February 20 - Last Day in Tana
The nearly two-week wait to get into the field and begin our collections is nearly over. Tomorrow morning we'll drive to the airport at about 7.30 am with renewed trepidation that our flight might not get off the ground. It has become obvious that there is no meeting of the minds between Ratsirika and Ravalomanana and the diplomatic efforts have failed to find an amicable solution between them. Today Marc Ravalomanana, trying to move the political crisis to an end point, simply declared himself president of Madagascar. There will be a swearing-in and inauguration ceremony in the National Stadium on Friday. Meanwhile, Ravalomanana has demanded the handover of all government vehicles among other things. It is still not clear if he will press the army for the removal of roadblocks, but he has called for another day of general strikes tomorrow. We are hoping that this does not affect our flight out but everything is plastic here and ever changing. We already have had yet another surprise (but when there are so many it seems odd to call them surprises… we are taken aback when something goes according to schedule): Our flight from Fort Dauphin to Farafangana has been cancelled and there is not another one until March 13th. This is yet another serious disruption.
Yesterday, prior to meeting again with ICTE we took some time to visit the National Zoo. At least this way, we laughed, we'd be sure to see live lemurs on the chance that all of this still falls through. Besides, there were several ponds and lakes throughout the Zoo and Botanical Garden and Mark had his first opportunity to look for leeches in Madagascar. As these are all manufactured ponds there was nothing to be found… Liz and Evon didn't have the heart to point this out at the time. As well, it's nice to know that youthful fascination with how alive a pond can be with fish, bugs and other strange beasts is a universal phenomenon. In zoos and parks of any city, kids seem to manage to lose themselves in the details more than do adults. We have no idea what they were looking at but it kept them intrigued for what seemed like an hour to us and forever to them.
We also got a nice close look at our other research subjects; though Evon resisted the temptation to hop the retaining wall and sneak a blood sample from a sleeping crocodile. After several minutes with no results of her trying to rouse them with remarkably accurate mimicry of juvenile vocalizations, Liz and Mark are now of the opinion that we should only try to capture well fed crocodiles on this expedition.
Regarding the expedition, once again, ICTE/MICET scurried to the rescue. We were told of this latest impasse minutes before walking over to the US Embassy and meeting with the Public Affairs staff. Our visit was merely an informational exchange about what we are doing in the country and their expression to us ideas about what we and other scientists can do to expand our interactions with academics here in Madagascar. It was really very flattering for them to take the time to meet us on such a diplomatically crazy day. An ICTE driver met us at the embassy with our tickets and walked us over to the travel agent to seek alternative options. The proprietor quickly gave us open tickets from Ft. Dauphin back to Tana and added that should we manage to hire a boat along the coast to Farafangana, he would reimburse us for the return tickets. He wouldn't even accept any payment now! Rather, he said to pay him for what we use when we return to Tana.
To be fair the stay in Tana has been interesting. The people are just about the nicest you can imagine. And the food is great. One night saw us eating the Seven Royal Plates; tonight was chicken in a vanilla sauce and Sakai (just about the hottest spice any of us has encountered). With any luck, our next dispatch will be from the southern forests with our first collections in-hand. We have no idea how or when we will get back from there but it hardly seems to matter now.
Off to Ft. Dauphin tomorrow
Madagascar has two presidents