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“Oh I love Madagascar, the penguins are so funny” says the nurse, jabbing my arm with a needle.

“I don’t think there are any penguins in Madagascar”

“I mean the ones in the film, the ones that fly that aeroplane”

The weeks leading up to my joining the Prolemur simus monitoring project have included a lot of conversations like this. To many people in Britain it seems ‘Madagascar’ means cartoon animals shipwrecked on some island. The fact that island actually exists has been somewhat overlooked.

Most of my time in the last few weeks has been spent trying to get together all the kit I need for working in the field. This has involved a lot of time spent in outdoor shops, mainly looking at walking trousers. The variety is astounding, so many possibilities. How many pockets? Zip offs? Mosquito proof? UV proof? Well?

My preparations have also included a lot of visits to the nurse for a cocktail of jabs.

Rabies, typhoid, hepatitis A and B and on top of this I have been prescribed Larium malaria tablets which I was warned may induce restless sleep and vivid dreams. There is also the enticing possibility of depression and hallucinations. The combination of these tablets, bruised arms from inoculations, anticipation and excitement have produced a number of restless nights.

There was one particularly memorable night where my dreams were especially vivid. It was the night I took my first Larium pill which happened to coincide with my dad cooking a meal with some particularly powerful cheese. The cheese alone would have provided some crazy dreaming.

I remember waking up and thinking, ‘I haven’t had any strange dreams tonight’. Then realizing that I hadn’t woken up and this was still my dream. I can remember a fight with a Russian man over a crate of beer, which I had to steal from him. I escaped from him on a surfboard sailing down a river and jumping over a beaver dam. On the other side of the dam was a lane that looked very similar to the one running beside my house in the village where I grew up.

Since then this type of dream has been a common occurrence; a nice alternative to the mundanity of selecting outdoor gear. I have had a dream about being pregnant;  about losing my walking trousers and eve about being in Madagascar with the characters from the film.

As the start of the project gets closer and I have said goodbye to more and more people the enormity of the trip is starting to dawn on me. I will miss people at home, especially at Christmas, but my excitement for setting off far outweighs this. Madagascar couldn’t really be more different to northern England and I have generated a very strange dream tinted version of Madagascar in my mind. I just can’t wait to get there, get involved with the project and most importantly meet the lemurs.

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