Saturday, December 19, 2009

"We Have To Go Back To The Island" -Jack Sheperd

It's been over a month since my return to Madagascar, and I've been at my new site, Ambanja, for three weeks now. Going from the highlands to the Northwest coast has been a big change. The most prevelant difference is the heat. I hardly ever left the house without a jacket in Anjozorobe, but in Ambanja, turning over in bed is enough to trigger a new sweat down pour. Other differences include increased insect size (particularly roaches), increased insects with ablity to fly (particularly roaches), exellent proximity to the beach, flora and fauna are more tropical, less catholics and more muslims, my site is a big city instead of a village, etc. It might as well be another country.
This time I am teaching 10th grade English instead of first year English to 10 year olds. This is a huge positive for me. My students can ask questions and speak good french. It's amazing how much more you can accomplish when you can understand each other. Also, in my opinion, it's much more meaningful to have a native speaking teacher at this level. The principal speaks almost fluent English, and he is hilarious. This eliminates a lot of the stress that I had in Anjozorobe. Overall, Ambanja is wildly superior to Anjozorobe... at least to me, every site has its pros and cons.
After less than three weeks at site, I've taught two weeks, given and graded 375 tests, and gone to the beach twice. It's a 20 minute drive in a taxi. It's a tropical paradise with white sand, crystal clear blue water in the middle of the moutainous rain forest. (Google image search: Ankify Madagascar) Last weekend, Amy and Chris-heijn (the married couple who transfered here after their evacuation from Guinea this fall) came to Ambanja (it's their banking town). They are an amazing couple, and I feel lucky to live in their banking town! We went to Ankify for the day, ate fresh crab and shrimp on a balcony that overlooks the beach, and swam in the warm calm waters of the Mozambique channel. The possiblity of a day trip to this picturesque beach is a hughlight of my new site.
If you google Ambanja, you'll get a lot of entries about the pqnther chamelion. Theyre pretty rad... the other morning I spotted a big one outside my window on my fence. My house is next to the elementary school, and the school yard was full of kids, but I decided to stick my head out the window to take pictures anyway. I caught it using its long sticky tounge to eat a bug on video! All the kids noticed me and ran over to see me and then realized what I was doing. Malagasy people are terrified of chamelions, so the kids started freaking out. I inadvertantly drew attention to the creature, so I felt responsible for its well being (people tend to kill things that scare them). I stayed and watch it (they're so cool!) until class started and all the kids were safely inside. I moved it to a tree it could climb and be safely out of reach. While it was on my fence it was as brown as the sticks, but as soon as it was on the tree in the sun, it turned all kinds of greens and blues. (It should be noted, however, that according to Malagasy stories, I'm going to die as a result of touching it. I tried not to let anyone see me move it to avoid them thinking I'm insane).
Later, my friend Carlos came over. He's pretty good at English, and I've been helping him prepare for university study. We discuessed the chamelion issue. He says that Malagasy people are afraid of them because of their "form." I don't understand being so afraid of anything that's so slow. I explained to him that I thought roaches, spiders, and rats are scary, but I'm not afraid of chamelions -even saying "chamelions" to Carlos made him recoil and gasp- but he laughed at me when I made a face with the word "roaches"... oh cultural exchange. Speaking of cultural exchange... he wanted me to transcribe the lyrics to the Akon song "Beautiful"... look up the lyrics if you want to imagine how funny that was.
I spend a lot of time with a Malagasy family that lives down the street. It's a mom, and her daughters (17, 19 and 22 years old I think). They have been amazingly helpful and are good at speaking slow, clear Malagasy with me. I eat dinner with them a lot. They are so nice!
I got my first letter this week (thanks JEN!) It only took 2 weeks!
It's Christmas vacation time now! grades are done and turned it, and I'm waiting for a taxi brousse to Ankarana national park- we are determined to see some freaking lemurs. Then Amy, Chris-heijn and I are meeting up with two other volunteers in Diego. It will be amazing.

please excuse the rampant spelling errors... the computer only wants to spell check them to french...

Happy holidays!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Round 2

Please check back soon to hear about my adventures in my second round as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


So... I suppose I ought to write a blog explaining the political situation and the Peace Corps 'consolidation' experience.

