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Jackie Ward ′10

Hometown: Shelbyville, KY
Major: Molecular Biology
Fun Fact: When she misses Madagascar, Jackie visits the Memphis Zoo.

What did you study in Madagascar?
I studied French, Malagasy culture and environmental issues, and coral reef ecology. For ecology we did a lot of snorkeling and took samples that will eventually be sent back to the U.S. for analysis of their chemical properties. The main antiviral compound for the AIDS drug, AZT, was actually first identified through analysis of a marine sponge. There are a lot of natural compounds that occur in the ocean that can be used as pharmaceuticals for humans, so a lot of pharmaceutical companies have recently started investing in marine biology programs to explore that.

What was your craziest cultural experience/shock?
With one other student, I stayed for a week in a rural village. We arrived in four-by-fours, and two students were dropped off in each village. For a week we were with people who didn’t speak any French or English. During the day, there were student translators, but they left at 4 p.m.

One night we were in our tent, and the girl I was with said, “I swear there is a mouse in this tent.” I said, “No, just go to bed. I’m so tired. There’s no mouse.” Then I saw it. We frantically moved all of our things out of the tent to look for it, but we still couldn’t find the mouse. We woke up our host to see what she could do, but obviously we couldn’t communicate with her. We kept mimicking a mouse, and finally remembered the Malagasy word for small animal then pointed to the tent. Of course, our host mom just grabbed it and pulled it out, dying laughing. At that point we were the laughingstock of the village. But we were just happy to have the mouse out of our tent.

At the end of the week the surrounding villages had a festival, and to celebrate we danced into the festival from where we were staying, 6 miles away. When we arrived, sweaty and exhausted, at the center of the village we sacrificed a cow to show our gratitude. Saying it now sounds ridiculous, but at the time it seemed perfectly normal.

How did wildlife affect your everyday life?
We saw lemurs at every national park we went to. There are a lot of different species, from the size of mice to more like cats. They have these huge eyes and look like bush babies. One of our guides in a national park was talking about how Madagascar is home to the world′s smallest frog, and a minute later he came out of the woods with one in his hand. We were all wondering, “How did he find that?!” I could barely tell it was a frog because it was so small, only the size of my pinkie fingernail. Another time we were camping and I was standing outside with my glasses on. Suddenly one of my lenses went dark. I knew I hadn’t gone blind in just one eye so I took my glasses off and realized that a frog had landed inside of my glasses!

What would you never have to think about here that was a constant effort in Madagascar?
The mosquitoes were a constant presence because we camped so often. We slept in mosquito nets, took antimalarial medicine every day and had to use 100% deet.

Who is one person you’ll never forget?
My Malagasy teacher Sosony was the most flamboyant and funny person. Sosony was always doing something absurd, and he knew everybody. He would constantly introduce us to people on the street and say, "C′est mon fils." (This is my son.) We kept thinking, he can′t possibly have 50 sons, what′s the deal here? We finally realized it was more in the idiomatic sense of the word. He had figuratively adopted them, which is common in Madagascar. Family is important, but also a more figurative idea of family. Everyone looks out for one another, and you always feel welcome, even as a foreigner.

What did you get out of the experience?
What I got out of the experience can best be summarized by the motto "mora-mora," which essentially translates to "slowly-slowly." It′s the epitome of Malagasy culture. It′s a very laid-back way of life. Whether it is communicating with people who don′t speak the same language or watching a village sacrifice a cow, you just have to take things one step at a time, and everything will be all right.

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