It seems like a long time coming, but I'm finally heading to Madagascar on Wednesday afternoon. I'll meet my group (of 16 students from around the country) at the Washington D.C. (Dulles) airport. We're flying to Paris, then to Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) and then to Fort Dauphin, where I'll be spending most of my time. We'll have a week of orientation and then I'll be living with a family for about a month and a half in Fort Dauphin (on the very southeastern tip of the country). Every couple of weeks we'll take trips as a group, one to the spiny forest and one to a rural fishing village where I'll stay with another family for a week. Then we'll spend three weeks traveling farther north, including Antananarivo and the coral reef of the northern coast. For the last month or so, I'll be working on my Independent Research Project on my own in a location as yet undetermined...
I'm going to be studying the Malagasy language, French, and I'll have an Ecology and Conservation seminar and an Environmental Field Study course. Specifically, I'll be learning about lemur ecology, conservation and environmental management, forest types and land use over time, ethno-botany, sustainable energy, renewable resources, and marine studies.
In case you want to know more about Madagascar, here are some facts to get a better idea of what it will be like. There are about 20 million people living in Madagascar, about 1.5 million in Antananarivo, and about 50,000 in Fort Dauphin. It's the fourth largest island in the world (about the size of Texas), and only 300 miles off the coast of Mozambique (in East Africa). Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world; the average Malagasy makes $250 (US) per year. Madagascar was a French colony until 1960, and the two official languages are Malagasy and French, though I get the idea that not all that many people speak French (including the families I will be living with). However, some of my coursework (outside of French itself) will be taught in French. Malagasy the language and the people are heavily influenced by Polynesia. It was the Polynesians, not the Africans, who first settled in Madagascar only about 2,000 years ago. The Malagasy apparently eat A LOT of rice. They eat more rice per capita than any other nation in the world: 2 pounds per person PER DAY.
Madagascar is most well known for its natural wonders. 80% of the flora and fauna is endemic, though there has been massive deforestation and the vast majority of the forests are gone. Almost 5% of the world's species are found in Madagascar. Some of the most well known creatures and plants are lemurs, hissing cockroaches, baobab trees, tenrecs, and lots of reptiles, fish, and frogs.
I really only have a vague idea of what the whole experience is going to be like, but I think that's one of the best parts. I'm pretty positive that it's going to be awesome, and that's enough. I'm all packed and I have no idea if I have the right stuff, but oh well. It's all in a huge backpack that's absurdly heavy. Anyways, I hope that I'll be able to post some cool pictures and stories soon. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) throughout semester (though I really don't have a great grasp of the computer access throughout the trip. It will be uneven, at best.) Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope I'll be posting again soon.