It is time to leave this place.
Madagascar is an amazing country. Rich and poor in so many ways at the same time. The wealth of flora and fauna, and the uniqueness of this biological gem of an island is matched by the diversity of colors, sizes and cuts of sapphires available in the local markets.
And yet at the same time, that biodiversity… the lemurs, the tenrecs, the chameleons, the fish, the crocodiles and even the leeches, are threatened here in a way that is matched only perhaps by the devesatation of forests in Vietnam and parts of Indonesia.
The way of life for so many here too continues on a razor edge. The disparities between rich primary forests and denuded, eroding hillsides is mirrored in society here. A point brought home on the road back into Tana as we stared in silence at the lavish presidential palace towering out of a far valley, while to the left of us a young mother was hawking passion fruit from a roadside bin so she might have enough to buy rice to feed her family that day.
Ratsiraka has left the capital. Ravalomanana has installed a new army chief of staff. The vast majority of the forces are following orders from the latter who has called on all to protect a country in peril. But not all are responding. The bridge to Tamatave has been cut. Civil war seems remote now, but still lurks in the background. The Malgasy are, if nothing else, a peaceful, happy people. The standard Malagasy greeting is "Salama"… not unlike the Hebrew and Arabic words for "Peace" (Shalom, and Salam).
We are each in awe of how successful the research team has been in spite of all of the obstacles. We have learned things about each other's passions for critters not generally paraded for the masses in the save-the-cute-and-cuddly mode that too often substitutes for real conservation initiatives. Two eager Malgasy students, Riana and Clara, are determined to continue their new-found interest in crocodiles and leeches. We are leaving them all of the gear we brought for their use: tents, packs, sleeping bags, boots, socks… the works. We'd prefer to take them with us. Show them the level of support that exists from our sponsors for the edeavors they find interesting and significant. Keep them involved in the projects as they evolve from collection to identification to molecular characterization as the ensuing months unfold following our return to New York. The long 8 hour drive back to Tana yesterday was consumed with thoughts of the end of this portion of the trip, and our parting ways… punctuated by everyone singing along with Dede's 70's collection. Evon is headed back to New York. Liz and Mark are off to the Seychelles. Clara is spending quality time with her son who has apparently grown considerably since this started. Riana is trying to find a way to get samples from the crocs in the local zoo.
We said our veloma's to the ICTE/MICET staff today. It took a little time to convince a very apologetic Benjamin that in fact we are ecstatic with the results of our work. Tonight, Pascale and Mark, who handle the crococile enclosure at Vakoma near Perinet happen to be in town so we will be sharing all with them.
The evening rains are falling hard, simultaneously cleansing the streets of Tana and washing more of the exposed soils out to sea. The civic presence continues outside in protection (still) of the Central Bank.
Somewhere, in the far-off forests, crocodiles are ducking under the surface from the driving rain and the leeches are engaged again in their quest for fresh blood.