Today marks exactly thirty-nine days since we all left for Madagascar, and thirty-eight days since we arrived in Antananarivo. As my fellow classmates have described in past blogs, an unimaginable number of journeys and adventures happened in this relatively short amount of time. If someone were to ask me how long I’ve been here, I would probably estimate about three months, even though I know that number isn’t accurate (yet). It is remarkable to how much has been accomplished in the time we have spent here so far; it’s certainly felt like more time has passed than only a month and then some!
It is truly amazing to think about how much we’ve achieved in these thirty-eight days. Traveling from New York to Madagascar was our first test as both a group and as individuals and we passed with flying colors. Even with all the trials and tribulations we’ve encountered while in this new environment, I can say with confidence that we’ve continued to pass with flying colors for every new adventure we embark on, while growing in the process. Had someone told me even a month before we left that I would be going on an eight hour hike or climbing steep forest hills to track lemurs or investigate camera traps, I might have laughed at them. But I am incredibly grateful that I took the leap of faith way back when I applied to study abroad here – it’s an experience that I will never forget, even with my already failing memory.
One of my absolute favorite things we’ve experienced here at Centre ValBio – besides the wonderful three meals a day, of course – is the lectures that take place on a near daily basis. The conference room where they are held has become almost like a second living space to us; we certainly spend enough time there on weekly to call it that! The chairs might get uncomfortable after about twenty minutes and there are no tables to lean our notebooks against, but the guest speakers are a delight to behold.
It is always inspiring to listen to an individual or a group of people passionately discuss their research. Passionate people never fail to induce passion in others. From talks about the sheer amount of biodiversity in both Madagascar and, more specifically, Ranomafana National Park, to discussions about the relationship between anthropology and conservation, I have learned more during my time here than I ever would in a traditional classroom at home. Why, a good portion of the time the rainforest is our classroom! If there’s one very particular skill I’ve developed here, it’s figuring out how to most comfortably sit on dirt and rocks to find the perfect note-taking position while out studying lemurs.
I fondly remember a time where a group of us went for a hike to Bellevue so that we could study for our first exam. What ended up happening was that we decided to go on a scavenger hunt and find lemurs on the way up to Bellevue – and lemurs we found! Stumbling upon one of the two Hapalemur aureus (Golden bamboo lemur) in the park was a treat for sure, not only because of their symbolism to Ranomafana but also since the individual was a mere two trees away from where we were standing. Although eventually we did find the way to our original destination, this excursion undoubtedly summarizes this study abroad trip so far: expect the unexpected. For every adventure we make – whether it be through the forest or elsewhere – we never fail to find a hidden treasure that we did not anticipate. This is truly what makes our experience remarkable and life-changing – for the better!
As we all prepare and pack for our ten day long cross-country trip, each day my admiration for Madagascar grows, even when at times I feel this appreciation cannot grow any more. Three months is not enough time to explore everything this country has to offer but I am thankful for everything that I have witnessed so far and unbelievably excited for what lies ahead. From trekking through Isalo National Park to snorkeling in Ifaty, there seems to be no limit for what Madagascar can show the rest of the world. I have never been to such an indescribable place in my young life and I may never see another place that can compare to here. Regardless, this journey has countlessly inspired me to take the road less traveled – especially the road chockful of friendships, animals, and explorations.
Today marks the exact halfway point before we depart to go home (or, for some of us, stay for a while longer), but who’s counting? There are innumerable more adventures we’ll all be embarking on within the next month and there’s no point in counting down the days. Living in the moment is what we all do best – and it makes our time here unbelievably enjoyable! To end this reflection, I asked a few friends to describe their time here in three or so words; here are their [anonymous] responses:
“Humbling, exciting, & relaxing.”
“Rewarding, eye-opening, & fun.”
“Leeches, fleas, & bathroom moths.”
“Lemurs are life.”
“Inspiring, motivating, & bug bites.”
“Breathtaking, challenging, & incredible.”
“Changing my life.”