Everything for the Great Panda

After three months of not laying an eye on them once, the WWF finally handed us back our passports. Malalatina kept on making jokes like saying “Which passports?” when we would ask for them. Ha. Ha. Well, in the end, we did get them back.

The end. Yep, this was it. The volunteer program 2011 of the WWF in Madagascar, Indian Ocean Office has been completed. A week of basic coaching, a week of travelling into the bush, two and half months living and working in Ejeda, a few days of travelling back to Tana and 9 days of writing reports, evaluations, film cutting and getting clean. Then the final presentation in front of the WWF staff aaaaaaaand- it’s over. Malalatina gave her little farewell-speech, Haley and Jose left for the airport three hours after we left the office, Kristien left the next day and now it’s just Celia and me left in the hotel. You would think that all this would come with some kind of distinct emotion in me, but- nope. Nothing. I really think I did all the assimilation along the way and now there’s just nothing to do for my limbic system. I’m all cried out. I’m sure it was the blogging. Hail to keeping up psychological hygiene!

The evaluations were good, in my opinion everything has been said, that had to be said. And from the answers we received it seemed that people actually listened. That’s nice.

My report turned out to be 14 pages long. Poor whoever is going to read it.

I stressed out a little about the movie making, but what Celia and I eventually put together turned out to be something I can save under “My videos” and never look at it again. As opposed to something I would delete immediately from my computer after handing it in. I already said it, I don’t like cameras. Even skype makes me nervous. I haven’t figured it out yet, there are two possibilities: Either the added self-consciousness distracts me and disrupts my track of thought (“So when we arrived in Tana…- oh, look! It’s me in a laptop! … Where was I?”). Or I’m actually always talking a startling amount of bullshit and I just don’t notice it when I don’t have to look at myself telling it. Hm. Maybe I shouldn’t spend too much effort on figuring that one out…

Sooo, with no emotions what so ever I’ll let the Great Panda to itself now. Byebye, Great Panda. It was great meeting you.


Back to work

I’m in Tana and the WWF is making us work our brains out. I love it, this being the part of the internship I’m actually qualified for. Everybody else is sighing about the nice weather outside- I’m enthusiastically typing together page after page of my report, working on my video and volunteering for writing another article for public relations. Love – it. If only there was a job where people get paid for researching and writing, I’d totally do it… wait… Naw, too late, I’ve set my mind on other things.

Otherwise I’m sharing a room with my beloved, but (because!) crazy Celia and we’re having an incredibly good time munching through every single weird looking fruit we find on the market while ignoring their sometimes troublesome effects on our digestive systems.

Ejeda seems already very far away. Has it really only been a week? Writing and talking about it in past tense makes me feel sad. I can already see how this is morphing into being “an amazing experience” and a “major turning point in my life”. Only- I don’t want it to be all that. I want Ejeda to stay a part of me, of my everyday life, not of my past. I also want to stay that person I was down there, rid of all vanities, focused, clear. No white noise over my thoughts. Is that even possible at home, where small things seem bigger and big things smaller all of the time? I guess not. Let’s just hope I’ll be able to shrink and grow at the right times. Sarah in Wonderland…

From now on: shorter bits again

2.4.2011               E-mails

I’ve been getting emails with outraging content. Just to get a few things straight:

–          Claudi deserves a thorough birthday celebration. The fact that one of her best friends turned out to be a complete Nullnummer and simply ignored her birthday because she was “finding herself” in a “remote place” with “no connection to the outer world”, is bad enough. But that friend shouldn’t be able to live with herself anymore if she even managed to guilt a hard working, considerate and caring person like Claudi into abstaining from birthday presents for herself- her being also the BEST birthday-Nazi in the entire world and responsible for AWEsome embarrass-the-birthday-girl-games, world-map-cakes and the most I-feel-so-special-because-my-friends-love-me-moments. Otherwise that friend would have to make up for every missed birthday present with souvenirs from Madagascar, which would mean that Claudi would end up with a LOT of Vanilla and baskets to store the vanilla in. So that wouldn’t be a good solution either.

–          No, I am not hairy as an Orang Utan by now! In fact, shaving is one of the few things that are pretty easy to do, even if you don’t have a lot of water. Also, I’m not “totally skinny and super tan”- thanks for reminding me what people care about most at home, though…


–          I’m really, really fine. I feel pretty guilty for all the concern I’ve been evoking. I really didn’t mean to make it sound like we’re switching from diarrhea to puking all the time or being eaten alive by bugs. Most of the past 2 months I was healthy as a horse and the rest of us was never really sick. And if ever anything had happened, the WWF would have had us out of here and back home in no time. I’m really sorry that I was whining so much in the beginning. I really was a giant wimp…

–          Which leads me to my last and most important point: This was not especially hard and anybody would have been able to do it. And nope, that’s not fake humility or fishing for even more “admiration” or anything of the kind. Our genotype evolved in an environment that’s much closer to this than to the environment of a big city, company, university or whatever environment is considered challenging to the mind or the body in the western world. So why would anyone not be able to put up with bugs and dirt? I admit that I take a certain amount of pride in having overcome my fear of doing this internship. But I was only afraid, because I believed in common ideas of western society that are simply not true. “If you don’t eat dairy every day you feel weak.”; “Poor people are different from rich people.”; “If you don’t shower every day you feel bad.”; “Seeing people suffer is disturbing and should be avoided.”; “If you’re not connected with your family and friends you feel lonely all the time.”; “Life becomes super hard without a washing machine.”; “Being confronted with misery is something some people can’t deal with.”; And: “Sometimes there’s just no hope.” Not. True. All of it. I honestly didn’t know this back when I got on the airplane, so my anxiety was pretty real to me. Reality proved it unnecessary. Okay. Learned something, moving on now.

