February 28 - Night has fallen in Tana

It's 10.00 pm here.

It's dark.

Apparently there is no curfew. There are people on the streets. Talking mostly. Some laughing. Others singing in unison. There's the odd drunken howl, but mostly it is subdued.

Everyone is waiting. Wondering. The night air is cool. There are a few small fires to keep people warm.

Ratsiraka was to address the nation today. A substantial change in events seemed to come after his foreign minister resigned. The word on the street was that something substantial would be forthcoming. So far nothing. There are rumors he has fled the country. There are other rumors that military rule is imminent.

It is clear that whatever "emergency powers" were assumed, they have neither kept peaceful people off the street, nor squelched the press. Today's papers queried openly whether this was a step toward a military dictatorship and also queried whether foreign nations were at all interested in democracy in Madagascar (or in Madagascar at all). But there was no annoucement. The afternoon came and went. The evening twilight hours too with a rainbow stretching overhead. The much anticipated communique never came.

This is the end of something, or at least the beginning of the end of something. Of what, it is not clear.

All day we have been trying to get in touch with Chris Raxworthy, a fellow curator from the AMNH who is also stuck in Tana. No luck. We heard he was trying to find us, but we don't know where he is. We have left contact information both at ICTE and with the Herpetology Department at the museum.

We are in a quandary now. Tomorrow morning we must decide whether or not to change our flights, head to the Seychelles on the 8th and skip Ranomafana, instead of leaving on the 13th. If this is about to end, I would rather we stayed on here as planned. If not it would make more sense to focus collection efforts on the Seychelles and come back here another time.

The singing is growing louder. There are some drums beating too. The spirit is upbeat. I think I'll go out and see if I can't talk to a few people.

It's amazing to think this has been going on since December 16th. The stamina that people have, when they have so little to begin with.

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What wonderful people. Within 10 minutes of walking through the people gathering in ever greater numbers and obviously standing out with my sun-bleached blond hair, I had had several conversations with those who are guarding the central bank still. Imagine 3 by 3 square blocks in Manhattan with people everywhere. I was instructed very politely and with smiles, where I should exit and where I should enter through the control points that the citizens have set up. When I made a mistake I was told "It's okay, it's just over there, next time you'll know."

A high school student standing by himself at a stretch of rope, taking his turn in what should be a long night, motioned to me. When I approached he asked what had brought me to Madagascar. Was I a reporter (he hoped) from the States? "Non," I replied reluctantly. I explained our work here, our interactions with ICTE and with Clara and Riana. Impressed that someone would come into the midst of all of this to look for leeches he invited me to meet his friends. We sat together by the bank, the 10 of us, exchanging stories. Stories about what it's like in New York. Stories about being students in Tana, and how important freedom is to them. Was I married? Where did I go to school? Stories about far away places we each had been. [The most flattering question was whether or not I could speak English. I offered yes, but not very well.] All of us wondering about different things, and all of us for different reasons wondering what tomorrow would bring.

The rains have started again; a downpour. This is good for leech collecting tomorrow... but it doesn't seem to be driving anyone from the streets. The singing continues. I wish I could record and play it. Beautiful. Almost an African cadence, but with something else in it that is uniquely Malagasy and harmonious. That, with the smell of kebabs and corn roasting in the night air will probably go on until dawn.