I’m writing from the balcony of our hotel Tana-Jacaranda, with a delicious cup of Malagasy coffee, using our first free morning of the week to update the blog. It’s warm, breezy, rumbling with traffic from the cobbled streets below. There is a beautiful hazy view, framed by giant bamboo and jacaranda trees, of the orange-pink stone Queen’s Palace, topping one of Tana’s thousand multicoloured hills.
Corty and I have spent the week meeting and greeting all our contacts here, finalising plans and making sure everything is set for our fieldwork before the rest of the team arrive this afternoon. Tomorrow we fly (weather-permitting) to Marolambo.
We’ve tried to walk around the city as much as possible, both to getting to know it and to minimising time in taxis. Generally the Antananarivo taxis, old Citroen 2CVs, are delightfully quaint – battered and clotted-cream coloured, with huge amber gearsticks and Malagasy phrases tattooed all over their interior – but one emerges from a short ride, slightly exhausted from the carbon-monoxide-laden cabins. We try to avoid them whenever possible.
Monday morning we met with Dr Alain Rahetilahy (Minister for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases) and discussed how he will accompany us for the first 10 days, helping supervise treatment for all schoolchildren in the villages. Monday afternoon we met the Dean of the Medical School, and interviewed a selection of final-year medical students/junior doctors to join us on the expedition. Many of them had a wealth of experience working in the bush (more than us!) and we would have been happy to take them all. In the end we selected students based on their English, and so will welcome Elodie, Emmanuel and Zo, along with Daniel from last year, onto our trip. They will help out with interviewing children and village elders and delivering an education programme to the children.
On Tuesday, we were faced with the intimidating prospect of presenting our project to the University Ethics board. After giving a 30 minute presentation in French to the board of 7 doctors and professors, we formed a more friendly circle and answered various questions they had on the project. Having to answer in French gave us a good excuse to ponder the more difficult answers. Overall we understand why the board quizzed us so thoroughly before approving the project; they must ensure a high standard of research and we pleased to have met their expectations.
Wednesday morning we taxied up winding cobbles to the Durrell Conservation Trust HQ, and met with Hery (Herizo Andrianandrasana, Ecological Monitoring Coordinator for Durrell Madagascar) and Richard Lewis (Programme Director of Durrell Madagascar). Durrell have been running a community conservation programme in the Marolambo region for over 15 years and it’s through them that we are able to work in the region. They have strived to make the Nosivolo river (on which Marolambo and the surrounding villages lie and home to 19 species of endemic fish) a protected site. Their ethos is to conserve the environment through supporting the whole community; Richard used ‘Healthy people, healthy river’ as their tagline. Through monitoring and improving the health of the villages on the river, we can contribute to Durrell’s aims. Working with Durrell is a real privilege; they’ve been doing fantastic work in Madagascar for a long time. Collaborating with them gives our project the chance to have a much bigger positive impact on the Marolambo community.
Corty is just back from printing 200+ sheets of permits/proposals/letters of approval to distribute to the mayors and medical chiefs of the villages (emails won’t do here, they love printed and signed documents – if it’s not in print, it hasn’t happened, much like instagram and photos back home) and we have a full afternoon of cleaning microscopes, packing bags, and rolling out the red carpet for the rest of the team arriving in a few hours.
Thanks for reading, and keep following us as we venture into the interior tomorrow…!