Thursday, January 29, 2015

Help me help Itiso students further their education

I have been wanting to give more back to the community that took me, cared for me, and at least humored my crazy ideas. (Girls' empowerment? If you say so, lady...)

Someone in my community in Tanzania helped me set up a scholarship fund for kids from the village who want to attend A-level schools. The village has only an O-level school (lower level high school, for those unfamiliar with the British system), requiring the students to attend a boarding school if they wish to continue their education. This is obviously costly, more costly than most families can afford.** This first year I only anticipate being able to support one student and I hope to continue supporting him and adding a new student next year, etc.

This first student has been selected and accepted into a school following his O-level exams and is waiting to start -- as soon as his fees are paid. With the various fees, tuition, supplies, uniforms, wire transfer fees -- all told will come to $370. If you would like to contribute, you can donate through Friends of Tanzania, as US-based nonprofit (so it's tax deductible!). Be sure to indicate that it is for the Itiso Scholarship Fund as shown under Designation below. [Check out the red circle!]  Normally I'd be able to raise this without begging on the internet, but the semester has already begun over there and the sooner we can send the money, the sooner he can start school!

Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to donate to my project!  If you leave your contact info, I'll send you a note! :)

**Why this? In my experience living in the community, kids will bomb exams when they don't think their parents can afford their continued education. I saw it, teachers at every educational level saw it. It was an unspoken way for the kids to relieve their parents of guilt for not being able to pay for schooling. After the secondary school was built in the village and youth no longer had to go to boarding schools, bringing the price of it down, primary school exam pass rates jumped. But pass rates for the secondary school are still dismal. That might be because the school is lousy, but it might not be. I want students to use the promise of a scholarship to try to excel and not lower their expectations because of their perceived financial circumstances.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I'm Hunting Nocturnal Lemurs

After my island time, I hit the road once again, going by ferry, bus, and taxi-brousse to get to Andasibe. That's a few hours east of the capital.

While there, I wanted to see the indri, the largest lemur anywhere. They get up early and hard to find by afternoon, so I planned to get up early and be at the park by 7:30 or so. Alas, it was not to be. My hotel room must have been especially dark, because I woke up certain that it couldn't be dawn yet, when it was really 7:45. I still managed to get to the park at a reasonable time, but it was the same time all the other tourists were getting there. I found a guide and we started hiking, he was clearly annoyed by the crowds too and was trying to edge past any other groups in our path. We found a family of common brown lemurs and then hit the jackpot. Indri!! They are way bigger then I could have imagined , especially considering the thinness of the tree they were sitting in. One of the notable things about the indri is their eerie song, which I'd heard on my walk there, but they only sing for about 5 minutes each per day, only in the mornings. Another guide had a recording of it on his phone and was playing it, trying to get them to join in. They were attentive, and at one point the phone skipped to a song track, completely freaking out the indri. They started jumping around, converging on the same central trunk as if prepared for whatever made that noise to attack. After a few more rounds of recorded indri, they joined in. What was eerie from a distance was, to me, like nail on a blackboard in the middle of it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, but it was a bit much and very, VERY loud for me.

After that, we left the trail. The guide said we were taking the "old trail" to get away from the crowds, and it worked since we didn't really see anyone else the rest of the hike. We did see some interesting birds and reptiles. And a clumps of sleeping nocturnal lemurs.

That night I did a night hike with a local community conservation group, Mitsinjo. We were looking for nocturnal lemurs, but I was far less lucky than I was that morning. We wandered around in the dark for over an hour, only managing to locate a sleepy indri (what's he doing up so late anyway?) and an owl doing a lemur impression. You look for lemurs at night by walking around and shining your flashlight in the trees; if there's a lemur there, he'll probably look at you to see where the light is coming from and his eyes will glow back at you, like a cat's. We saw a pair of eyes across a clearing, and the guide said it was a mouse lemur, the smallest species. I asked how he could possibly tell from that distance. We got right under the tree and he says something like, "Well, there it is." I ask if he's sure, because it kind of looks like it could be a bird. He looks again and says that maybe it is a bird. Then it flew away, which definitely answered that question! I think he was afraid I'd be angry not to find anything, but I told him that I paid to look for lemurs, if I want to pay to see lemurs, I'll go to the zoo. No worries.

And that, friends and loyal readers, was my final Madagascan/African adventure. For now. I get on a plane in a few hours to start my journey back home. Thanks for sticking with me. And Africa, stay classy.


It's ok; I speak whale.

