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15 February 2008 UPDATE FROM RACHEL
Karakory e olona djiaby!
I just got in to Tana for our COS (Conclusion of Service) conference and have internet for the first time in what seems like ages.
Erik brought with him to Madagascar a bag of magnificent childrenâ€™s nature books from Kris for the library and kids in Voloina (and soon Marovato), a sack of lovely baby clothes donated by Michelle for the Seecaline (mother-infant nutrition center), and a package from Sarah with photos and cards and little Bonne Anee lamps for all the friends she made in V and M when she visited the island last December. I am so blessed to have such caring friends and family.
It’s been a rough month, everything supposed to be winding down at site, but, of course, doing exactly the opposite. I received private funding from a wonderful contact in the US to fund an operation for little A, who is 7. He was born with a bad congenital hernia, and he’s been living with a growth about the size of a coconut ever since I arrived at site two years ago, poor thing. He’s been teased by the other kids all his life, and hasn’t been able to swim and play like normal little boys in the village.
In these seven years, there has never been enough money for his mother to bring him to the hospital in M for this (potentially life-saving) simple operation. Anton’s mother decided to have him circumcised at the hospital at the same time as his hernia operation, on the surgeonâ€™s recommendation. She, quite rightly, thought that was safer than having it done with a knife in the village. Mamanâ€™i A was happy to forgo the expensive ceremony in the village, to have it over and done with, and healing at the same time as Aâ€™s other wound. For my part, I was grateful not to have to watch Aâ€™s uncle eat his foreskin wrapped in a banana and washed down with betsa sugar cane rum, as is Betsimisaraka custom.
Little A was remarkably brave throughout the process. The trip into big town M, sharing a room with other post-op patients (the woman in the bed next to him passed away last Saturday, tragically, of infection resulting from a bad country abortion that ruptured her uterusâ€”she was already the mother of seven). It all must have been absolutely overwhelming for him, but A has proven determined to heal quickly and start a less inhibited life. Now that his stitches are finally out, the transformation is remarkable.
“A” used to be a meek, humble little thing, painfully aware of his condition, having withstood teasing ever since he could remember. He just thrived on all the attention he got from his mother and from me before and after the operation, and now spends every moment he can over at my house, bringing along his mother for a visit by candle light each evening. We chat and laugh and exchange village gossip at my kitchen table. A is bubbling with energy and questions, suddenly wanting to play and color and make up for the years of mischief making heâ€™s missed out on. He calls me “mama kely” (little mother). Iâ€™m so proud of him.
A final loose end Iâ€™m trying to tie up is finishing our MB village rice hulling station/fuel-saving ampombo cookstove demonstration center (funding was slow to arrive, and then mistakenly even sent to the wrong country before it finally made it into my account!). The dollar has devalued rather dramatically, meaning the exchange rate changed considerably between the time I submitted the grant ages ago, and the time the money finally came through to Madagascar. It looks like we’re now about $200 in Ariary short, which I’ve ended up paying out of pocket for the time being. E and I just yesterday purchased the cement and foyer material and paid the installation specialist, so hopefully the machine will be installed and ready to go in two weeks. We should have our grand opening with the Fokontany President, village elders, fikambanana members, and community in the middle of March.
Just last week we built a beautiful tree nursery at the village CEG (middle school), with my ever-motivated environment youth club students (see photo of three of my brightest 2008 conservation club students). I can’t imagine middle schoolers in the U.S. ever working so hard or collaborating so well to get a job done. It really was their project, start to finish, and they made me very proud with beautiful results!
Over my students’ easter vacation, I’m planning a week-long trip up-river to A in Makira, to do a â€œvisite natureâ€? to try to see silky sifakas in the rainforest on AN mountain. We’ll be camping, learning lessons and playing games by candlelight (my friend Kris just mailed some fantastic ones!), bathing in the icy stream near camp, climbing the mountain each day, and filling out nature observation journals. Erik and I will put the kids to “work” re-flagging previously GPSed research trails within the silky habitat and teaching the students to use GPS units and map gaps in the population’s range for future WCS field seasons. Ought to be a good opportunity for skill development for the students. Who knows, maybe some of them will work for Makira one day! Should be wonderful, but will be a lot of organization on my end, all at the very finish of my time at site. Then again, I told the kids we’d go see the silkies some day after they performed their lemur play at the Enviro/Health fair. I guess it’s time I lived up to that promise. It’ll mean some valuable quality time with the students before I go, which will be wonderful.