Firstly, the people here have a serious problem with the president (Marc -last name a long unnecessary detail, has been president since the disputed election of 2002). He is the 'richest person in Madagascar' and it often seems that his policy making is geared more towards increasing his wealth than improving the country. So there is already general discontent with the president. Enter Andry, the mayor of Tana. He declared himself president and fanned the fires of anti-Marc sentiment. At the end of January, there were angry mobs in Tana and in other cities around the country who looted and burned the stores and distribution centers of the president's company, Magro. The death toll in these events are disputed (20-80? I've read lots of conflicting reports). Andry doesn't seem to have a whole lot of support, and most people outside of Tana have never heard of him. He's relying on people disliking Marc. Events have continued, but the most notable one was a few Saturdays ago when Andry's supporters marched to the presidential palace for a takeover and 20ish people were shot and killed by the soldiers/guards/mercenaries (no one really knows who). This insighted a lot of anger among the people. Things haven't “gotten better” but it's not been very violent. Ok, so that's a very watered down simplistic version.

So, where was I for all of this?

The Peace Corps called me to have me 'consolidated' on the 30th of January after all of the looting and burning and expressions of violence. Banks were short on money and it was impossible to buy phone credit thus making me unable to contact them in an emergency. I went to Tana on the 31st where 30 other people were already consolidated. There were too many people to stay at the Peace Corps house in Tana, so were all moved to the training center at Lake Mantasoa (equipped for about 100 people). Other groups from different regions met us there. At first there were 46 PCVs there but by the end there were 80 something. It was intense.

Think about what would happen if you took that many Americans who live out in isolated villages and rarely speak English and rarely socialize with one (let alone 80) other Americans. Mantasoa has room with 2-6 beds. We are served 3 meals a day in a dining room. There are volleyball and basketball courts, canoing, and board games. It could have been really fun, but we were all going insane wondering if and when we'd be evacuated or go back to site. The tension of uncertainty was palpable. I could really go on and on about the atmosphere, events, nonevents, and parties of those 17 excruciating days, but I won't.

Except to say that my birthday was a weird day... it was consolidation day 7 and everyone was getting pretty stir crazy and social tension was high. We had my Birthday Dance Party for Peace (whoever dances the longest cares about peace the most... I think I won). I watched a lot of Lost season 4. They made me a birthday cake. It was probably the weirdest birthday of my life.

So, instead of rambling on trying to explain something that doesn't make sense in the first place, I'll leave you with my favorite quote from consolidation. (I'm keeping a book of quotes that people say that make everyone laugh so we can read them later and laugh again)

"Live everyday like you'll be evacuated tomorrow!" -Beth

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Heading to Mantasoa

So... I dont have time to post all the details of what's going on here (also, we dont exactly know all the details of what's going on here), so I'll just explain what's going on with me and you can do your own research if you're interested in the politics of a somewhat obscure Indian Ocean island nation.

I'm in Tana today... I'll be here for less than 24 hours. In a few hours they will be sending us to Lake Mantasoa (yes!) where we will be spending time having no clue what's going on, but enjoying volley games, Gaby's cooking, canoing, fooseball, and the like.

We don't know how long we will be there. It depends on what happens with the scheduled demonstrations today and how long it takes for the government to change over or relegitimize, because, again, we really have no clue what will happen or how long it will take. It's driving some people mad, but I'm just hanging out and relaxing. Apparently I'm quite good at just waiting...

So, I'm safe, I'm with friends, but we ain't got a clue what's going on.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Neighbors and Roommates

This is a pied crow. They have a nest on my roof and the babies sound like squeaky toys starting at about 5am. These guys are noisy in general, and I see them all the time.

These spiders are all over my yard and porch (and the rest of the town). They make huge webs, usually high up. They are gianormous. They aren't scary because they don't come inside and I've never seen one not on its web, but if I ever saw one in my house, I would have to get assistance. Sorry there's no size reference, but they are about the size of my whole hand. I watched one catch a dragonfly the other day. Sometimes my yard feels like an episode of wild kingdom. There are spiders, frogs, (BIG) grasshoppers, geckos, and all different kinds of bug life. I watch them hunt eachother. It's more interesting than staring at the wall...
Ok... I'll have to add the rest later... the internet is being painfully slow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brousses, Beaches, and Pools, Oh My!


It was a busy and fun December. In Service Training was utterly pointless on a 'training' level, but it was really nice to get together with all my stagemates and catch up. Mantasoa was lovely as usual. We had bonfires, played (drinking) games, watched movies, ate free food, complained about our lives, etc. We managed to make it downtown to Hotel de France most days we were in Tana to enjoy the giant delicious draft beers that aren't THB.

But the real story is of my travels...

