And the Votsavotsa Award goes to…

I have a confession. Blogging from the field is hard. (Why, yes, I would like some cheese with that whine.) You are fighting an ever-losing battle with iPad battery drainage, nonexistence of a thesaurus or reliable spell-checker (how do I spell weird again? ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’? Wierd? Wait…that doesn’t look right), and frequently Internet connectivity just loses the will to, well, connect.

Maybe if I hold it up a little bit higher, I will connect

Maybe if I hold it up a little bit higher, it will connect. Move, cloud, you’re blocking my signal!

In addition, I feared that all of my creative juices had all dried up, never to free-flow again. This was due to an amalgamation of lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, and the ever-elusive muse I was continually chasing—a white rabbit merrily hoping through the rainforest provoking frustration by casting spiteful gazes my way. Finding colorful synonyms for words, something I typically excel at even sans thesaurus, was becoming an insurmountable challenge.

Me: “Marina, what’s another word for ‘hiding’?”

Marina: “You’ve thought of all the obvious ones, right? Concealing? Masking?”

Me: ::blank stare::

As it turns out, the most effective way to reconstitute my desiccated juices was wine…and chocolate…and sleep. All these things were relished on our first night back to civilization in Madagascar’s capital city, and have since been exploited in full force since my return to the States. I arrived safely home in a whirlwind of hand-carrying chameleon toes across international borders, a piece of research equipment boasting a $10,000 price tag that decided to do some sightseeing in Paris without me, and dealing with incompetence at JFK airport that was unrivaled. But I made it. I am home.

I write this wrap-up “field” post with bittersweet emotions. On one sweet hand, I am gratified to be done with fieldwork in Tsinjoarivo Forest—the culmination of four very successful seasons. On the other very bitter hand, I am leaving behind my Malagasy family whose graciousness and hospitality were unparalleled. Forgive me while I greedily steal a moment of your time to properly provide them with the mad blog kudos they truly deserve (i.e. “bludos”. Consider this term coined here!). This research would’ve never happened without their skill and expertise and I am forever grateful.

  • Renee—our most experienced guide, harboring a brilliant sense of humor and gestures so comically animated that, even not understanding his words, I am able to “catch his drift”.

    Nice hat, Renne

    Nice hat, Renee

  • Jules—insanely hardworking, completing tasks without complaint (even the most ridiculous ones…see previous blog posts). Reticent in most situations, exuding a self-assured presence that I try hard to emulate.


    Best buds, Jules and Bema Luis

  • Parfait—our guide-in-training, a beautiful and gentle soul. Very contentious of my failures, always willing to offer a hand to help scramble over massive obstacles. Incredibly innovative with the use of lianas as a tree-climbing aid.

    Parfait poses with our radio antenna for fun-sies

    Parfait poses with our radio antenna for fun-sies (Photo credit: Elley Schopler)

  • Nirina—fiercely independent and wonderful mother of two. Her grace and strength make her seem much older than her 28 years and she shines even though her gender undoubtedly throw obstacles her way.

    Nirina with baby, Nekena

    Nirina with baby, Nekena

  • Natacha—incredible translator and good friend. Always willing to provide first-hand accounts of life in Madagascar and lively discussions about cultural differences between Madagascar and the U.S.

    Isn't she a lovely artist?

    Isn’t she a lovely artist?

My Malagasy family was very patient with me as I was plopped down, unprepared, into their world that is so dissimilar from my own. I always wonder what would happen if they were transplanted from their natural forest into our synthetic one—skyscrapers and cars, instead of trees and zebu. I gather they would fare just fine as I am continually astounded by their adaptability and fortitude. The skyscraper jungle can’t be as obstacle-ridden as the natural one, right? Our relationship has been mutually beneficial. We provide a reliable paycheck and, in return, we are offered their proficiencies in “all things lemur” and their determination to help us succeed. Despite language barriers, I was given an intimate view into their world. This cultural immersion allowed me to understand their values and mores, and comprehend the world in a radically different light. For example, I used to believe that deforestation was a universally bad thing. My opinion has changed. Being placed into the epicenter of where deforestation is occurring at a rampant pace made me realize that there are certain nuances to it. The local people depend on cut-trees for shelter and cooking—their existence fundamentally hangs on it. If a family’s livelihood, their utter survival, depends on it, can it still be bad? At what lengths would you go to ensure that you and your family survive? Maybe the word “deforestation”, tethered with negative connotations, should be reserved for greedy mining and logging companies—foreigners who steal what is not theirs to take and don’t bother considering the consequences. Just a thoughtful digression…

The field is a learning experience. Many of the things I’ve discovered have delightful applications to real-world experiences. Some only apply to the field (see #2). I’ve gathered all of my “wisdom” and will share it here. You, too, can be field savvy!

1.) Always bring water with you to combat the very-real physiological effects of dehydration. ‘Nuff said.

2.) Use extreme caution when navigating the forest “toilet”, as to avoid having to embarrassingly explain a wet “muddy” boot.

Behold! The toilet!!

Behold! The toilet!!

3.) Learn how to fall, both literally and figuratively, with dignity (Dignity, yes. Grace, not so essential.) More importantly, learn how to drag yourself back up.

4.) Sometimes the best approach is sliding down on your ass and/or taking a blind leap of faith putting complete trust that you will handle whatever it is you land on.

5.) Celebrate the small success, especially when the outlook seems bleak, but also when it doesn’t!

The field allows ample time for personal reflection—copious quantities to gather and synthesize all of these nuggets ‘o wisdom. I believe this is why I’m so clumsy in the forest. During hikes, I manage to let my mind wander as my body passively responds to stepping over that log (or fails to respond). Well, with the exception of climbing mountains. Then, trust me, my mind is actively engaged, my inner monologue spewing out a stream of expletives that would put a sailor to shame (…and my poor mother). These hikes also allow a lot of time for creative ingenuity. For example, the birth of the Votsavotsa award. “Votsavotsa” literally means “clumsy” in Malagasy. The winner of this award was determined by identifying the diversity, abundance, magnitude, and location of forest-induced wounds between Marina, Natacha, and myself. These measures were, of course, unbiased and wound index values were rigorously calculated, as are all things in science. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the awarding of the highly sought after Votsavotsa Award. And the winner is…

This is how I prepare my acceptance speech

This is how I prepare my acceptance speech

I doubt there was any surprised gasp from the audience. Despite all the wound-age, I’m happy to say that I successfully collected all of the white adipose tissue samples I was aiming for from this population of dwarf lemurs. In a radical change of pace, my next few months will be spent wearing my crisp, white lab coat (this functions to make sure I don’t get lemur “tubby-ness” all over my clothes, and to make me appear reputable, as if I actually know what I’m doing) and wielding a pipette to transfer minuscule amounts of clear liquid from one tube to another. That’s all molecular biology is, folks. Yay, science!

I hope you enjoyed my posts from the field. I’m looking forward to my next likely trip back in July of 2014. New field site. New population of dwarf lemurs. New results! Peace out, Tsinjoarivo Forest. You’ll be missed. Now, where did I put that missing $10,000 portable oxygen analyzer?

The field site

I’ll surely miss this place!

It’s a jungle out there!


One thought on “And the Votsavotsa Award goes to…

  1. Hey Sheena! Finally had time to find your blog. You got a killer job (travel, exotic animals, etc.)! Great writing too (though there may be too many big words for my simple brain). Love the pics.

    See you around the courts.


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