The arrival of Monday meant that offices were open and staffed and that I could finally begin taking care of business. I got an early start and walked down the road to the MICET office. I’m staying at the Hotel St. Laurent, which is well outside of the touristy city center. There really isn’t much to do nearby, but the hotel has one key perk: walking distance to MICET.
MICET stands for the Malagasy Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments and is an NGO that facilitates environmental research in Madagascar. For a single fee (good for six months) they provide vehicles and drivers for within the city and traveling to field sites and, more importantly, they apply for and obtain research and export permits.
Before I arrived in Madagascar, MICET had already arranged for my research permit, allowing me to follow the lemurs and record their behavior, to collect plant samples from the forest, to collect lemur feces, and specifically NOT to capture animals.
One more thing MICET does is liase with local universities to arrange for my Malagasy student. There is a rule in Madagascar that every foreign research project must involve a local Masters student. As a researcher, you are supposed to give this student a side project of your research that they can use as their Masters thesis. You are also supposed to provide them with all of the equipment necessary for this research: tent, sleeping bag, binoculars, etc.
After I had arrived at the MICET office and taken care of paying their fee, I was told that my student and his advisor wanted me to meet with them at the University of Antananarivo. I hitched a ride with a MICET truck and headed up to the university.
At the university I met with my student, Vula, as well as his advisor who is the head of the primatology program, and the head of the paleontology and biological anthropology department. The four of us sat around a large desk in a room full of specimens. There were skulls from extinct lemurs and herbivorous crocodiles. There were bones from hippopotami. There were even some dinosaur skulls (sorry no mosquitos in amber)!
None of us spoke the same language fluently. Both professors spoke Malagasy, French, and very little English. Vula spoke Malagasy, some French, and more English than his superiors, but we still managed to max this out. And I spoke English, some French from high school (thank you Monsieur Lord), and a handful of words in Malagasy. Our conversation was anything but smooth as we had to continually stop and try to translate a word or phrase with our often incompatible language sets.
The department head explained the importance of the partnership between Malagasy researchers and those from abroad. He showed me a poster with all of their partner universities around the world, including Japan, France, the US, and Canada. Apparently the national research budget in Madagascar is $0. So this means that the universities get no money from the government to conduct research. The resources that I am providing for Vula to do his research are the only way he would be able to get his masters degree. We negotiated Vula’s per diem rate, since I am also obligated to pay him and cover his food and shelter costs. The department head also stressed how little equipment they had and urged me at the end of my trip to donate anything I could for the future use of students. He also asked me to give a research presentation to the graduate students in the department when I come back to Tana in February.
After the university, I ran some errands around town. I picked up a couple liters of ethanol for preserving my fecal samples, but more importantly I needed to change more money into Ariary. The MICET fee and shopping had greatly depleted my initial stash of Ariary, so I headed to a currency exchange to replenish. I walked in with a pocket full of Euros and walked out with a fistful of Ariary. Actually, it was closer to a sac full of Ariary as I was now a septamillionaire.
A trip back to MICET saw my fortunes once again wane as I paid the Madagascar National Parks fee for me, my field assistant, and my Malagasy student. I also had to pay a large “lab fee” to Vula’s department. I’m not exactly sure what this fee covers, but I’ve been told it is used to cover general departmental expenses as well as to fund masters students who are not paired up with a foreign researcher. And lastly, I had to pay another large fee for Vula’s thesis printing at the end of his degree.
So in one day I saw my wallet shrink, the swell, then skrink again. Thankfully most of the large one-time fees are now taken care of and I mostly have the transport, daily living expenses, and food costs remaining.