Guest Post: On Moving to Madagascar

My amazingly talented and smart friend, Hannah.

[My best friend, Hannah, is moving to Madagascar and she has agreed to share her successes, stories, trials and tribulations. So without further ado…]

In 14 days, I fly to Toronto.  Then Paris.  Then Antananaravio, Madagascar.  After a hellish forty-eight hours of transit, I will arrive in the country I will call home for the next three and a half months.  It will be the farthest I’ve ever been from home, literally, culturally, linguistically, and environmentally.  I am excited beyond measure.  I am also terrified out of my wits.

My family (with varying levels of horror in their eyes) has asked me “why Madagascar?  If you want to speak French and experience a foreign culture, just go to France! Or better yet, Montreal!”  There’s no simple answer to that question.  The short version is that it’s something I feel I need to do.

‘octopus tree’

The (abbreviated form of the) long answer is this:

Madagascar is incredible.  In purely scientific terms, the higher-level biodiversity is unparalleled.  The number of families and genera of flora and fauna that are endemic (unique to Madagascar) is unparalleled.  (Brazil, which is one of the most diverse countries in terms of the sheer number of species, comes nowhere close to the higher-level diversity of Madagascar.)


This is all a fancy way of saying that Madagascar has really amazing plants and animals.  There are the octopus trees of the spiny forests.  There are baobabs.   There are tenrecs (think hedgehogs with crowns).  There are lemurs! (And not just a few.  With over one hundred species and subspecies of lemur, and more being discovered every day, lemurs make up a good chunk of all known species of monkeys.  When primatologist break up the world into chunks, they create four regions: all of South and Central America, all of Southeast Asia, continental Africa, and Madagascar.)

“My family (with varying levels of horror in their eyes) has asked me ‘Why Madagascar?'”

It’s not all sunshine and roses, unfortunately.  As one of the ten poorest countries in the world, the country of Madagascar and many Malagasy (the native people) lack the resources to take the time to consider conservation, let alone to pursue any tangible measures.  Even if the resources existed, the big question of how to conserve remains.  Setting aside land as a conservation reserve is great for western biologists, but can be destructive to indigenous culture and survival.  Slash and burn agriculture, an enemy of conservation, produces food relatively efficiently.  Conservation is a long-term problem; hunger is a day-to-day struggle.

Destructive agriculture and forestry practices, which provide in the short term, leave the iron-rich soil exposed and emaciated.  You can see the massive scars of red earth from space, explaining Madagascar’s nickname: “Le Grand Ile Rouge,” or the Great Red Island.  To put numbers to the destruction, over 90% of the native vegetation has been cleared.

There are no easy answers to these dilemmas.  But finding some, any, solution is what I want to dedicate my life to.  This is what I love.

“‘You don’t become a different person when you travel abroad. You become more yourself’ … I’m ready to become myself.”

So, despite the excitement and terror, I feel ready(ish).  I know that I will never be completely ready for this experience.  I fully expect to be shocked, swept away, saddened, and inspired in ways which I cannot begin to imagine.  But it is important to me that I have this experience.  I want to see another world, a different way of living, a paradise of biodiversity, a natural resource management nightmare.  The problems which I want to spend my life addressing (the intersection of poverty and environmental destruction) are every day realities in Madagascar.  This is what I want to study; this is what I want to do.  As a dear (and wise!) friend once told me, “You don’t become a different person when you travel abroad.  You become more yourself.”  I sure hope she’s right.  I’m ready to become myself.

Have you ever moved/travled to a place that your family thought was foolish/silly? How did it turn out? 

Have a question for Hannah? An exceptional story of your own to share? Send us a message to help others wander on.