Long overdue airport update: muddy hikes, lemur stories and monster pigs
International transit for all its discomforts and miseries affords a couple of luxuries I’ve been deficient in the past month: time and super fast wifi! Both necessary for blogging -something I’ve let slip in favour of another two expeditions to three remote villages, negotiations over community radio governance, a quick Easter weekend trip to the spectacular Isalo National park and a dynamic workshop with MRMW teacher interns. Now, traveling back to Australia after 2 whirlwind months in Madagascar, I finally have the chance to catch up on these long overdue updates.
First, the expeditions. After such a productive time in Madrivany village collecting stories from young and old, the team were excited to return to the field the following week. Our next stop was Ankazotsara, a beautiful collection of mud huts hidden between striking craggy, green hills a 45minute drive and 2 hour walk from our base at CVB,Ranomafana.
Our path, lined with guava brambles introduced from China a sweet favourite of both human and animal residents alike, was blocked by an enormous beast of a pig, wallowing in the mud and soaking up the morning rays and musty smells. As Lova edged gingerly past him, he unexpectedly reared up to charge her, caking her legs with mud and sending peels of laughter from neighbouring fields. Later we passed a yellow striped water snake lunging back towards our feet to strike a small lizard, dragging it into the bushes with a high pitched wheezing sound. Never an uneventful hike in the Eastern forests!!
As with Mandrivany we received a warm welcome from village elders and families living near our allocated hut. We arrived just in time for Ella, the MRMW teacher intern’s Environmental education class and dashed over to the dark, single room school partitioned by a bamboo wall to observe. According to the team, Ella’s teaching and confidence have progressed enormously over her enrollment in the MRMW program. When she first started the program, she was shy and anxious about her teaching but she delivered this lesson confidently with great presence and dynamism. Her lesson on the water cycle was clearly executed and culminated in a wonderful game of charades involving her magic box and fierce competition among teams.
A meeting with the village Ampanjaka (king) evolved into an all-village meeting outside our hut to share information about the SOS project. Such was the interest among the community that immediately after this meeting we had a few volunteers offering the village’s history, and stories of interactions with lemurs in the past. This trend continued over the week, always with a large crowd gathering to listen to stories. My laptop, used as a recording device, attracted even more attention and we ended up screening a couple of sessions of Lemur Island to a fascinated crowd before the battery finally died.
Discussions with 18 T4 students revealed that only a third have ever seen a lemur, and most of these in Ranomafana National Park! They listed 4 types: varbole, varsaty, simpona, mouse lemur and made indri noises when asked how lemurs communicate. As part of their homework, they brought stories from their parents about the receding forest and their childhood interactions with lemurs. They were eager to be recorded in their retellings and we managed to also capture 4 songs and 3 poems.
Towards the end of the week we hiked a further 3 hours to Kianjanoby village to visit Zo, another intern teacher and gather further stories for the program before returning to Ranomafana. The week after was out furthest hike, half a day to Ambiot
I am ever amazed by the quality and diversity of verbal arts among Tanala forest people. I counted 22 different storytellers on this trip, some sharing more than one recording/genre and all expertly leading the listeners on a rich and exciting aural journey into the past, present and future imaginations of human interactions with their environment