Let me introduce myself. I am Nina, the new Project Manager at Honko working alongside Ben (who wrote the first post). I’ve been here now for 3 weeks getting acquainted with the project, settling in at my house on stilts overlooking the mangroves, meeting community members, and learning more about Ambondrolava’s mangroves.
Prior to Honko, I lived for a year in wet and humid eastern Madagascar working with a reforestation project. So, landing in the Tulear airport, it was actually pretty shocking to see a part of Madagascar so dry, so different from the rainforests out east. When I found Honko’s project manager position, it sounded like an exciting opportunity to see a new region of Madagascar, and to continue working with grassroots conservation projects that place great importance on the local community. I had gotten used to the rain, lush rainforests, coffee plantations, and the Tanala (eastern region) dialect of Malagasy. Now, in the Tulear region, it will take me some time to get used to the zebu(cow)-carts, goats, sand, open-air taxi brousses (public transport), and sun just to name a few differences. There are many comforting similarities though: the catchy popular music that you can’t seem to escape, pousse-pousses (like rickshaws), and although the taxi-brousses are different the adventure they provide is just the same! Anywho, I’m excited to be at Honko for the next 18 months working with a group of people that have a similar culture to the communities I’ve worked with before, yet live off the land in completely different ways.
To get acquainted with Ambondrolava, I’ve been spending my early mornings in the village for coffee and bok-bok (unsure of the spelling!). I’m slowly getting used to the dialect here. It’s difficult when you think you’ve got a good grasp on the language after one year, then move to a different region and can’t understand anyone anymore! It’s not only a matter of the accent – but also some words are completely different. The good news is they understand me (that is, when my Malagasy makes any sense at all)!
The morning is a surprisingly busy part of the day, with women cooking up breakfast and preparing to go into the field to collect vondro reeds (used to make roofs, hats, bags, you name it), and men returning with fishing nets full of the morning’s catch. Oddly enough I’ve been getting asked, “Iza no anaranao?!” (What is your name?) by the same group of children. This way I’ve also met many of the VOI Mamelo Honko members as they pass through the village.
Since my specific interests in conservation include forest governance, local participation, and community-based management, I look forward to working closely with VOI Mamelo Honko. The VOI is the local association of the surrounding villages (Belalanda, Belitsake, Tanambao, Ambondrolava, and Ambotsibotsike) that oversees the mangroves and enforces the ‘dina’, or local laws, regarding mangrove use. In 2010, Honko helped the communities establish this association and had the land rights transferred from the government to the VOI. Honko works very closely with the VOI, for example in developing a Plan Vivo blue carbon project, in which the community can be compensated for protecting the mangroves.
Over the next few months we’ll be getting the fish farms started up again, implementing an environmental education (with a mangrove focus) curriculum in local schools, and working to get our name out there with local tour operators to expand our ecotourism activities. Remember, if you’re in the area, stop on by! We’d love to have you!
We’ll be posting more regularly on the blog now, so look out for more stories and updates about our projects, the community, and the mangroves!