Friday, 14 February 2014

First moments in nature

Over the past two days we visited two different parks (still on the way to the south). One of them is a small, community managed protected area called Anja, about an hour drive from Fianarantsoa, another lively city, where, according to my guidebook, many of Madagascar’s intellectuals originate from. I’ve already been to Anja four years ago and it was equally pleasant this time. In fact, I think we even had the same guide on both occasions!

We saw our first ring-tailed lemurs and learnt that their community is a matriarchal system with a queen. Unintentionally, the explanations about lemurs also reveal details about malgache society. Our park guide was telling us how lemurs sleep in the afternoon “like a woman”. I found this hilarious, as –until now- my experience has been that African women are precisely those who “carry the continent” on their back as opposed to being the “siesta” kind of people. I have yet to see more about how things work here, but I suspect that women are pretty damn hard working here as well. (Needless to say, I very much look forward to engaging with the women’s group in the village where we’ll be, and hear their take on things and listen to their expressions about the men...).

It seems there is another similarity between lemurs and the malgache: they both tend to be polygamic. I don’t have proof for the lemurs, but I can confirm, that we have already been explained about the concept of one wife (as they are “catholic”, therefore only allowed one wife) and several other female “friends” in various locations. Age difference does not seem to pose big challenges either and some local men have an openly declared “soft point” for foreigners. (I’ve already been asked by a schoolteacher whether I am available, because he is looking for a wife and has a preference for foreigners. I politely declined the offer and refused to give him my address...)

The second park we stopped in was the Isalo National Park, founded back in 1962. I think this park is usually very dry and desertic, but we are just at the end of the rainy season and everything was green, abundant and in certain places even jungle-like. It was the most exciting park I’ve seen so far, there are parts of it that look a bit like the Grand Canyon, and other parts which are little tropical environments growing around a water stream. We’ve bathed in two different natural ponds, walked in big, open spaces between sandstones carved by the weather, and hiked in narrow mountain trails surrounded by dense forest, orchids, and lots of plants we don’t yet know. We met a small boa, a group of ring-tailed lemurs and several really cool cameleons.

There was also a big group of malgache teenagers with their teacher next to one of the ponds. We spent about 30 minutes photographing one another in every possible formation, with both sides equally amused. French continues to be the main language in which we engage with the locals, although English is also an occasional possibility.

Our own group is very nice so far, 3 women and 2 men. Im at the “upper end” of the age-scale, with the lower end around 18/19 (impressive that they'd have the courage for a trip like this!). There is a very relaxed, fun athmosphere, people are paying attention to one another, sharing their water/mosquito spray/sun-lotion ;-) and its reassuring to see the little gestures of solidarity already now.

I have the impression that time is passing much slower here than at home. This is good, it allows to enjoy everything in more detail and (in theory) it provides opportunity to contemplate the big questions of life. At other moments this slower pace is something that concerns me and makes me wonder whether I will not find this 6 weeks a bit too long?

Tomorrow we have a 5 hour drive to Toliara, lunch with the project people+the volunteers from the previous round and a day off on Sunday.

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