Memory of Madagascar Rainforest

Reminiscing through a journal I kept on a lemur behavioral research job in Madagascar, an entry I wrote during a rest from navigating through the dense rainforest brought it all back…the smell, the sights and sounds of the jungle…the feeling of awe that never went away…


Photo: Sylver Blaque / Atsinanana Rainforest, Madagascar

9:03 am (in wildlife behavioral studies, everything is to the minute – if not to the second)

Being out here in the rainforest is just miraculous! I’m engulfed in dense forest…surrounded by wildlife. It’s absolute heaven on earth. Sounds are coming from everywhere, from all species of all sizes. Things are scuttling around and across me right now.

Life is everywhere here!

A local named Manjakanony is teaching me the names of everything, and showing me how to walk in the forest – where to step or not step, especially on dangerous, wet, muddy precipices. And he would know; the locals are all barefoot, even here in the jungle.

How they do it, I do not know!

In bare feet, they glide as if floating over all the brambles, stumps and protruding roots while I, in my ridiculously new hiking boots, stumble over everything because I need to watch where I step but keep forgetting to look down because I can’t stop gaping at everything around me.

Wildlife is everywhere – from high in the canopy to right at my feet on the forest floor. Lemurs are swinging overhead, landing on branches right in front me, staring me down as if I’m the research subject instead of the other way around.

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The Shitty Gritty


In nearly every country I backpack through, the hunt for toilet paper is akin to Indiana’s search for the Holy Grail.

And so I bring my own from home, flattening and finagling to fit rolls of it into my pack.



I barely used them in Cuba, where I was taught by Cubanos to use pages of the Granma.


While staying in tent camps in Haiti weeks after the quake, I shared the flattened rolls with my Haitian neighbors. When we ran out, they showed me where to wash rags used for the shitty-gritty (add another to the multi-uses for Buffs!).


Photo: Sylver Blaque / Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Local children of northern Madagascar rainforest villages followed me into the forest to see how I would use the flattened white roll.

In deeply rural villages in Afghanistan, girls stared suspiciously as I wiped instead of splashing with water.



Thank God there were no smartphones in the remote areas where I’ve shitty-grittied, or my squat would be YouTube-famous right now.



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The American Smile


When we smile at someone, we expect them to smile back.

No matter what country we’re in.

Smiling is the universal symbol for friendliness. Right?


As it turns out, smiling is quite cultural.

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