From Cynthia, OHDZ-MBP Post-Doctoral researcher studying the Greater bamboo lemur
The bus that was supposed to depart the taxi brousse station at 7am is finally lurching out amid diesel-choked fumes and roving vendors selling last minute desperately needed road trip provisions such as lace-fringed overstuffed cushions and cheap, naked, plastic dolls. What was I thinking to have left home without those? As we pull onto the road just over two hours late I settle myself in for about 10 hours of white knuckle, high speed swerving down Madagascar’s highways to the KAFS research station.
I find I prefer to spend this time in and out of cramped sleep. The driver seems confident in his status as Road Master and far be it from me to challenge this demi-god with mortal suggestions like staying out of the opposing traffic’s lane when careening around blind curves. It really is just better for all if I resort to my preferred self-defense mechanism of sleeping. When things get tough, sleep it off.
Unfortunately, I can only shift my weight so often and in so many ways before my sore butt cheeks refuse to be ignored by my brain clenching tightly to its sleep security blanket. Why didn’t I buy one of those cushions! The petite Malagasy student sitting next to me has resorted to padding her behind with her bunched up sweater, at least until she gets cold and puts it back on.
This student, like the 9 others on this taxi brousse, is also going to KAFS. They will be working with one of MBP’s doctoral student evaluating the tens of thousands of trees he has planted with the help of the community. I’m already imagining the arboreal acrobatics of the thankful lemurs as they commute through this future forest corridor full of delectable and nutritious lemur-approved fruits. Maybe that’s what I’ll dream of when I next lapse into unconsciousness.
I wake up with a little drool dried on the side of my mouth about an hour from KAFS. The prim student next to me is a dainty sleeper. I, on the other hand, have a jaw that hangs open to my chest and a head that lolls from side to side. All the students are polite enough to never mention it, at least not in English.
One might expect that sleeping through the day would sabotage sleeping through the night, but that’s not the case. I always sleep soundly my first night at KAFS. In my opinion, sleeping on a taxi brousse requires so much concentration that my body and mind are wrung dry of their reserves by the time I reach my destination. How fortunate for me that this time, my destination includes a personal bungalow-style tent site. I feel the slightest pang of guilt knowing that my research includes such luxury. I’ve never squeezed a botfly from my scalp, never had sand fleas use my feet as egg incubators, and I have never been robbed blind. Really, life in Madagascar and at KAFS is pretty sweet.
At 5:30 in the morning my view from my rustic porch includes a valley filled with mist issuing forth the sounds of dogs barking, roosters crowing, and rapid Malagasy voices alternately angry then light heartedly teasing. Malagasy often sounds like that to me, even if people are just talking about the rice they ate for breakfast. I wonder how I sound to them; I’ve never been complimented on my charming American accent.
For me, arriving at KAFS is like returning to my old neighborhood. Most people know me, I remember where the basics are, but it always takes a while to settle back in. Especially as KAFS is undergoing some pretty impressive improvements at the moment. There are 8 private tent sites, 1 communal tent site, and 1 Ravinala-roofed open air conference space that is doubling as the girls dormitory while they do their reforestation evaluation. I shake hands, say hello, and meet 2 American volunteers, Ryan and Elizabeth, who have been working on the Black and white ruffed lemur project for 3 months now.
I have a meeting with the Greater bamboo lemur guides at 6:30am. It’s their day off, but they’re coming to KAFS anyway. I really like my team. I work with this group the most as this project is my main focus. About 3 weeks ago an American and a British volunteer, Mary and Olly, finished 9 months of sweaty, infuriating, exhilaratingly work with these guys. I feel like everyone truly benefitted from this cultural and professional exchange and I feel a pang of nervousness about installing 2 new volunteers from England and Australia in about 10 days’ time. I assure myself this is normal and we all get down to lemur business.