Recently, Madagascar was hit by a devastating cyclone, which has killed 38 people and displaced many thousands more. I am selling prints of two types of lemur, a species found only in Madagascar, in order to raise money for charity and help the Malagasy people rebuild their lives.
The two different prints for sale are below. They are A4 sized, and £15 each, incl UK postage. All proceeds will go directly to Karen Fow Heng via Leetchi, who has set up a fundraiser here.
Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase one.
Specify 'black & white' for the one on the left, or 'rose' for the one on the right.
Bigger images at the end of this post.
Thank you for your support
Now, if you wish, you can read my own experiences of Madagascar, and why it is so
special to me. Forget the animated movies; Madagascar is nothing like you imagine.
In 2013 I visited Madagascar, and it changed my life. I went with the exploratory group Unknown Fields Division, a 'nomadic design studio' whose mission is to explore the social architecture of a country, and see where it fits into the connected world. We drove around the country in a bus, visiting many places, meeting the people, the wildlife and big corporations who were there to take from the land.
One day, we visited a mine run by Ambatovy, a huge mining company, to see what they were doing. We weren't allowed to take photographs of the site, and my guess is that they didn't want to world to see how the ancient rainforests of Madagascar, which took hundreds of years to grow, were being stripped away in days to make components for things like engines, magnets and mobile phones, things for western demand. Although I wasn't allowed to document what I saw, the images were burned into my memory regardless. Miles upon miles of bare, red land, with the untouched rainforest at the edges, waiting to go next. It was devastating to behold. It took a lot in me to not break down in front of everyone.
photo from the Environmental Justice Atlas
Another day we went to the Ranomafana National Park, where we learned about the Rosewood trees. These trees contain a beautiful magenta red heart, and the wood is highly prized in East Asia for making furniture and trinkets. Rosewood trees grow singularly and sparsely, so finding them often requires days of arduous trekking. They also grow very slowly, so finding one which is a good size for usable wood often means the trees are often up to 400 years old. A combination of a corrupt government, outside demand and the desperately poor people of Madagascar make this trade difficult to control. Those who should be stopping it at the coast let shipment containers full of logs onto boats for a simple bribe. The wood sells for up to $2000 per ton. Furniture is then made which can sell for millions of dollars. The workers, who often spend months in the forests, at some risk to their lives, are paid just 50 cents a day for their work. The imbalance is phenomenal. Rosewood, which is also found in South America, Africa and Asia, is the world's most trafficked wild product.
In the same forests we also saw some of the incredible wildlife Madagascar has to offer. 90% of the creatures and plants are endemic to the island, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. It also means that when they are gone, they're gone for good.
On a trek through the Ranomafana park one day, me, my husband a few others got separated from the main group. We were with a guide and he took us to a different spot to show us something. We followed him to a small clearing, deep forest all around us. He gave a few vocal calls into the trees and within minutes two Indri, the largest of the lemur species, had jumped silently over to the trees above our heads. Our guide continued to call them, and they climbed down the trees. He gave us leaves to feed them, and to our astonishment, these beautiful, incredibly endangered animals took the food from us. They recognised the guide, and trusted him. Their primate hands, so like my own, were reaching down towards me. The gravitas of this moment didn't quite hit me until I was back home some weeks later, and looking through the photographs. These wild animals had briefly invited us into their lives, allowed us to be part of their world for a few precious moments. It was a true privilege. Now, every time I think about this, I feel the pinpricks of emotion at the corners of my eyes. It still takes my breath away.
Then there was the day we spent on a boat, travelling up a river in order to reach another place of interest. We were told that if we didn't leave by a certain time, we'd not make it before nightfall. Sure enough, we were late in setting off, and a few hours later the sun set whilst we were still trying to get to our destination. We had to turn off our mobile phones because the ambient light was blinding the boat drivers in the pitch black. But the mood was merry as we shared drinks and stories with one another. Eventually, we arrived on land at 1am, the boat pulled up to a little tucked away hotel. There, we were meant to meet our fixer Dave, (the guide for our entire trip), but he was stuck at the top of the uphill road due to the track becoming entirely flooded by heavy rainfall. There was no way our rickety little bus could come down to collect us. "Not to worry" said Dave over the phone, "I'll sort it out." An hour or two later we were greeted by Dave who had found transport for us to get back uphill to our bus; a huge open-backed truck carrying gravel. He had flagged the truck driver down in the middle of the road and persuaded him (aided by the offer of money!) to come and help us. So we all clambered on to the back of the truck, and, clinging to the pile of gravel, we made our way slowly up the muddy landslide of a road. We were cold, tired, hungry and grumpy, but as soon as the lights of the of the hotel faded from view and we moved into the darkness, none of that mattered any more. Over our heads was the clear dark, open night sky, littered with stars as far as the eye could see. The galaxy was open.
For the whole journey we quietly stared up in wonder, pondered our own smallness in the vast universe stretched out above us. I'd never seen anything like it before, nor have I since. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.
These were just a few of the many experiences I had in Madagascar, and a fraction of what I took away, but I am so grateful for it all. Visiting this country really helped me think about our perceptions of far away places. We tend to live in a bubble in countries like the UK, where wealth and relatively easy living, compared to other countries, are taken for granted. In fact, the whole group agreed that if we'd been asked before the trip 'What makes you think of Madagascar?' we'd have all said the films, the lemurs... but what greeted us was a heady mix of tradition, enthusiasm, instability and a desperation to become part of the new world, whatever the cost.
Madagascar is by far the poorest place I've ever been to, and I wasn't expecting that.
I left feeling humbled and abashed, but glad that I'd glimpsed this place, one I thought I knew. All this information has been ruminating in me since then, clinging onto my psyche, inexorably becoming part of me and my own story.