By Angela Walker
Greetings from Andava’s sun drenched beautiful beaches and turquoise waters!
Firstly, just to let you all know, we are all fine and well and are in a safe place here, away from any political troubles there have been recently in some towns and cities in Madagascar. Hopefully the issues will be resolved quickly.
So, news since the last blog….
After wishing for some rain and getting it, the cyclones came and went, and now we are scorchio once more!(and maybe not wishing so hard for rain) And able to continue with our expedition.
Us Vols’ are doing great, passing our benthic and fish tests (on land and underwater!) and really getting into the nitty-gritty of marine science. As we are a small group we have been able to do many double dives and I even did three dives one day! Using RDP of course! So after being a complete and total novice I am now an advanced PADI diver, perfecting hovering upside-down to do PIT surveys (still needs a bit of practice) and a really rewarding thing is actually knowing the names of fish and coral I see on the reefs. The coral reefs I have seen are so cool and the fish are totally amazing, moorish idols so beautiful and graceful, parrot fishes chomping away, a false eye sergeant following you and a crazy little jewel damsel telling you to get off his patch haha! And whoever invented trigger fish was really mad! Big swimming heads with crazy artwork and colours! Great!
So anyway, nitty-gritty not only involves diving and doing surveys, fish counts, biomasses etc, but also thanks to the lovely Amanda, wading around in exciting pongy sulphury Seagrass, fishing bits out (get the pun!) for species identification and more often than not, a brittle star (yucky squirmy starfish-ish thing) as well! But it was quite a laugh! Also, we have learnt about mangroves and their importance to the marine ecosystem and all went on a hike one afternoon in the baking hot sun to appreciate the sight (and smell!) of the mangroves. They drop germinated pods for new growth, have crazy roots that grow upwards to feed the plant with air when exposed at low tide and harbour pools of water that act as a nursery for the juvenile fishes. Excited by the little fishes and undeterred by warnings of mosquitoes Camilla decided to jump in and sit with them to get even closer!
Another fun project is the sea cucumber project that Georgi is running. It is a brilliant start at doing a project for alternative livelihoods to take some pressure off the reefs. A group of us went last week with the women’s association who are trialing out farming the sea cucumbers. We helped them catch the little blighters in their pen at low tide (they don’t run very fast it wasn’t much of a challenge!) count and weigh them and repair any damage on the net pens. When they have reached a suitable size they will be sold and a new batch of juveniles put into the pens. The project is going well and it was a fun afternoon with the ladies.
I have decided to try and do a garden project with the kids club here in Andavadoaka and went to visit Lamboara on Wednesday, a small village to the south, to have a look at a garden project they had already started. Well, it turned out to be quite the adventure! I went with James (BV staff) and we took a sailing pirogue. We loaded up the pirogue with a generator and DVD player so whilst we were down there we could show a movie to the kids from the other club. It took 1 1/2 to 2 hrs to get there, and when we arrived it was low tide so we had to wade through some sea grass (Amanda would have loved it!!) and the pirogue guys had to push the boat to shore. We went to the president of the villages’ house, said our hellos etc and caught up on local affairs (in Malagasy!?) It seems they had landed a catch in the morning and a dolphin was caught in the net, which they brought in too. After a quick tour of the village, we stopped by and saw the dolphin being cut up and weighed to share out between families. I must say it wasn’t a great sight as I really love dolphins but it seemed better that they use it for food rather than throw back a dead dolphin and it all seemed very organised and fair. So we headed back and lunch had been prepared, dolphin stew and rice! Its probably the only time in my life when I would be able to do so, so I tried it. To be honest I didn’t really like it, it tasted a lot like liver, so I managed to off load mine on a very happy James! After lunch I walked with the president to the garden and saw what they had achieved so far. It was really good, they had a fence of some rather scary looking cacti around to keep the pesky goats out and some good cultivated sand/soil with small plants that they had not long ago planted. They had sweet corn, watermelon and papaya from what I could gather in my GCSE French, and somehow tackled the spiny gate to get in and water it every night. I took some pictures and felt inspired to take the useful ideas back to base. I took a football with me which went down a storm with the kids, so we played a match for a while.
Later that evening we set up the generator and projector like an open air cinema and the whole village turned up to come and watch a Blue Planet DVD and I guess, the malgasy version of MTV with pop songs and a lot of bum shaking to the crowd’s amusement!
Our bed for the night was a concrete floor with just a thatched reed roof on, no walls, a foam mattress and a mosquito net. I slept surprisingly well and in the morning we had some bok-bok and tea and headed back to Andava in our own sweet time due to lack of wind!
It was a really great experience to stay in the village with a Malagasy family I really enjoyed it and the kids were so happy to see us too, I must have said ‘Salama’ a thousand times!
Now, how do I break it to the Vols’ and kids that we have to go and collect Zebu (cow) poo to fertilise the garden….?!!