Toliara, between chaos and the toilet

So this is how it feels to be sick…at least I have stomach problems with
style: treating myself luxury dinners every night and this morning even a
brownie. It all looks the same when it comes out anyway. You could easily
think that I wasn’t in a low income country the way I am currently living
and I am not ashamed to say that I like it. But it feels weird when I buy
dinner for 10000 ariary (like 4 euros) and then don’t give any money to the
street children approaching me. The white bias is strong, but you somehow
adjust to it. Weird.

Anyhow, the last week has been good, besides me getting sick that is. We are
still in Toliara, our house is not yet finished. Or well, the carpenters
have left so I am not sure what we are waiting for. But there has been no
opportunity to move either; we were invited to a WWF conference lasting
Tuesday until Saturday (although we skipped Friday as it was Kristina’s
birthday and we wanted to d some fun stuff and Saturday got cancelled due to
the political unstable situation) and met lots of people working in the
area, both vazaha and locals. Mark Fenn, head of WWF in Mad, had invited to
experts on community conservation from the US and we basically had
workshopes on simple management – the stuff I had been studying the last
year. So we all struggled to keep awake and Brett went AWOL (absent without
leave) on Wednesday and wasn’t seen until yesterday (he went surfing, met a
couple of guys who owned a big yacht with hot showers and satellite tv and
stayed there). The conference itself was probably of little use to the
locals too, as the experts had a way to much academic approach to the
conservation issues.

But I made a couple of new friends and have got some input on my thesis and
got free lunch three days, so I am not really complaining. I also found out
stuff about SAGE, the organisation I am working with. Apparently they are
not as good as they seem, doing the community conservation in a makilaki way
(=just rush through it and don’t bother about proper follow up) and realised
that there is basically no donor harmonisation or NGO cohesion going on at
all…for you who have no clue what this means, is basically implies that you
have lots of donors doing the same projects in the same area and not taking
part in each other evaluations or try to spread out the projects in order
not to do the same thing twice and that SAGE does it own thing and doesn’t
look for partners or checks out what other organisations are doing in the
area. One of my academic assignments is to write an organisational analysis
about SAGE and that seems quite simple right now.

There will be elections in Toliara next Sunday and the whole city is
crawling with military. They even sent extra gang force reinforcement from
Tana down here. I haven’t noticed anything, but sometimes there are curfews
after 19 and we don’t leave our hotel when it is dark at all (no dancing
tonight then). To me it all sounds harsher than it is and I am not easily
scared. We got an offer from Brett and the yacht owners to move there until
the elections are over, but our organisation said no, so we are pretty much
stuck here (and just think of it, 10 days on a boat with hot showers, I
would have loved it). But I don’t want anyone of you to be afraid. Any
unrest in the city is due to the elections and the fact that the opposition
candidate actually is a good person this time. Toliara is one of the poorest
regions in Madagascar and the president in known for not caring about the
province at all. All violence in the city has been directed to the ethnic
group that the president belongs to (Imerina) and we just have to wait and
see how it goes. Kristina and I got caught in a police control yesterday,
since we couldn’t show our passports and visas, which were ironically enough
at the police station for visa extension…apparently the police has special
order to check foreigners to and make sure we are not illegally in the
country. The trip to the prefecture de police (which had the usual wanted
posters on the wall, including one for a “up to five million USD award” for
Usama bin Laden) resulted in us actually getting our visas done on the spot
and all the policemen where really nice. Once you had made them understand
that our passports where at the police station. But I don’t feel insecure or
anything, so as I have said before, don’t worry about me. It is surely for
more unsafe in New York or so.

Kristina and I went to a botanical garden called Aboretum yesterday and
looked at trees and plants. I have seen some huge varieties of Aloe Vera and
small baobab trees and a tree called elephant foot…the natural richness is
huge here and I saw plants good against stomach cancer (mixed with honey and
whisky at least), skin scars, blood flows, eye problems, yellow fever,
malaria and you name it. There were some plants which were poisonous as
well, one called “dream of the mother in law” which leads to heart failure
within five minutes…and I have seen the Vicks Vaporub tree, I don’t know if
any of you uses that ointment when you are sick. Seeing all the medicinal
plants made me really appreciate the protected areas in Madagascar; most of
the plants are endemic to this area and human kind has most probably already
extincted some. I also saw the vanilla orchid, that one was really cool. It
climbs along the tree trunk of other trees, grows really fast and doesn’t
really look like much.

So far I have not seen any cool animals, besides some endemic sunbirds and
butterflies as big as the palm of my hand. But we will go to the national
parks nearby when we have time and the roads are a bit safer.

So…there is not much more to tell right now. I hope that my stomach will get
better soon and that the work with my organisation finally can begin…until
then I am looking forward an ice cream tonight or so, we’ll just see what


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