Monday, May 19, 2008

Update from our Expedition Manager: The Joy of Fish!

From Ruth:

I have now been in Andavadoaka working for Blue Ventures for 7 months. I've been 'fish enabled' for about 5 of those months, and am out there doing fish point outs and tests with volunteers during their training period, and collecting data towards the end of the expedition.

In order to be science enabled I had to get 98% on my in-water and computer fish ID tests. With 150 fish to learn, it was quite daunting initially and took me quite a while before I was confident in the water to know what I was seeing. The most amazing thing about this is that 5 months on, I still get a thrill when I'm diving and I can identify the majority of the fish that I'm seeing on a dive. I love it when one of our 150 fish shows up on a dive if I haven't seen it for a while. I saw a scythe triggerfish today and greeted it like an old friend because it's been months since I saw one. I felt so happy that I saw it, and instantly knew what it was. I have Tristan (one of our field scientists) to thank for this, as his training was rigorous and, at times, relentless. But it was all worth it.

But being able to identify fish on site is not the most amazing thing about diving here. It's the fact that there's more fish out there that I don't know. Last week, I had a fantastic dive on one of our near shore sites and was so excited by the new fish that I'd never seen before, that I had to rush back, go to our fish ID books, and work out what they were. It was a great feeling to identify them, and know that in over 400 dives (not just here!), it's possible that I've never positively identified those fish before - possibly never even seen at least one of them before. Just in case you're interested, they were: a yellowsaddle goatfish, a blackedge thicklip wrasse and a sunset wrasse. I'm sure that no matter how many fish I learn, I'll never lose the thrill of coming back from a dive with a new fish to identify, look up and write into my log book.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sexual health message spread through drama

It's a Saturday. Not that the days of the week bear much consequence to our working week here in Andavadoaka; but it is a Saturday, Saturday 10th May. An important meeting is to be held with all parties involved within the Velondriake, just south of here. As a result much preparatory work has been done in the build up to this meeting and most of the BV staff have set off in the early hours to attend.

As we wake, it is uncharacteristically cloudy, the sea is eerily still and hazy but there is an air of calm tranquility pervading CoCo Beach. New life has begun in the form of 3 kid goats just outside my hut. I watch in awe as they take their first milk. But my mind is somewhat distracted despite the beauty that surrounds me, as today is one of personal significance. For some, 6 months may seem like a long time to work in a community but with just 6 weeks left, I feel like my work has really only just begun. As well as being the medic for the expedition,I also have the privilege of running a family planning clinic in the village. From the outset I have found this a particularly rewarding part of my role; providing a well needed service in this beautiful part of the world. Despite the Catholic prevalence in the village, it is a well received service and clearly appreciated by the women who attend the clinic, who see the value of family spacing; and I may add, no objections have been made by the Catholic church.

However, what has struck me since my arrival is the limited use of condoms and the apparent lack of awareness of the gravity of STI's. For this reason, I have felt compelled to impact upon this knowledge deficit and impress upon those around me the importance of condom use in the prevention of STI's. Up until now I have tried a tentative approach to the subject with the occasional condom demonstration delivered at meetings. Even these events would cause me a sense of anxiety for fear of causing offence or not being well received; soon alleviated by the constant hilarity that the subject brings about. Knowing full well that a condom demonstration here and there would not suffice to bring about behavioural change, I knew the campaign would have to scale up at some point to be of any relevance and to have any appreciable impact.

I have always had in mind that a theatrical approach to delivering a message is a well established and effective means of conveying ideas and if i could somehow draw upon the skills of those around me and somehow create a piece of drama addressing the need to practice safe sex, then maybe just maybe, a wider audience would be addressed,with a greater impact. Um, timing is the key, and with one week left of this expedition and having been afflicted by minor illness for the first part of it, was i being slightly ambitious in thinking that now was the time to put this concept into action.

What with the constant niggley feeling that now is always the time, and with the constant sense of urgency and feeling that, if action is not taken soon in this beautiful country then, quite possibly it is in danger of replicating the devastating picture that faces many parts of Africa, I started to put pen to paper. I knew it was ambitious, i knew that Saturday was important and that there would be an absence in Malagasy staff who are always so supportive and fundamental in meetings or functions. I knew it was a tall order but i also knew that the volunteers on this expedition were more than capable of carrying it off; their dramatic skills had already been proven in a previous afternoon of fish demonstrations, they were willing and very able performers.

I presented a script to a rather reluctant Malagasy scholar. Fortunately he was immediately taken enough by it and he translated it pretty quickly and by Wednesday morning we had a definitive Vezo script. Being a Vezo himself, Taylor was able to translate the script in a readily understandable form for the village, misunderstandings avoided, humour conveyed and not lost in translation; a perfect outcome.

Despite the lack of time, despite the loss of my voice in the next days, Saturday 10th came round all too quickly. 4pm we had said to the village when we advertised our play but by 4.30, there were still only a few kids hanging around the sound system we had rigged up. Where was everybody? We sent some boys around the village to further advertise the show, and still 20 minutes later very few people had come. Dismayed and confused, i couldn't quite understand the poor turn out. Ordinarily, when BV has performed in any way it has been well met with large numbers attending; what had gone wrong? Where was everyone?

