Monthly Archives: February 2018

Still good (scenes from home and a week on the road)

[disclosure: photos take a really long time to upload, so ideally there would be more. Ill describe them don’t worry]

Mbola tsara!

(Direct translation: still good. This is how people greet each other here in the SAVA region. The equivalent of hello/bonjour and the Malagasy phrase I have said the most since being here. Only this week did I learn the meaning of the words. Still good. A wish I think.)

My host brother is an aspiring photographer. After looking through my photos from the week, I offered him the camera and here are some of his shots.

[Other photo at the table: a knife on a mango, mom in background]

Our dinner table is purple and is also where we spend most of our family time together. Rice or vary is the staple food in Madagascar and is eaten at nearly every meal. My mother teaches cooking classes and our rice is accompanied by beans, pasta, fish, squash, French fries, eggs or meat. On our table this week she taught me how to make croissants (dough, butter, rolling and careful folding, sometimes with pineapple jelly) and we ate them for breakfast. After most dinners we eat mangos. Here they are smaller and more flavorful than the US. We enjoy after-dinner conversation with sticky fingers.

This week the program drove 5 hours north to the Daraina region to study the Golden Crown Sifaka, a lemur endemic to the region.

Our campsite was on a wide slow river near a small village of people very curious about us foreigners. We spent each day hiking up various jungled hills in search of the elusive primates, and returned each day to one less chicken walking around the campsite. Daraina is the melding of 4 ecoregions, so the forest was not tropical but seasonally dry. It felt a little bit more familiar than the dense humid forests of the previous week.

[Beautiful photo of three students next to the river near sunset]

The Golden Crown Sifaka is larger than I expected. They sit in the trees crouched on branches, and occasionally check in on us to make sure we know they know we are there. While doing behavior studies I got to watch one for an hour. On Wednesday we climbed a steep mountain in search of a family to observe and after a few minutes of lemurless tree spottings, our guide Guy let out a laugh and shout of joy as a small flash of white flew between trees. We had already seen lemurs in a zoo and in a lemur park but to see a family in habitat was pretty magical.

The local people from the village cooked for us while we were studying and our stay culminated with a feast of goat and a night of singing and dancing. The goat had been hanging out in camp for our stay and on our last day we watched the slaughter for the coming meal. For the rest of the evening, the goat was roasted on a spit over charcoal. I had never witnessed a slaughter or tasted goat before, and both I’d say were worthwhile experiences. Our ending celebration lasted well into the night, as the students of the program were ushered in to join in the dancing while the men of the village sang and clapped to traditional and contemporary Malagasy songs.

[Kind of edgy photo of a goat body roasting on a spit with local people watching in the background]


I am back at home in Antalaha now. Soon to journey out to Cap Est for a week of marine studies.

(Featured are some amazing Pachypodium and one Baobab for those plant enthusiasts out there)

[photo of the baobab I saw also]


Still Good

A first hello from the southern hemisphere!

Hello to all! Mbola tsara! It’s been nearly three weeks now since touchdown in Madagascar and there is much too much to cover in one concise post, so I am going to do some brief paragraphs and photos covering some general categories!


Can you spot the realistic crucifix?

Museum of the prime minister

View from near the queen’s palace on the highest hill of the city

Translated to English, Antananarivo means city of thousands. The city is bustling with over one million people in orange and red houses on rolling hills, topped with the queen’s palace and mansion of the prime minister. Colors here are vivid. The sun is sharp. People and cars and small taxis fill every small space of the street. Imagine a city as large as San Francisco with no traffic lights and vendors on every corner. We spent our first five days and nights at a hotel on the Avenue de L’Independence and ate our meals inthe hotel club/lounge called the Point d’Exclamation, serenaded by music that was easily 50% songs from High School Musical. Me and 14 other students from the US, one academic director from Ireland and two program staff from Madagascar spent the week learning basic Malagasy, seeing the sights of the city, and figuring out how to exist in a new group in a new place.


“It looks like a desktop background here”

Partying and dancing with newly found families (feat. me and my host brother)

My host family (can you tell which one is me?)

Not a bad place for school!

After orientation in the highland plateau of Antananarivo, the group flew to the humid tropical eastern coast of the island where we will be staying for the next two months in a town named Antalaha. Although we will not be exploring the dry spiny thickets and baobabs of the west and south, we are at the center of the vanilla trade and the tropical rainforest is at our doorstep. After a lesson in the snake dance with the Malagasy program staff, we threw a party and met our host families. Shaky introductions in newly-learned Malagasy, partial conversations in French, and an impromptu request for the group of students to perform for the families comprised one of the strangest parties I have ever been a part of (the group ended up singing Wagon Wheel and Don’t Stop Believing to acoustic guitar while Malagasy families filmed us in excitement and maybe confusion). I was gratiously accepted into the Tsirihanitra family by Hanitra, Zoe, Aaron, Olivia and Luca. My host mother teaches culinary arts my host brother is seven and reads my wildlife book with me, so home life has been pretty sweet so far.

There have been many an adjustment being in a completely new country and culture. As a foreigner and a white person, I am a vahasa in Malagasy. Being a vahasa is very amusing to many Malagasy people. Sometimes, my bajaj (small taxi) driver will laugh at me when I speak Malagasy, sometimes a car full of school children will scream “vahasa!” in unison as they drive past: I stand out. Madagascar is a country rich in natural resources but most of its people live on pennies to the dollar compared with the US, the wealth gap between a vahasa and locals is usually stark. I am working to improve both my French and Malagasy, with the wonderful help of my patient host family, in order to be able to actually have conversations with people; it is a constant process of cultural adjustment. Check back in with me in three months and see how I am doing! This semester is already challenging beyond anything I have ever done, and I am experiencing so many amazing things that I would have never imagined. (Off campus studies office, you can quote me on that)


Bananas anyone?

You want euphorbia? You got it! (I think this is one from the botanical garden)

Did you know this is how pineapples grow?


As you may know, Madagascar is home to some of the highest percentages of biodiversity and species endemism in the world. As a general fan of plants and animals, I have been pretty ecstatic in spotting certain species (perhaps overly excited if you ask the other students…). With over 11000 species of plants on the island, there is constant curiosity. My various plant-related jobs have given me some knowledge, but there is much more here than can fit in a school greenhouse or garden center (shoutout to any ACE folks reading out there!). Just having seen the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more to come in this department, but here are some highlights…

That’s all for now! A bientot!