It's been a few weeks, and we've been doing a lot.
For one thing, I saw some lemurs. Yeah, baby. A lot of lemurs. And five different species, no less.
Last weekend, from Saturday to Tuesday, we took a trip to the commune (a collection of villages) of Ifotaka, which is about 5 hours away from Fort Dauphin. It was a bumpy ride. The roads are truly horrible. We took four different SUV-like vehicles, and about half way the truck in which I was riding started making weird sounds and we kept driving and then it became suddenly clear that something was very wrong with the wheel and we stopped. The wheel had lost all of its knuts (or whatever) and was this close to being completely separated from the car. It was awesome. It was fixed rather quickly though. That truck is also the one that will stall randomly and we have to push it to get it started again. Like Little Miss Sunshine. Kind of.
Anyways, it was so hot I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. We swam/bathed in the nearby Mondrare river, which in other circumstances I would never dream of touching, but it was totally necessary/awesome and I kind of felt clean for a few seconds before I was immediately sweaty and dusty again. We were there to study lemurs, so we went into the forest at around 6 am for a few hours, and laid around in the shade doing nothing during the worst of the heat until 4 pm when we went back into the forest. We were in the spiny forest, unique to southern Madagascar. Believe me, it is aptly named. That is one angry forest. Every SINGLE plant that grows there has huge spines on it. I have little scratches all over my arms and legs. But we got to see lots of Verreaux's Sifaka. (Look up a picture on google, if you care. Because they're awesome looking.) We also went on a night walk to see mouse lemurs and a lepilemur.
On the last day we got to go to Berenty Private Reserve, which is essentially a lemur theme park. The lemurs there are habituated to humans and aren't afraid of people at all. There we saw ring-tailed lemurs, more sifaka, brown lemurs (which aren't native to this area but have been introduced to Berenty), and enormous bats (uh oh, I don't know the name, but they are like flying foxes kind of). Then we had a fancy lunch with cold drinks.
Before that, we took a one-night trip to Andohahela National Park, which is less interesting. We did an exercise in counting species in a plot of transitional forest, which was taxing. The highlight was when we hiked to a waterfall and swam in a lake.
Now, we're all getting ready for the big one-week village stay. We're leaving this Sunday and coming back on Saturday. There are two American students per village and I found out today I got put with a good friend of mine so that's positive. Our village has about 20 homes and we'll spend the week helping them and learning about their lives. They speak no French, so we'll be doing a lot of miming and attempting to use the little Malagasy that we know. It's going to be intense, but I'm excited. We get to ride in an ox cart to the village from the commune center. And at the end - on Friday - we have a huge dance party with all the villages and sacrifice a zebu (a cow). Less excited about that part.
Ack, this is long and boring. We only have a few days left of our home stays. After we get back from the village stay we have four days and then leave for Tulear (and from Ft. Dauphin for good) to do some marine studies stuff (snokeling!). My home stay is still enjoyable overall, awkward though it may be. The 12 year old boy completely ignores me, and the 3 year old plays games with me sometimes. My best friends in the house are the multiple maids, but I rarely see them now because I leave before they get there and get home after they've left.
Last week, my life was defined by the Mexican soap opera Marina. It was on ALL THE TIME, because my mom had it on dvd. Story lines included evil twins, questions of paternity, terminal illness, murder, general backstabbing and plotting, etc. I will remember the theme song for the rest of my life.
Still no meat yet. Just a LOT of fish. This week, there was a tortoise dish, which I politely refused. Tortoise, by the way, is illegal to eat here because it is endangered, but most of my classmates have encountered it in one way or another.
Many of us have gotten sick so far, but it has not yet been my turn. Just a matter of time, I suppose. I've been feeling more well rested than I have in years. Both in my home stay and when camping I go to bed at around 9 pm. I get up around 6 am. When we're in Libanona, class starts at 8 am, and it takes me about 45 minutes to walk there. I eat breakfast of bread (baguette) and butter and tea (which means plain hot water with sugar and sweetened condensed milk) alone, because I leave earlier than everyone else. When on field trips, we have sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly or cheese/ground zebu/eggs/tomatoes/cucumber/ mayonaise/mustard. Although our guides put all of those things on one sandwich. Meaning, the peanut butter and and the jelly with the meat and the tomatoes and the mayonaise. Ew.) For lunch on our campus in Fort Dauphin or wherever someone's cooking for us there's always a TON of white rice, some kind of meat thing, and one or two vegetable or bean dishes. The food is really tasty. And fruit for dessert. Mostly bananas. Aka akondros. And here ends the food section.
Ok, this is becoming a novel. Wish me luck in the village stay. Happy March to everyone.