Volunteer blog: Bea Johnston

The Hazards of Snacking in Madagascar

In Western society we think nothing of it. The concept of 'The Snack' was developed as a simpler alternative to a full meal. A meal takes time, preparation and effort. A Snack is a quick-fix for hunger. They are also more readily available than a full meal and can be purchased from the nearest shop at your convenience. Beverage-snacks can also be made in minutes, hot water boiled with the press of a button.

From arriving in Madagascar I have finally appreciated the extent to which we take snacking for granted, for at the Frontier camp in Nosy Be the act of snacking carries with it many difficulties of its own.

Condiments become rare commodities which must be protected from the other volunteers with a vicious resolve. The 'no name and it's fair game' philosophy has managed to catch out many a wannabe snacker. When a care package arrives at camp they inevitably contain a veritable treasure-trove of foods that are necessary to survival, for the Australians-Vegemite, for the English-Marmite, which will once again spark the epic debate of which one is truly tastier, with both sides refusing to concede.

Although snacks can be bought on camp, it is an arduous affair, a quest undertaken to find the much sought-after snack box key. Once the key is found the journey has yet to end. The snack box itself must be tackled, the lid prized open and one open is even harder to properly close. There is also a stark contrast between what one will find in the box depending on the time of the week. On a Monday (post re.-supply) you are spoilt for choice. On a Sunday the box is a barren wasteland of disappointment, where one might be lucky to find a dusty lollipop or lemon-flavoured Frego's.

The noodles that can also be purchased at camp make a mockery of the buyer by advertising a '3-minute preparation time'. If only the noodles here did not work on Madagascan time. The direction 'just add water' seems simple, or it would be where it not necessary to make your own fire from scratch. One you’ve managed to cajole the flames into existence you still need to fill the kettle which may or may not open depending on how it feels. Then you must tend to the fire as the kettle boils, lest it die. Thus this '3-minute affair' turns into an extended task that is not undertaken lightly.

Despite the many obstacles that separate you and your snack, the end result is far sweeter than one that is simply handed to you. The very fact that in this extraordinary place, miles from home, people carry Marmite here with them and thus a small taste of home is added to the experience you have here. Despite the difficulties posed by the odd snack-indulgence, there is something very satisfying about making your own fire the same way as the neighbouring villages and truly living the Madagascan snacking lifestyle.

By Bea Johnston, research assistant volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


Volunteer blog: Oliver Bramley

Bass throbs through your chest. High notes scream and crackle in your ears. Petrol fumes sting your skin and bury themselves in your lungs. Sweat drips down your back and face and stomach and legs. And you smile and cheer and clap because you are having the time of your life. The crowd thickly lines the streets and sometimes they cheer and that makes you turn, smile, grind your hips with a little more sass or spin a little quicker or punch the air with a little more vigour.  This was the Donia festival - a four day event held every year in Hell-ville.

Our journey to Donia started one inconsequential afternoon outside Victor and Vola’s house. A motley crew of Frontier staff and volunteers assembled only to be quickly and firmly placed in, what many would describe as, military formation. And then we began the drill. The Malagasy anthem “Call Me Maybe” trickles out of a tiny speaker and the Frontier feet move, they step and they misstep and they trip and they become out of time. The front row of locals move in perfect harmony and still Frontier feet and arms and hands move and clap and spin with little rhythm or knowledge or the moves they should perform.

“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it.    
“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it – again.

This process repeats its self again over several nights, sometimes it’s dark and we can barely see our Malagasy leaders. But surely, if not a little slowly, the Frontier dance troop begins to find unity. The fist-pumping in our second song “Titanium” synchronise. We are transformed what once was a caterpillar has become a dance butterfly; we open are wings rich in colour and pattern. We are ready to soar.

The day finally arrives and excitement quicksteps through camp. Dance troop Frontier makes their way to Vola’s for preparation and food. We strip a forests worth of palm leaves to make skirts and have our faces painted. As promptly as it’s possible in Madagascar we made our way on to the boat and into town. Hellville hummed with party spirit, the streets oozing excitement. We passed through these streets, stuffed six to a tut-tut. “Malaklak Malaklak” we shouted as the driver weaved through traffic, down dirt back alleys. We screamed and laughed feeding off the energy that Hellville was radiating that day.