3.4.2011               Haja

Haja. I have to make peace with him, as long as I’m still here. I don’t really know where it came from all of the sudden, maybe it really was that his work in Sakoantovo was done and he had more time, but he’s been really trying these last days. He admitted to the fact that he abandoned Celia and me and he said he should have worked with us more and that he was really sorry that he didn’t. He came to all of our villages with us last week and I think that’s where he realized that we really tried and did our work as well as we could. He seemed surprised. Slightly insulted and annoyed as I am because of that- having offered him my report to read, asking questions all the time, demanding reunions with him- I am also majorly relieved. There’s going to be a follow up of our work! The villages won’t be abandoned! The green village project is not a big farce! I have to say that seeing Haja working was actually quite impressive. He’s so respectful to the customs of the villagers, he really makes an effort to put himself at eyelevel with them and everybody loves him to pieces for it. I guess that’s exactly the thing: you either have an educated foreigner working in the field who might trample on people’s feelings with his insensitivity towards the rules of the bush or you have a Haja, who clearly has his troubles with maintaining a western working attitude, but to whom people listen and who understands their reasons. I’ve seen both, the Haja and the foreigner, work and I really have to say: they’re equally problematic, but depending on the situation they can also do equally important work. People in Sakoantovo don’t want a certain colleague of the WWF and her driver pass through their area anymore, because she disrespected the king, and they told this- to Haja, whom they trust. If it wasn’t for him, the WWF might have had to stop reforestation in that area all together.

4.4.2011               I don’t wanna leave Ejeda!!!

When I was lying in my bed sick two months ago, dreading the next run to the toilet and holding my stuffed Kiwi in front of my face to prevent breathing in the smell from outside, I would never, never, never ever have thought that I would genuinely regret leaving this place. My mom sensed it earlier than me- a week ago, she said on the phone: “I bet you’ll want to remount that plain as soon as you made your first few steps on German ground.” I was like: “What?? What makes you say that, I’ve been only complaining about grasshoppers and cockroaches and rice and telling you how very, very much I missed my comfortable, clean home and the people that come with it!” And she said: “No, no, I can hear it in your voice, you’re very fond of what you have there.”

Well, mommy knows.

Waking up at 6.30 to watch the sun rise while sipping on coffee from a tin cup and filling up with steaming hot rice cakes from next door. Taking an hour on the bike to get to work, the office being the shadow of a tamarind tree. The butterflies, the birds, the lizards, the grasshoppers. The wide open sky. Communicating more through smiles and nods than through language. Finding out little by little about the villager’s view of the world, of the environment, of us and of their fate. Driving home under the burning sun and being proud and relieved that you made it, again. Taking the kind of shower where you have to scrub yourself all over and you still don’t get all the dirt off. Deciding what you’ll have for dinner depending on the two choices you have on the market: pumpkin or leaves? Watching the sky change colors until they eventually fade and the sun is gone. And finally falling into bed, thinking of Germany, while dogs take over in the city and the air is full of their barking and howling.

It’s surprisingly easy to keep your peace of mind in a place that has as many and as grave problems as Ejeda. It almost feels wrong, considering that I should be upset all the time about the potential suffering that’s lurking behind every corner of this town and its surrounding villages. But as I said before- you forget about the third world beyond the fence quickly. And that’s alright, because how much of a help can one be as a weeping nervous wreck that can’t pull itself together in face of all the suffering in the world? But: I make myself consider it when making decisions that concern others apart from myself. Which means at practically all decisions there are to make. It was easy here, where it’s so obvious what needs to be done and what not. It’ll get more complicated at home. Oh, complexity of life in a developed country, how I dread you already…

Goodbye, Ejeda. Thank you for everything you taught me. I’ll try and come back to help some more.


Here I am now, munching happily on a fresh Kaki fruit, in my luxuriously bug-less hotel room in Tana. About the trip:

–          Four flat tires

–          About 30h of drive

–          Four species of lemurs seen in the Beza Mahafaly reserve we visited on the way

–          Two chickens killed for our lunch

–          One threat of bandits on the road, that made us pick up a gendarme with the usual Kalashnikov

–          Two very sad farewells to Myrah and Hery who stayed in Toliar

–          Three delicious balls of ice cream back in civilization

It was really interesting to do the trip backwards. First only the oranges on the street vendors’ tables became fatter and prettier, then the corn became huge, then there were lemons to be found, then the road was all of the sudden paved, then the Flora became somewhat greener, then: Toliar! People! Cars! Full market stands! Vazahas! Everything in plural! The same city that seemed sadly poor, grim and unbearably hot to me when I first visited it, looked like a merrily buzzing tropical town with luxuriously many choices of food and beautiful two-story (!) buildings all of the sudden. Weird. Then we went on (and on and on and on and on and on) from 5 am to 9pm to Antsirabe and then another 3h to Antananarivo. Both cities are refreshingly cool- only 26 degrees- and people wear clean cloths and seem clean themselves. I was suddenly ashamed of my shaggy appearance- self-cut bangs, dirty feet (oh, how dirty…), greasy hair, stained clothes. All in all a level of shagginess that would have meant in Ejeda: “Shower today? Naw, not worth it. Tomorrow we have a 30km bikeride…”.

What else overwhelmed me? Electricity- all day long! Running water- hot and cold! Market day- every day! It all seems so… nice. And comfortable.