The view was quite breath-taking. We had woken up extra early this day, since we needed around four hours by boat to reach the communities bordering the rainforest. It was just past sunrise and the low-lying mist was starting to lift and revealed the thick lush rainforest in the distance. As we went deeper up river it was hard to take our eyes off of the surrounding scenery. From sandy farmland and rice fields, to high elevation rainforest, the dynamic environment was very raw, but peaceful. We had taken a thin old motorboat, which was seemingly beyond capacity as a dedicated WCS department head incessantly scooped seeping water out to prevent us from sinking. We also had a great preview of the landscape as we needed to disembark and walk multiple times to allow the struggling motor fight the rapids at some points. I really don’t know how the canoes do it. We were the only motor boat in sight on the river for the entire two-day trip. Everyone else was rowing in these “pirogues,” which are hand-carved canoes that fit 5 to about 15 people. Some were rowed by individuals, some were like buses that carried villagers to the main port and some were pulled by seemingly swimming “zebus,” their version of a cow (see picture). Along the river we also occasionally saw villagers washing their clothes, taking a bath and children splashing around, eager to ride our trailing wake.
We had dedicated these two days to interviewing individuals of three rural communities, which were in the first phase of communities educated about rainforest preservation. We were there to understand what programs were effective and in which additional areas they needed additional support. The next two days of conversation through a series of single translations (English to Malagasy) and double translations (English to French to Malagasy) was quite the life-changing event. These communities were very poor and isolated. It was hard to hear about the food shortages the villagers were struggling through and the frustration of increased occurrence of devastating cyclones. But, in contrast to these issues, the people were surprisingly warm and hospitable. In one case, Julianne, I and the translator approached a group of women, who were immediately open to speaking with us and welcomed us to enter their courtyard. The old grandmother ran to her neighbors gathering chairs for us as they sat on empty rice sacks on the floor. We had a great time talking as both parties were just as curious about the other’s background. We really didn’t want to end the conversation, but we needed to make it back to camp before sunset.