DegreeEvolutionary Anthropology and Biology ’20
One week into the trip my boots broke. The sole, in an act of rebellion against its only purpose, removed itself completely from the body of the boot and left me frozen in the middle of the trail. In the big picture, broken boots were really not that big of a deal, but in a much more real sense my poor choice of footwear highlighted how unprepared I was for the summer. The thing was, how could you prepare for an adventure like ours? How was I supposed to know that waterproof boots were not inherently rice-field-proof or that no amount of bug spray could save me from all the mosquitos? In short, the biggest challenge of my summer in Madagascar was adapting to everything you couldn’t have possibly prepared for in advance. Luckily, though, I was on a great team, and throughout the summer I learned from them what it really takes to do research in Madagascar.
Part of this project involved capturing small mammals to test them for diseases, and although I had a lot of passion, I had never captured or handled animals before. I especially had no idea how I’d be able to collect data and work with animals in our small field camp that was essentially a tarp draped over a few bamboo poles. I knew that working with animals was a big responsibility and I didn’t want to make a mistake and ruin our samples. I was a little shaky at first but after a few days I could handle and collect data on animals on my own. One day, I realized that I was collecting data on my 100th animal. Coming into the summer, I never anticipated that I would grow so independent as a researcher. Being able to handle the animals and collect data by myself was extremely empowering and something I’m sure I’ll use throughout my future in research.
Favorite Moment of the Trip
When I look back on my time in Mandena, I’ll always treasure our candlelit evenings sitting and laughing as a team around the dinner table. As an extremely food-motivated person, I always loved coming back from a long day of working and sitting down for a meal with the team. We would know it was time to gather in the kitchen when we heard the clang of the metal plates being set down on the table. Since the sun had already gone down, candles were placed out on the table. It was always a race to sit just close enough to one that you could see your plate but not so close that you’d be attacked by the bugs flocking to the light. Even though everyone was tired from a long day of work, laughs around the dinner table were never absent. The craziest thing, though, was that only three people on our eleven-person team spoke both Malagasy and English. A language barrier didn’t stop us from sharing stories and inside jokes. Everyday we learned a few new words in Malagasy and would teach our team members a few in English as well. My favorite moment of the trip wasn’t a single moment, but a collection of dinners. Around that dinner table, I learned the history of the National Park, the stories of the lives of our team members and how to say “can you pass the rice” in Malagasy.