Before you board a plane, you consciously or subconsciously try to imagine what your destination will look like. For most people the first picture that pops into their minds when I say ‘Madagascar’ is the one of the movie ‘Madagascar’, with talking and dancing lemurs (I like to move it, move it), and lots of other funny creatures. My imagination was largely shaped by the literature I read for my proposal. These described Madagascar as the hotspot for biodiversity. However, the forests were seriously damaged by deforestation and slash and burn practices. Thereby I imagined Madagascar as a really green country with gigantic tropical forests. Apparently, my subconscious decided to leave aside the deforestation part. From the plane, I did not see any green big tropical forest. The landscapes were all yellow and orange with very little trees. It looked more like a savannah. I started questioning myself: Did I took the right plane?
The next day me and my five other Dutch teammates decided to go in Antananarivo for some shopping, before we would start fieldwork. It’s then that I realized that my view of Madagascar needed to be seriously refined. The streets were filled with dust and the streets were lively animated by countless people. In front of me, five boys were trying to push and stir a caret that was filled with (rice, sand?) bags. It must have weighted more than 400kg! They passed two little girls that were begging on the sidewalk. The ‘shop’ next to them was owned by a woman who was selling sandwiches. The advertisement of the shop itself was directly painted on the wall in a colourful manner. Everything was new and I couldn’t stop looking around. I felt like a baby who was discovering the world. I felt clumsy as well since I had no idea of what was ‘normal’. Easy things to do, like figuring out where to buy a phone card, took a long time. Luckily I speak fluent French, which is of great help in this country.
After the shopping we decided to leave Antananarivo to Andasibe, our first study site. Yeah! I would finally find the proof that my imagined rainforest was existing! However, the very long ride took us through rice fields, little villages and eventually some small woods, but no rainforest. Instead, I could only admire the slash and burn practices that were cited numerous times in papers. The ride took quite some hours and I started to despair when the first big trees covered with lianas appeared. Big leaves from the traveller tree covered the sky. The most beautiful thing, was something I could never have imagined before I boarded the plane: the long welcoming call of indri’s coming from the heart of the forest .