As we checked into Manchester airport for Madagascar, we got some odd looks. The man at the desk did not even known that Madagascar was a real country.
I understood what he meant. Despite the many months of preparation for this trip, Madagascar had been this far off place; I still had no idea what to expect. 20 hours of traveling later, including a moment of panic when our plane’s destination was announced as Mauritius, we were over Madagascar. From the plane we could see the landscape laid bare by years of slash and burn farming, dotted with coloured roofs and the circular ditches that defended ancient farmers. We landed in Antananarivo (or “Tana”). Its name, translated as “city of a thousand hills”, is an apt description, with steep terrain crowded by small brightly coloured houses, stretching for miles. After a white-knuckle taxi journey we arrived at the hotel Tana-Jacaranda, and could finally relax.
We are a team from the University of Manchester, England, consisting of Dr Stephen Spencer and medical students James Penney, Hannah Russell and myself, Cortland Linder. We have come to Madagascar to study and treat a disease called Schistosomiasis. During our expedition, we will be assessing the burden of disease in children and also running educational programs to teach children safe hygiene. Although our trip is just beginning, this is really a culmination of a project that has consumed the full year. We have passed the intimidating Manchester ethics review board, planned our scientific methodology and expedition logistics and collaborated with the University of Antananarivo and the Department of Health, Madagascar. Our project has been funded and supported by many people and organisations, without whom this expedition would not have been possible. We are really grateful for their help.These last few months have been a bit manic, each member juggling expedition preparation with work while more and more unforeseen difficulties arise. However, with help we have somehow managed to get everything together in time.
James and I have flown out to Madagascar first to establish contact with the Malagasy team members, interview and recruit medical students, and buy anything we forgot. This will keep us busy; we’ve focused so much on bringing the kit we have left some pretty basic items behind. Preparing to barter hard for nail clippers and toothbrushes. This leaves little time to sightsee, but there is no better way of getting to know a city than by working in it. We are finding our way round, communicating in a mix of French, English, and even a bit of Malagasy (For those who’ve read this far, “Salama” means hello… thats about our limit). As we go, we consistently discuss and refine our research methods and educational programs, as we really want our project to be enjoyable for the children. Everything must be prepared by Thursday. Steve, Hannah and another doctor Steph will arrive in Tana and we will be off almost immediately into the field.
But for now, thats all folks!
Check in soon,