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Will mum survive the hydrology fieldwork?

Wendy Zwartendijk, the mother of Bob Zwartendijk, one of the researchers in the P4GES hydrology team, wrote a blog about her visit to the Maralaona fieldsite in February 2016. During her visit the team were finalising their work in the Marolaona catchement which they have been studying closely for a full year.

After the smooth flight to Tana, I met Chandra at the Maison du Pyla. He told me that he was very disappointed that there had been no rain during their trip yet, even though it was rainy season! The next morning we had to wait until Jaona had finished his presentation at the University and we had to buy food for our stay in the field. Before we finally drove to the catchment in Marolaona , we had to pick-up some equipment as well. Although I had to get used to the road, I really enjoyed the drive to Andasibe. I was really surprised how varying the landscape is, a bit dry after Tana, the very green corridor, a bit dry around Moramanga and then pretty green around Andasibe.

After my happy arrival and saying hi to Bob and the local workers, Bob and Chandra showed me the campsite: will I get used to this way of living? Although I recognised a lot from the pictures, it was really amazing to discover the catchment and its varying land uses, as well as the different set-ups of equipment (meteorological station, run-off plots, soil moisture sensors, and of course the weirs for discharge measurements). The first time I visited the weir was after sunset and it was a nice walk, although a bit steep. The next morning I was a surprised when I recognised the steep path down! I will avoid writing about the actual work, although it is pretty clear and “easy” for the team, it sounds complicated to me. I can give a note on walking through the field: slope up and down, most of the time on impossible paths with shrubs with spines. Lantana!! Irritating!! Koto or Bob used the machete frequently before we were able to continue.

Every morning we woke up just after sunrise and we went to bed pretty early, around 20.00 hours. I had to share a small tent with Bob, which I had to get used to… open the zipper… close the zipper… Ahhh I have to visit the toilet (which toilet?): zipper open, zipper closed… zipper open, zipper closed… The campsite is located in a very small village. The local inhabitants do not only assist with the fieldwork but are also taking care of cooking for us. The menu was pretty similar for all meals: rice. Every morning rice with a little bit of boiled vegetables and fried eggs. In general, we got the same for lunch, but then the fried eggs were replaced by beans. For dinner: rice, boiled vegetables and fried potatoes. Sometimes we had a dessert of fresh pineapple or baked bananas! The local workers measured the water levels in the drums of the run-off plots and the manual rain-gauge every morning. The hydrology team provided waterproof paper, as well as raincoats. I was happy to see how they collaborated with each other.

But still no rain…

Because of a smooth planning and the absence of rain we had more free time than expected, so there was some time to discover Madagascar as well. How wonderful is Madagascar and her nature! After a nice day, and some beers, just after diner, you won’t believe it, but it finally started to rain! The wishes of the hydrology team came through! We took our rain clothes and went into the field with a lot of instructions and a good cooperation! It was raining cats and dogs, with a lot of thunder and lightning for hours and hours (at least that was my feeling, in reality it was just three hours of rain). It was a busy night with a lot of little sample bottles, buckets, measurement equipment and a waterproof camera. The day after there was also a lot to do, measurements and administration, and again lots of little bottles, filled jerrycans, notes, and equipment.

On a sunny morning the team arranged a small ceremony for all their local workers, without their help it was not possible to carry out all the work that was done! After a word of thanks, they received a certificate of proof and appreciation of their work for the project. It was really nice to hear how the local workers enjoyed the work and were happy with the opportunities that the project gave to them! Although I enjoyed it a lot, I was happy that I survived the six nights at the campsite. We still had a tough last day, de-installing all the equipment, and don’t forget packing…

Before we left for Tana, we visited the maternity clinic for the last time. It was amazing to see that the installation was carried out perfectly and that all the lights and set-up were working fine!

For me it was a great experience in another world. Enjoying the rural life, without a shower and toilet. I really admired the team for their enthusiasm, professionalism, carefulness and dedication to this project. They carried it out with a lot of humour as well. Every night, they went out of bed when it rained. And not only this but also the other work they carried out. I hope that there will be a nice result from their data and analysis and furthermore I hope that the local workers can use their experience and that they will find a new job or project to work on!

Wendy Zwartendijk