to put everything up at once. I am realizing, now that I've been home for a week, that I had a really great time. There were moments along the way when I wasn't quite sure what I thought, but I have moved past thinking about the difficulty of the day-to-day living and moved onto the beauty of the country, the remoteness, the struggle of the people and the opportunity I had to be part of it all.

People have asked if I plan on going back. I'm not really sure what to say to that. It's not that I wouldn't go back, I had a great (if not interesting time), but I have so many other places I want to visit in the future. The sad reality of Madagascar is that many of the places I was in may not even be there much longer. The current research and plans for mining ilmenite (a whitening agent) threatens the forest, the animals, the way of life for the people (fishing and farming) and other possible unknown effects.

If you bear with me I plan on sharing a few stories and then I will move on to whatever adventure lies around the corner, we'll see. I guess if you keep reading, I'll keep writing. Until then...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Flip Side

My blog post for Azafady had seemed a bit on the serious side when I wrote it, so I also wrote this to balance things out [slightly censored here]:

Top Ten Reasons the Bush is Better (than the city):

10. There is never a line for the long-drop toilet because you can't stand the smell for long.

9. Without a car, you are likely to work off your breakfast dough balls quicker.

8. When you step in something you never have to wonder what it is - you already know it's poop.

7. It's never anyone's turn to clean the toilet - the rain takes care of it for you.

6. Everything is funnier out in the middle of nowhere, including this list.

5. New, English-speaking visitors to camp are like a new toy.

4. You can skip a shower when it rains because wet or damp toilet paper gets the most important bits clean.

3. Completing mundane, everyday tasks feels like a huge accomplishment (dishes, laundry, shower, etc.).

2. It's fine to spill things or have accidents because when your laundry comes back the water pre-stained them for you.

1. Because nowhere else can you be excited to bathe in smelly, brown water while having to get yourself into the most unflattering positions over a bucket trying to dunk your hair.

Not sure that translates to those of you not familiar with bush living in Africa but for my fellow volunteers who were looking for a copy of the list, here you go.

A chameleon and me. (Btw, I swear I wore more than this one shirt and not every picture taken of me includes a critter.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Day In the Life

So, the staff at Azafady was asking for blog submissions for their website, I wrote the following:

"Today is my 17th day as an Azafady Conservation Volunteer. Although no day is the same, I can at least give you an idea of what a typical day might be. We are awakened from our tents by the sun rising and Vira, one of the cooks, banging a spoon on the pot of breakfast rice. While out in the bush we are also treated to dough balls, banana bread and bananas. If it's your turn for dishes, you and your "sick buddy" (someone to help you stay well and nurture you through illness or injury) fetch water from the well and get to washing up.

At 7:30, depending on your module, we head out to transect trees or lemurs, search for reptiles, build beehives, survey the community or teach at the school. When the morning work has been completed, we head back to camp for lunch, of rice and beans, and a siesta. During the high heat of the day it's important to conserve your energy, so we use the daylight for a well-drawn bucket shower, to read a book, play a game or take a nap.

After resting it's time for a Malagasy language lesson with one of our three guides. We've learned about simple conversations, navigating a purchase, how to count, tell time and sentence structure. Usually by 3pm we are ready to get back to work - either continuing from the morning or doing something else entirely within the goals of your module.

As the sun begins to set, we head back to camp to finish anything daylight is needed for and have dinner. After dinner dishes are done there is candlelit time for games, conversations and laughter in the long house. The stars shine brightly over camp and we all usually turn in fairly early to rest up for the next adventure awaits, but not before a trip to the long-drop toilet. Walking down the forest path at night is a little more unnerving than during the day and the sounds and reflections of animal eyes remind you that you have made it - you are in Madagascar."

       (A ring-tailed lemur and me.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Finally Home

So, yeah, finally flew into Kansas City at 7pm last night. It was so nice to finally get off the plane. My bag had come in on an earlier flight so I just picked it up and went. Brian made me pancakes for dinner, yum! We started going through pictures but then it got to be midnight and I felt like some sleep.

Slept well besides the malarial induced crazy dreams. I dreamt about lots of bizarre things while on the drugs, still have a few more days to go with that. Last night's episode included trying to evade giant mosquitoes which caused me to bundle up in blankets and sweat and then I awoke to one of the many "Charley horses" in my calf that I've had over the past month.

All in all, I am excited to settle back into life but it does feel a bit strange. Stopping at the grocery store for milk last night was like an amazing field trip. I will try to get some photos up soon, but in the meantime I'll be marveling at things like choice in everything, green grass and the lack of bugs. Thanks again for everyone's thoughts and encouragement!

Sidenote - I just weighed in and I guess I lost five pounds. The diet of rice and beans apparently is not weight-gain inducing but I was convinced that pumping and carrying all my water from a well was going to pack on pounds of muscle.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Made it to Chicago! Five hours til I get to K.C.!
In case you're wanting to follow along, I am now in Paris. Departing in an hour for Chicago. At least I'm halfway there!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

At swank hotel on airline's dime in Jo'burg, slept great. Room service breakfast coming, also on airline. Big change from bush living. Flight leaves at 8pm.