Friday, May 31, 2013

81st day, Tsiafanoka – Catching a big fish

My last excursion into the field brought a spectacular success: During a patrol in the new protected area Ranobe-PK32 (congratulations on this sexy name!), we managed to catch one of the “Big fishes”: a man who is the owner of several cultivations on slash-and-burn clearings in the forest, and who is paying other villagers to conduct the burnings and look after the fields. This is a first-time ever in the history of the aerial surveillance project.

On a personal level, the situation is not quite that easy to digest. It is almost certain that this man will go to prison and it is equally certain that he has a family with children. Which alternatives he might have had to earn his living, we can’t judge well. And we are, in a way, responsible for his imprisonment. The next evening, I see my colleague who was with me on the patrol. After I inform him that he looks awful, he tells me that he has not been eating during the whole day, but drinking since 8 in the morning, because he felt guilty towards this man and had a hard time accepting his own (entirely professional) decision to take the guy back to Toliara.

Still, hatsake (slash-and-burn) is illegal, and anyone who does something illegal, will be punished according to the law, anywhere in the world. I find that very normal, but in Madagascar, it isn’t anymore. But if people get too used to their actions never having any negative consequences, then we might as well save the time, money and energy to conduct the overflights, evaluate the aerial photos and go on exhausting patrol missions. Worse still: if people feel safe burning the forest, the insane destruction that is taking place at the moment will continue at the same rate. 

This is why it is so important to set an example. Just one person who is found guilty of hatsake and punished accordingly might have a huge impact on the burning rates during the next season. This guy just happened to get unlucky.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

78th day, Toliara – Friendship and money

Will you buy a concert ticket at a cost of 5,000 Ariary (ca. 2 €) for someone you have only met 3 times before? Probably, if you feel like seeing the concert as well. Will you give your brand new Lowa hiking boots to one of the pousse-pousse pullers who are always lingering in front of your hotel, because he asks you to, (rightfully) claiming that his own shoes are crap for his heavily walking-reliant job? Surely not.

But what about the shades of grey between these black and white cases? How much does relative material richness oblige? Where does friendship start? And how much one-sided dependence is good for it? How much of your little finger should you give to ease your conscience, and what will you reply if the whole hand is asked a bit later?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

75th day, St. Augustin – village cinema

At the end of a day full of misunderstandings, when the taxi brousse left at 1, rather than 10 in the morning, and we ended up in St. Augustin rather than in Sarodrano, all that really isn’t a problem at all. We met Marcel, who is our friend now, in the way that people, especially those earning their living in tourism, become your friends within half an hour here. He takes us to the village cinema: A tiny enclosure with a reed fence. A black-and-white TV on a chair displays some martial arts film, the loud speaker on the chair next to it emits squeaking sounds. About 20 people sit on wooden benches or on the dirt as we sneak in. After a few minutes, I lift my head and prefer the spectacle of a million-stars-sky to that on the screen.