As it transpired, when Taylor toured the village, he discovered that the common belief was that there was a fee to be paid to our show. With that myth dismissed, the crowds arrived, at last we had an audience!

So this was it - all age groups present with varying members of the community and a whole lot of them. I had already discussed with myself the possibility that it would not be well received, the horrendous possibility of what would have happened if offence had been caused and not having the usual support of our Malagasy staff to smooth things out if required. It could go 2 ways and as I prayed that it would go as I intended, the show begun!

With the first bursts of laughter from the audience I relaxed and thankfully watched the crowds as they watched with curiosity and amusement at all of us make fools of ourselves. Thanks to the brilliance of Taylor who orchestrated our cues and narrated the story, we delivered a ground breaking repertoire. Without the goodwill of all the volunteers it would not have been possible.

So a huge thanks to all those involved and of course to all those in preceding expeditions who gallantly donned their t-shirts, with varying condom awareness messages embroidered on them. Collectively, BV staff and volunteers have helped to augment awareness; even if if this is only the tip of the iceberg, those involved have played a huge part in positively impacting upon this small community. The journey of awareness has only just begun but i feel so fortunate and honoured to have been a part of it. My heart has been warmed.

Becks (BV Expedition Medic)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ode to Expedition 37

You arrived on the camion all tired and weary
the hours of bumping
making your eyes look all bleary
we can't believe six weeks has passed
it really has gone so very fast

we hope you've had a blast and a ball

because the things you've done have been far from small

After your efforts, the beach was pristine
Compared to before it was a sight to be seen
Richard was here and Ruth was a bit stressed

But she needn't have worried, he was more than impressed.

Someone brought vao vao, it was up there with the best
A fisherman in Lamboara had found a turtle nest
To be made into an omelette was to be the hatchling's fate
but because of all you, they are now protected - which is "turtly" great!

Now onto Radoko's favourite subject, which as you all know
is condoms/kapoty and putting on a show!

So then there was the play
what a marvelous ground-breaking day

You and me together in true camaradarie
all last minute, but you showed great bravery

delivered in a brilliant impressive style

even with the recent absence of Eamonn and Kyle

Thanks to you all for this momentous event
To Radoko you will never know how much it all meant
A ceremony in the village, and everyone went down
Tokagasy at lunchtime when the pseudo-environment minister came to town

Now as well as all these events that happened the last few weeks
A few fishy tales will be remembered as one of the peaks

we all had a laugh - it was a bit of a farce
especially Debbie's great big white ****!
And Sam regaled us with a fantastic story
Which was in parts hilarious and in others a bit gory!
Tori & Vic sang us a great song
snapping the limelight, they could do no wrong.

Getting lots of science completed as well as having fun
you will be pleased to know that we
got everything we needed done.

To Bevato some travelled in search of baobabs and mangroves
but we spent a great deal of time just

watching praying mantis and gekkos
Living on a prayer and summer of 69
At the tops of our voices, it all sounded fine?!
We mustn't forget those that have already gone
and of course Ruth teaching us a song about a "guy called Ron?!?"

With all those handsome guys and pretty girls so fair
It is only right that there should be romance in the air
so now you're heading off to Canada, Switzerland or Devon
But when you get back you will dream of Andava and expedition 37!!!!

By Charlie & Becks (Andava resident Poet Laureates)

Friday, May 02, 2008

"We Love Our Snappers!"

Another song to help identify different species of snapper...

"We Love Our Snappers!"

(To be sung to the tune of "Can't take my eyes off you")

When you are learning your fish,
Can't give your snappers a miss,

Continuous dorsal fin,
Often higher where they begin,
With slightly upturned snouts,
And downturned mouths
This makes them look quite sad,
But they’ve teeth that make them look bad

The Bluelined has four lines,
A yellow body that's streamlined,
But don't get too bemused,
The Bluestripe's easy to confuse,
Count the lines; Stripey's got si
So don't get in a fix

Now we don't have far to go,
There are only seven to know,
Bluelined, Bluestriped, Black and it's juvenile Twinspot, one spot, black spot and big eye, Bluelined, Bluestriped, Black and Big Eye, Twin, One and Black Spoooooooot!

We know our snappers,
Because they're medium sized,

We know our snappers

They are nektonic guys

We know our snappers,
And their emarginate tails

We know our snappers,
With their continuous fin,

We know our snappers
They eat other fish,
They are oblong fishes with triangular heads.

Silver, reddish or yellow,
The One Spot's a lonely fellow,
Twin Spot has two light spots,
Located near to his top,

Browney yellow in colour,

He's a little bit duller,
As is his brother the black,

But the juvenile's all that,

Silver with yellow brown stripe,
The Big Eye is a nice type,
Of fish to have for tea,
As is the whole family,
The blackspot has just one spot,
And a yellowey bot,
He also has stripes,
And hunts in the night,
Bluelined, Bluestriped, Black and it's juvenile Twinspot, one spot, black spot and big eye Bluelined, Bluestriped, Black and Big Eye, Twin, One and Black Spoooooooot!

We love our snappers,
And if it's quite alright,
We'll eat our snappers,
For dinner every night,
We thank our snappers,
For be-ing just so yum-my!

By Tori Jordan and Vic Nott