My first day in Madagascar was a difficult adjustment, but I feel much more comfortable now, especially since I am no longer sick. Mirana has been a great help with making me feel at home here.
Yesterday, I scheduled my trip to Ranomafana, where I will be staying at Centre ValBio (CVB). CVB is primarily a research station that employs many Malagasy locals, but people often come here for vacationing as well.
Mirana and I woke up to our alarm at 5:30 am since we arranged to leave by 6:30 am today. We promptly went back to sleep. We had both stayed up too late watching Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and other pop artists’ music videos to be up that early. We started our trip winding through the traffic of Antananarivo. At this point I had gotten used to the streets smelling of gasoline and exhaust fumes.
We passed countless booths and vendors, who sold anything they could. The most common ones were car parts, such as car bumpers, car seats, hub caps, car parts, mufflers and the like. Other common booths sold clothes, hats, shoes, rice and produce.
Many vendors would walk by stopped cars, carrying different goods like sunglasses, snacks, scarves, baskets, etc., to sell through car windows. My absolute favorite booth was one with lost shoes. Not pairs of shoes, just a bunch of single shoes that didn’t have a mate.
The booths that surprised me the most were the meat booths. The meat is laid out or hung without refrigeration. I had asked Mirana if this would make people ill – she said it would make me sick, but not local people.
At one point, we passed a large dead cow on the side of the road that had its legs tied and neck slit, with blood flowing into the street. I don’t mean to gross out any readers, but I am trying to paint an honest picture of what I saw. I had so many questions, but I didn’t ask. Why here? Was there a butcher nearby? It just made no sense to me why this was done here, on the side of a busy road. I wonder if it was easiest to walk the cow into town to be butchered closer to the vending booth. I don’t know. But what I’m learning on this trip is that I will have a lot of unanswered questions.
As we continued our trip, we passed many people who could balance enormous loads of weight on their head. I saw a young girl with what looked like twenty bricks stacked neatly on her head. She could stand, squat and look around without the stack leaning at all. There were many people with ox, school children with bright blue uniforms and just about every woman had a baby. I asked Mirana if contraceptives were available if people wanted them. She said “Yes, but they don’t use them.” I did not ask this question to pass judgement, but to better understand the culture and resources available to them.
The trip is a whopping 10-hour drive on winding roads with many potholes. I was told to take Dramamine so I could sleep and wouldn’t get car sick, but I actually quite enjoyed the drive. It was interesting to see how the landscape changed from city to city. In Antananarivo, there were many fields with rice, but very few trees. I first started to see more trees in Antsirabe, which is also when I first started seeing wood, twigs and timber being sold in booths. As we moved onto Ambositra, the landscape was much hillier. Therefore, the farmers used terracing on the hills for growing crops.
I could see that Ambositra was slightly more forested than Antsirabe. They had many intricate wooden carvings and sculptures for sale at booths and decorating restaurants. When we got near Ranomafana, there were many areas lush with trees. We saw many bags of leaves on the side of the road that people collected for carbon, as Mirana told me. As different resources became available with the changing landscape, the items sold in booths changed as well.
Finally, we made it to CVB! We will have some down time to start planning the research trip into the forest. There is a lot to be done before we can head out. So for now we will relax and enjoy the weekend before we start working hard on Monday morning.