At exactly Malagasy 1 o’clock [2:30pm] the parade started. The Frontier dance troop followed our pick up through the streets. The music blared out from the speakers and we danced. The Frontier dance troop: volunteers, staff and locals danced through the streets of Hellville together united through movement. We shimmied, reached, wiggled, stepped and turned with the biggest smiles on our faces. Our throats were sore with singing along and our feet ached with the constant pounding of the road. But we didn’t care because we were having the time of our lives, feeding off the whoops and cheers of an amused crowd.

Three hours of hot, sweaty parading the Frontier troop arrived in the stadium ready to compete. But first we had to wait for all of the speeches to be made. Three hours later and somewhat fatigued, the Frontier dance troop made its way backstage. The act before us had fire dancers – we stood no chance of winning. However, winning didn’t matter only the dance mattered. Dancing “Call me Maybe” in front of a packed stadium of 7 thousand people - and we nailed it. All steps and claps and turns in perfect unison the stadium roared and the Frontier dance troop beamed back.

The village president took us aside after the performance to express his pride and with that the Frontier Dance troop disbanded. We may not ever dance together again but we will always have the moves.

By Oliver Bramley, marine volunteer research assistant

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


Marine PI blog: the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

The petit port of Hell-Ville can almost always provide the staff and volunteers of Frontier Madagascar with surprises and humour. Some days you may watch one man single handed carry to ~150kg sailfish over his shoulders, some days watch a noisy scene of local woman fighting over fish that they are going to buy and sell, and other days you may find yourself trying to avoid stepping on dead animals – once even a dead cat. Last Saturday the Ambalahonko team were coming to town for some fun on their day off when the Marine PI wading through the water and spotted the head of a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Investigating the head it was clear already that it had previously been the head of a juvenile. Once up out of the petit port waters and near where they sell local fish was the remainder of the carcass. All fins, tail and guts removed the body would have been an estimate ~120cm TL individual and we were soon able to determine a male when the PI stepped back and accidentally trod onto one of its claspers (sexual assemblages of male sharks). Hammerhead fins are highly prized in the Fin Trade owing to the high density of the fins needles which give the Chinese delicacy the texture it is famed for. The fins were next to the carcass along with the fins of a lower value shark species a, the Silt-Eye shark. Curius as to what the fisher who had hauled the sharks into the boat would gain financially from such a challenging catch and the percieved value of these IUCN Endangered species the PI asked the price. At the white person, non-haggling price, she was told 10,000Ar for all the fins of both species of shark (£2.50) and the carcass all of 20,000Ar (£5). This is an extreme reflection of the lack of understanding and poverrty of this part of the world as in New York these would sell for $50/kg in Fulton Fish Market (pers. obs).

Scalloped Hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) in 2012 were listed on CITES (The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) Appendix II coming into enforcement in October 2014. This huge listing has come as a result of their severe over exploitation. Nosy Be and northwest Madagascar was once reputed as a nursery and pupping ground for Scalloped Hammherheads but in the past two years only 2 individuals have been sighted, both of which were dead in the market. Overexploitation of shark fisheries is a ubiquitous problem throughout Less Developed Countries (LDC’s) and Madagascar is no exception. In the early 1990’s European NGO’s came to Madagascar aiming to boost coastal community economies by providing efficient fishing gear especially effect at capturing and killing sharks for the fin trade. The nets, Jarifa nets, are bottom set gill nets which essentially act as a wall of death. Baited they are extremely efficient at entangling sharks and other marine megafauna such as dolphins and turtles. The sharks are then either hauled onto the pirogue or where the individual was too large they would have their fins removed along side the boat and the body discarded at sea.

Poor, inaccurate, public attitudes to sharks continue to threaten their conservation and the ecosystems which as apex predators they regulate. The issue in impoverished countries such as Madagascar is not the fishermen’s attitude towards sharks it is the market demand which fuels this activity. It is fundamentally important that the public in developed countries start to consider where there fish is from and the methods used to obtain it.

By Emma Dobinson, Marine Principal Investigator

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.

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