Notes from the capital: April 2019
My name is Ford Bendell and I am the new Project Manager for the Baden PMEL field research program. I’m originally from Kansas, but moved to California to attend the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) where I studied Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology with a focus in Zoology. During my studies I worked in a marine ecology research lab, guided outdoor adventure trips and spent time traveling to Central America to participate in veterinary work and a coastal tropical ecology study.
After graduating in 2016, I moved to San Diego to work as a biologist with an environmental consulting firm where we supported government agencies, private corporations and NGOs to conserve California’s natural resources. Beyond experience, herpetology has piqued my interest since I could stand upright and as any biologist knows, Madagascar is a top location for observing unique amphibians and reptiles. I learned this early on and quickly became interested in not just the country’s herpetofauna, but in all of the incredible endemic biodiversity the island offers.
It was clear that I needed to visit Madagascar with the chance to study its wildlife. Now I just needed to find the right opportunity to take me to the exact opposite end of the earth (It’s true, I checked!). When I came across this opportunity, I instantly knew I had to pursue it, and lucky for me, my past experience seemed to fit well with Andrea’s needs.
As the adage goes, proper planning prevents poor performance and properly preparing for a trip of this nature proved to be more challenging than I initially anticipated. Acquiring a visa, leaving California, seeing friends and family, finding things to do while on hold with the airlines after cancellations and packing kept me quite busy in the short time leading up to my departure. I must say, the airlines strengthened my tolerance and ability to remain calm. For that, I’m grateful.
Traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language has its own set of challenges. Not surprisingly, the language of Malagasy is too obscure for training with something like Rosetta Stone. I instead prepared by working on my French and what Malagasy I could learn from the internet and phrase books. While the largest part of my preparation consisted of what seemed like an endless cycle of gathering gear and taking inventory, I also spent a great deal of time reading up on Malagasy customs. I wanted to be prepared to be a good guest in Madagascar and being aware and sensitive to the culture before arriving would help me do that.
Last but certainly not least, familiarizing myself with the project scope and materials has been fascinating. In particular, studying the ecology and behavior of the black-and-white ruffed lemur has been captivating, but what I’m really excited for is observing these animals in person.
I’ve only been in Antananarivo for 3 days, but as far as first impressions go, nothing but good things to say! People are friendly, food is tasty, and the weather is warm (although, I’m told winter is coming. . . ). So far, what’s not to like? I am currently in Tana while I finish required paperwork and sort out logistics. Overall, ecstatic to be in Madagascar and very much looking forward to arriving at Centre Valbio and getting this show on the road!