Seeing Exploration in Madagascar Through New Eyes

Years of repeated research means familiar faces in Madagascar. Here, Tojo smiles at the camera in Angavokely, District of Manjakandriana, Madagascar. Photo by Cara Brook. April 2015.
Years of repeated research means familiar faces in Madagascar. Here, Tojo smiles at the camera in Angavokely, District of Manjakandriana, Madagascar. (Photo by Cara Brook)

“You’re telling me you’re not nostalgic, then give me another word for it” —Joan Baez, “Diamonds and Rust”

It’s almost two years to the day since I arrived in Madagascar to begin my doctoral research, brimming with dreams and idealism and a secret terror of the enormity of the tasks set before me. At the time, there was a field project to start and data to be collected, and I did not even know what pathogen I would study, what host I would sample.

There was math to master, too, for Princeton has high standards, and I was on the fast track to becoming an epidemiological modeler—with no past experience in computer programming whatsoever. And in a whole different twist, there was Malagasy to learn and French to perfect and an entire fantastic, foreign country to attempt to understand. And when I finally found direction and decided that bat-borne viruses were going to be it, well, I had still never caught a wild fruit bat in my life—much less done so in Madagascar.

It seems like a lifetime ago to me now, though really it was not so long, and I look back on past writings with a smiling nostalgia at my own naiveté—about bout the Malagasy language and the scientific concepts we’re dealing with. And so much more, I am sure, to understand better still.

An Ever-changing Morality

We are back in the ambanivohitra, the land under the hills, and as ever, the shooting stars are falling, as our cook brings out her coal-burning fantapera to heat up the evening’s ration of rice and tsaramaso fotsy (white beans).

I remember a time when I forbade our field team —> Read More

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