Last day at ISM, I went whale watching. The humpbacks migrate right by there. I joined a group of French folks from the same hotel, and let me tell you, those Frenchies can chain-smoke like you would not believe. We sped around around in the boat most of the morning before finding any. Then we found a lovely pair of whales, who amused us with their waving tails and flippers until our tour time was up. I returned to land covered in dry sea salt, sunburned, and really needing to wash my glasses. I wanted to try scuba diving after, but the guy at the hotel forgot to call the guy at the dive center, and it turned out he didn't feel like going out that day. Lame!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Île Sainte-Marie

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, Île Sainte-Marie. Yesterday I didn't do much. I rented a bike from the hotel, which had a broken chain and two flat tires in less than two hours, so I decided the best course would be chilling at the hotel, listening to the ocean, and going for a swim.

I hoped to go whale-watching today, but the boat motor is getting repairs. Maybe tomorrow. Instead, I got a new bike, went to town, did a bit of souvenir shopping, and visited the Pirate Cemetery. That's right, pirate cemetery. I had to ride a canoe there, which was unnerving in that I felt like I was going to overcorrect for the normal rocking motions and tip us over. The cemetery wasn't big, but it had graves from 1800, maybe earlier as a lot of the inscriptions were unreadable. One gravestone had a clear skull and crossbones engraved in it, and another was supposedly the grave of Captain Kidd, but all that was still visible was the date.

I also dropped by Endemika, a small zoo showcasing Madagascar's endemic species. The first thing they do is let you in the lemur cage. He was friendly, but he climbed on me to try to get into my backpack and kept making a noise right into my ear that was weirding me out. Unfortunately, the guide only spoke French, and missed my pleas to remove the lemur from my head. I think he was grooming me a little. There were also chameloens that I got to feed. So cool! Because they move soooo slllooowwwlllyyy... except the tongue! Also geckos that look like moss, frogs that look like rocks, and snakes and lizards that look like leaves and vines. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


After that first full day in Tana, I hit the road, grabbing an all-day taxi brousse (bush taxi) to Fianarantsoa. On the way we stopped for lunch and I was late getting my food, due to the need to locate an actual bathroom. As a result, I had a secret (as in he didn't know about it) eating contest with the last person not already back in the car. No one blames the second-to-last person back for holding everything up, so I wolfed down a plate of rice and barely beat him out the door. When we got to Fianar I got a taxi to my hotel. Now, all the taxis here are the most ancient Renaults ever created. Most of them have no door handles, and one I've ridden in the driver had to hold his door shut while he drove. This one couldn't make it up the hill to the hotel. It would get half way up ... and the engine cut out. Finally he grabbed my bags and just walked to the hotel.

Bright and early the next morning I was at the taxi brousse stand looking for a ride to Parc National de Ranomafana. I made it there shockingly quickly. I chose a guide and we went for a 3 hour hike through the remaining pqtch of protected rainforest. We found a family of Golden Bamboo Lemurs early on, then a Greater Bamboo Lemur, of which the park only has two. I believe this is the only park with bamboo lemurs. I also spotted a Milne-Edwards Sifaka and several interesting Madagascar birds and reptiles.

On the way back to Fianar the taxi brousse made a stop and some girls came with platters of snacks to sell. The first one: chicken feet. No lie. Second: duck heads. Seriously? Even Tanzanians throw the heads away. There was a third platter. What culinary horror could this last plate contain? Vegetable fritters. I have a constant impulse to buy street food, so I got two. A Brazilian also leaving the park saw me buy them and said he was afraid of the food here. I tried to explain how street food is the best thing for you. Keep your immune system on its toes, and besides, I never get sick from it. He wasn't buying it.

Unfortunately we got back too late for me to do anything else that day. The next day I got a taxi brousse to Ambalavao, and after a long wait, another to Anja Reserve. Its a community conservation project, and I highly recommend it. Not only is it a community initiative, but 5 minutes after getting there I was in the middle of a whole mess of ringtailed lemurs. They were amazing and had tiny 1 month old babies! This was a dry forest, not like Ranomafana. There was a lot of unexpected scrambling over rocks involved, and at one point I thought "Just give me a rope, I could rappel it easier than climb it." Then guess what we arrived at. Yes, a rope, to help in a particularly steep descent. After the hike they told me ther was a Peace Corps volunteer stationed there. I wanted to say hello, but it turned out she was away that day. Too bad.

After my lemur adventures, I rode back to Tana and today flew to Île Sainte-Marie.

More to come...