Tuesday, May 26, 2009
In Memory of Didi - who helped us understand Madagascar
by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Coordinator
Recently, I received some very bad news from Madagascar. My friend and colleague Didi RAKOTONDRATSIMA passed away. At 34 years of age, and seemingly excellent health, Didi had his whole life before him. All of us who knew Didi are shocked and saddened beyond words.
Didi worked for Cortez Expeditions, based in Antananarivo. He accompanied tour groups acting as guide and all-around logistics technician. He was Cortez’s best, and most requested guide. His understanding of Malagasy history and culture was comprehensive, as was his knowledge of Madagascar’s natural history. He was expert at imparting information in a humble fashion, and would still become excited at sighting a bird or lemur species that he must have seen a hundred times before. Most notably, Didi was simply charming – I never knew a tour group member that did not absolutely love Didi by the end of their time with him.
I have worked other tours with Didi, but Andrea and I both first worked with him on the Duke Alumni Travel tour in 2007. At the end of the tour, we were so impressed with his all around abilities that we presented Didi with the challenge of leading an ecotourism workshop at Ivoloina. He of course jumped at the opportunity because he cared so much about tourism done properly, and about Madagascar. He even offered to do it on his own vacation time – that is the kind of guy Didi was (Cortez saw to it that he was on work time!). When the idea was presented to our tour participants, they were so enthusiastic about Didi that they all chipped in and completely funded the workshop. The workshop, led by Didi, took place at Ivoloina in 2008 and was a great success. MFG Program Manager at the time, Karen Freeman had this to say about Didi at the workshop “As you say, always so charming and he really cared about Madagascar and its people. I was so impressed with his training session on how to cherish the Malagasy culture and share little bits of it as a gift to the tourists. He really was one of the best ambassadors for Madagascar that I ever came across.”
So, to you Didi, on behalf of all the people who now have a better understanding of Madagascar and its people, thank you for sharing yourself. You have touched our lives immeasurably, and we will never forget you. You were the best possible ambassador.
Our deepest most heart felt condolences to Didi’s family.
Didi collapsed and died on 17 May, 2009 while snorkeling with a tourist group near Nosy Be, off the NW coast of Madagascar.
If you would like to honor Didi's memory, you can make a gift to Duke Lemur Center by going to the Lemur Center website.. When making your on-line gift, be sure to designate the gift for the Duke Lemur Center in memory of Didi. This site will also explain how and where to send a check, if you prefer.
To honor Didi's life and extraordinary excellence as an Eco-tour guide, the funds will be used to continue to develop eco-tourism in Madagascar.