Friday, July 22, 2011

Hunting for Seeds in Antsantia

Things are continuing to go well, seeing and learning a lot, loving this part of the country much more than Antsirabe, the city we were in the first month. We went to two different mangrove forests today to look for seeds. One of them was quite destroyed but the second was in pretty good shape.
The good forest was just beyond a beautiful French-run hotel, so we parked at the hotel, ordered lunch and left Alissa and the kids at the pool. Jaime, Elizabeth, Josy, Armand, another Malagasy and myself hiked down the beach and into a small bay where the forest was. Beautiful white sand beaches on either side before entering, now on my list of most beautiful beaches.

The forest is incredibly dense and has a great variety of species. There was a dryer path around part of it, but to get a really good look we had to go wading through deep mud amongst the prop roots of the trees. A bit difficult but the mud felt amazing between the toes and thankfully there were not many barnacles attached to the roots in this forest as their often are. The mud was about a foot deep in this particular spot, but other places you can sink two or three feet, sometimes more. The trick is to keep on moving, constantly lifting your feet up, kinda like doing an accelerated high-step in marching band.

Jaime spotted a chameleon in a mangrove tree, which is quite rare. Even Jaime who grew up here had never seen a chameleon in the mangroves. A good sign! As for the seed collection, the seeds we were looking for, they weren't mature enough yet, so we'll have to go back to that location in a week or two, though we did find some other tree species which we were able to procure seeds from.

After arriving back at the hotel we jumped in the oh so refreshing pool, then had an amazing lunch of red snapper with sauteed veggies and curried rice, definitely the best fish I've ever had.

On the way back home this evening we witnessed a large portion of forest on fire, which was set by a local because the burning causes green shoots to spring up which their cattle like to eat. Such a waste, so much destruction. There was at least a few football fields up in flames. When the forest burns all the chameleons die and even the lemurs don't make it as they climb to the tops of the trees instead of fleeing the area.

It was an amazingly full day, and we can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Arrived in Majunga!

We took a Taxi Brousse the 11 hour journey to Majunga, and it was a BEAUTIFUL drive. It was incredible driving the hilly road passing very dry dessert lands with valleys filled with small pockets of lush forest. We could really see the remnants of what once was, and prayed as we drove through the lands that this land could be restored!

We arrived in Majunga, and were promply picked up by Rich Shattenberg, Jamie's father, who has been living in Mad for 35 years. We have been staying at his house the past week and really enjoying the hot yet breezy ocean air. It is so refreshing to walk on the beach and see the beautiful ocean! Since Jamie grew up here, there's already a handful of people that live near them and know them. It's exciting to already start to meet some Malagasy. It is good to finally be here!

Shopping in Tana

Madagascar has such an array of handcrafted products. Just about everything I find here is so detailed and well made....which made for a difficult time when we were given the chance to do a little souvenir shopping. Raffia, bull horn, silk, alligator skin, and wooden crafted things are very popular.

The Story Behind the Fishies
One special stop we made was to a group of women who make paper maché fish that can hang from the ceiling or wall. They are so well done, and their story is even more compelling. A french woman approached a Malagasy woman and asked if she would be interested in learning how to make these paper mache creations. The Malagasy woman took the opportunity, and now has her own shop and has been training woman at her shop so they can start their own businesses. So far about 65 woman have graduated, and as a result have risen out of their difficult life situations. The Malagasy woman who started this shop was a single mother with many children, but is no longer poor. Now her life has been transformed and she thanks God for her blessings! We were so touched by her story and were excited to purchase the beautiful fishies!

Happy Bday USA in Tana!

We arrived in Antanarivo and it was fourth of July! We had a busy couple days planned there, yet we found time to stop at one of the Shattenberg's favorite restaurants, Sakamanga, for an amazing meal and just wondering ambiance. The guys had the buffet while all of us ladies (Alissa, Eliana, Isabella and I) had the Vanilla Chicken...mmmmm! To really celebrate America's Birthday we sang and enjoyed a tower of passion fruit sortbets! There were no fireworks except the ones going off in our mouth at this meal!!

Endings and new beginnings

Skole (school) graduation
Isabella, Eliana, and Oliver had a little graduation as their 6 months of skole came to an end! Parents were so pround!

Language School finished
Alissa, Jonathan, Mandy, Cristal and a couple others finished their 6 months of language training with Madame Lalao! To celebrate we had a short hike to some waterfalls near her house and a delicious malagasy meal of pork, chicken, ginger and rice.

Packing and saying goodbye to Antsirabe

I have been so amazed watching Jamie and Alissa pack up ALL their stuff for the fourth or fifth time in 6 months without too much stress, and pretty quickly. Language school finished Thursday and we were all packed up Saturday ready to drive to Tana for a few nights and then onto Majunga! This has been an invaluable week in Antsirabe as we've been a part of the experience of packing up a house in Madagascar. Now ready to go to MAJUNGA!!!

Gavin is ONE

We had such a fabulous celebration for Gavin Shattenberg! We felt so priviledged to be a part of this family and celebrate their son's very first birthday fun! Alissa amazingly made the cutest little froggy-i-the-pond cupcakes and decorated with Malagasy Independence Day lanterns! We bounced on a trampoline, played with balloons and met a baby lamb. It was a great party! Happy Bday Gavin!