It just kills me to think that I only have a month left in my precious village before I change sites to partner with WWF for my third year here in Madagascar! My new home in AD will be so different, but it’s important to have new experiences. Iâ€™ll still be able to fly back and visit friends and family in V in the upcoming year, and see how much the children have grown. Iâ€™m planning a grand going-away fete of games and arts and crafts for the children (courtesy of Kris!), eating on the ground off of ravinala leaves as is custom (Iâ€™ll buy the zebu meat, Valentine and Marie Odile will help me cook it, and everyone will bring their own vary masaka). I just know I’m going to cry uncontrollably.
Well, must pack for trip to S tomorrow. This will be my last time on internet for quite a while. I hope all is well back home and send best wishes to all!
CEG middle school students from our “Club VEC” youth environment group prepare papaya seeds on ravinala palm leaves for planting in their new school tree nursery/garden plot.
February 9, 2008
FAREWELL TO DOGGIE
Iâ€™ve witnessed so many comings and goings in this world during my short time in Madagascar. More, I think, than in all of the rest of my life. This month I lost my Doggie.
He came to find me in the village while I was away at the hospital with Anton to have his operation in M. He slept on my porch curled up next to the front door, and was spotted the next day by the well, the children tell me. He disappeared the day before I returned home.
I imagine he went and found some place calm and green down at the marsh below the washing area, and quietly left the world. I wish I could have been there to pat his muzzle one last time, to watch his stump of a tail wag and his dark soft eyes gleam up at me. He was such a good little thing.
People who saw him in the village told me he had a badly broken leg and was skin and bones. Practically unrecognizable. Iâ€™d rather not picture it.
Doggie was not mine, he belonged to Papanâ€™i Anita, and lived down the lane. Ever since he was a tiny puppy he visited my house every day and, radiating sheer joy, greeted me by wagging the entire lower half of his body, wrestled with Puppy, and eventually got fed at mealtime on his own tin plate. All the kids learned his name and Puppy and Doggie became an item. Quite often the littlest kids would mistakenly call him â€œGoddie,â€? to be corrected by a chorus of little voices.
He and Puppy stayed with me during the cyclone last March. Their presences kept me sane as my tin roof groaned and shuddered and the wind howled through the cracks in my thatch walls. While Puppy disappeared for the worst sleepless night, huddled under my bed absorbed in his own fear, Doggie spent it curled up beside my head on the hard wood floor under my kitchen table. As the water began to enter our houses and many of us had to search out higher ground away from the swollen river, I tried to bring Puppy and Doggie with me. Doggie was so little he got swept away by the current at one flooded crossing. After a long struggle, he managed to drag himself up onto a hummock of soggy earth and head back to the other side of the water. At a warning from Marie Odile, I had no choice but to leave him behind and cling to Puppy ever tighter. I was overjoyed when I returned to V some days later and found him safe.
Last November, a little girl in my village was bitten by a dog. Tragically, she died a few days later. She was the second child this happened to in our area within a short space of time, and it was decided that all dogs in the village had to be vaccinated, or should be killed. A traveling vet came through town, charging 12,000 AR ($6) to give the vaccine. Very few villagers could afford to spend so much, certainly not on their dogs. Puppy in the clear (he got his vaccine long ago, when he chose to run after my bicycle all the way to M one day, rather than be left behind,) I went away on a tree species inventory mission in the rainforest. My mind was so absorbed with other things that I didnâ€™t think to worry about Doggie.
When I got back from that mission, Doggie was gone. Papanâ€™i Anita couldnâ€™t afford to have him vaccinated, and so took him off to a distant village in the forest and left him there with a new family.
I never saw him after that. I donâ€™t know how his leg came to be broken or what kind of treatment led to his pathetic state. Three months later, Doggie made his own way the long road back to V all alone, limping on a broken leg, skeletal, with an empty belly. He came to die in the place he knew to be his home.
I know he was just a dog, and that doesnâ€™t count for much here. But he had so much life in his little person. He was brave and good and loyal. I think that deserves to be remembered.
Iâ€™ll miss him.