Student - 24 maart 2011

Paradise for biologists

Who? Iris de Winter, fourth year student of Biology
What? Research on lemurs and nature conservation
Where? Madagascar
Why? Everything is different on the island of Madagascar and that fascinates me.

'My first days in the capital, Tana, were terrible. It is very unsafe there. There is a lot of poverty, there are sick people lying on the streets and even the police are corrupt. But fortunately the national parks are safe. People there are cheerful, positive and feel a close bond with nature. There are many natural healers and everyone goes to them. My sister has serious rheumatoid arthritis and I was given some drops base on a certain aloe by one of these healers. Her symptoms were spectacularly reduced! For some things they rely on western medicine too. You can get Viagra from doctors who sell their medicines at the market. I bought some antibiotics there too when I had very bad diarrhoea at one point.
Together with a group of international students I followed a course on ecology and conservation. We had lectures and numerous field trips. I got the chance to follow several groups of lemurs using radio tracking. I thought the nature was absolutely great, and there are very few poisonous animals.
As a foreign student in Madagascar, you have to work with at least one Malagasy student. That was quite difficult at first because their English is very poor, but fortunately they picked it up fast. I got a lot of cooperation and respect from them - sometimes a bit too much. I prefer to work on an equal basis.
Many students get discouraged by the poor political situation in the country, which has been destroyed by corruption and bad leadership. Public health is very bad there too, and the risks of all sorts of infectious diseases are great. There is even plague in some villages still. It is painful to see a mother sitting smoking next to a child with a swollen belly that is sitting in its own diarrhoea. Then I think: buy food for the child instead of a cigarette for yourself. Yet overall I have come away with a positive feeling about the three months I spent in Madagascar. It is a paradise for biologists.'
 

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