Notes from a rural study site
Antenina Commune, North-Eastern Madagascar, 6 February 2015
Every time I come to the field in Madagascar (and by ‘field’ I don’t mean the capital Tana or any other urban areas), I get the sense that I am witnessing more extreme poverty than the trip before. Last summer (European summer not Gasy) I spent a couple of weeks in one of the most difficult rural areas anywhere in the world that I have worked in, and it was not very far from the bustling town of Moramanga.
The teacher, the porter and the translator
Moramanga, 21 August 2014
He kept repeating the word mahafinaritra (pronounced maaf-na-tra — meaning ‘be pleased’ but could mean ‘fine’, ‘beautiful’ as well) every few steps, every few sentences, and at every short stops along the way. As a foreigner who has a very limited Malagasy vocabulary, which does include this word mahafinaritra, if I have to pick my favourite Malagasy word, it would be azafady (a versatile word that could be used from ‘sorry’ to ‘please’) — his was clearly mahafinaritra.
What proportion of individual income goes into bribes in Madagascar? ‘We simply do not know’ is the answer to above question. But let me recall an incident that made me think about it in the first place.
Last week I had to return to Tana from the field on a very short notice. This meant I didn’t have time to organise a means of transport for the 10 km of dirt road to the nearest town, from where I needed to take a taxi-brousse for the capital. First, I had to walk about an hour and a half to get to the dirt road from the village where I was based. I had a guide/porter accompanying me for the trip. Once we reached the road, we started walking towards the town as there was no sign of vehicle at all.
After walking for a couple of kilometres, we heard a rumbling noise behind, the noise that old vehicles make — that gives the sense that they are refusing to move but are being dragged along. We turned to see an old tattered jeep overloaded with charcoal sacks coming towards us. It was literally crawling so we had to stop and wait for it, for if we had continued walking assuming it would catch up, it probably would not have caught up with us for quite a while!
Challenging fieldworks: lions or lice
31 July 2014, near Moramanga
Thinking of challenging fieldworks, I’ve had to come face-to-face with Maoist guerillas in the Nepali mid-hills (2001); been chased by wild elephants in Chitwan National Park in Nepal (2003-2004); come out safe from some of the most dangerous bus rides in Northern Ghana (e.g., bus ride along a two-lane highway in torrential rain without windscreen wipers!); survived drinking absolutely disgusting water from a puddle to avoid dehydration and collapse in the field at over 42°C; and had some close escapes from dangerous snakes and scorpions in Northern Ghana.
Where have the Indris gone?
10 July 2014, near Moramanga
For the first time in this field trip, I heard Indri the other day as I was talking bath in a small stream, that really ought to have been a big river given the landscape we were in and from what I have seen around the eastern rainforest in Madagascar. The sound was distinctly audible so they couldn’t have been much far from where we were — an area that was probably dense primary forest until a few years ago.