Let us begin the sordid tale of the 'death brousse'... We (more specifically Kinsey, Brian, Megan, Lauren, Sarah, Lucy and I) went to the brousse station to begin our 2 and a half day journey to Antalaha... As usual, the brousse left 4 hours after it was 'scheduled' to leave. We were crammed in to our unbearably close row. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love these kids, but it was way too hot to cozy up like that for >2.5 days straight. There was so little room that we all couldn't rest with our backs against the back of the seat at the same time. 'Sleeping' was an interesting procedure. The first leg of the trip (which is all on a paved road and usually takes 17 hours) took over 24. the second leg of the trip is on a dirt (aka mud) road (or road road if you speak Malagasy- warning to friends and family at home, we will continue to do this... i have dreams I'm back at home speaking Malagasy and no one understands me and I don't understand why). Some know this stretch of road as 'the trail of tears'. We stopped for gas in Ambanja, which is Sarah's site. It was pouring rain, and had been for hours, which made the prospects of the trail of tears ever more frightening (they make you get out and walk if the brousse gets stuck in the mud... i've seen pictures). We asked the drivers how much longer they expected the trip to be; one said we'd arrive in the morning (ha) and the other said maybe 2 or 3 days. We consulted our fellow passengers and none of them expected it to take less than 2 or 3 days. We started talking about jumping ship and staying in Ambanja and going North to Diego instead (Diego was plan B anyway, and we'd have a free place to stay in Ambanja). Mad props to Brian for decisiveness and getting us the hell off that brousse. It was raining as they got our bags from the top of the brousse... but we were missing Sarah's bag. After looking for over an hour, they called the station in Tana who informed us that the bag was left there. Poor Sarah! Worst brousse company ever.

We stayed in Ambanja for 2 nights. It's a pretty big town and very different from Anjozorobe. Sarah's Gasy friend let some of us stay at her house and even cooked up crab dinner and hosted a dance party, ha ha.

Then we set off to Diego! It was only a few hours from Sarah's site and there were some other Peace Corps Volunteers (John, Travis, and Adam, who were some of our trainers back in the day, and Adam's girlfriend, Erin). Diego is very touristy. It was weird to walk down the street and see more vazahs than gasys, but it was a magical play land on resturants and nightclubs. It was expensive, but worth every penny. We stayed in 3 different hotels over the week we were there, and ate a lot of delicious vazah food.

On our first full day, we set out to swim in Sugar Loaf, a little mountain in the bay. It looked a lot closer than it was. We started out pretty late, and I hadn't had lunch. Only Travis and John actually made it to Sugar Loaf, but they didn't make it back to shore until dark.

This is Sugar Loaf from as seen from our boat to Emerald Isle

The next day was Christmas, which was probably one of my favorite days here so far...
We took a fishing boat to Emerald Isle for the day. Our guides caught our lunch on the way. It was a beautiful ride. The water is a magical Emerald color and you could see to the bottom most of the way. The water was luxuriously warm, and there were no waves, so it made for very comfortable swimming. (You can stand up to your chest and still have a beer without the waves making you spill, nice). For lunch we feasted on coco rice and fish and did not wait 30 minutes before returning to the water. We did a bit of snorkeling in the reefs. I was swimming towards a dark area in the water which I thought was a reef until I slammed headfirst into the boat that was creating the shadow. That's right, I hit a boat while snorkeling. It took me half a second to figure out what the hell happened (I wasn't immediately sure, ha ha), but when I looked up and started laughing, my friends realized what I did and started laughing at/with me. I bruised my head, ha ha. Our Gasy guides told us it was time to leave, but we protested until they relented and allowed us more time to play in the wonderful water of the Emerald Sea.

Arriving at Emerald Isle

After all the hard work we did on Christmas, we decided that we should spend the next day relaxing at the pool with a swim up bar. Peace Corps, the hardest job you'll ever love. We felt really out of place at this pool because it was mostly patronized by fancy, rich tourists and we're a bunch of dirty, loud American kids. The bar had Sex on the Beaches, which I was delighted to discover. They also served cold red wine here, which is strange because they don't usually serve cold beverages that you think should be cold, like water or soda (sometimes they ever serve it with a straw, “did i just drink cold red wine through a straw?” ha ha).

The next day we went to Amber Mountain National Park. It was really nice and rainy, cloudy and not hot = good, even if it means getting wet. The first trail we took was also a road, which was off putting. Every time a car came we had to get out of the way and gave up hopes of seeing any animals for a while. The trail/road was very muddy and our guide was painfully slow. It was a successful trip overall, though. We saw a group of wild lemurs, some sweet geckos and chameleons (including the smallest), and a giant millipede and rolly polly. We hiked to some waterfalls and enjoyed the cool rain. Our return cab ride turned interesting after we hit a dog (it was ok) and later fishtailed back and forth across the road and finally coming to a stop in the brush on the side of the road... oh madagascar, mampiwonky.

We were supposed to leave the next day, but the prospects of another day spent at the pool and swimming up to a bar were too tempting, so we extended the Diego portion of our travels. Some of us even got lunch at the hotel restaurant, which was delicious, even if not completely identifiable.

The trip back to Tana wasn't too bad (after the death brousse for sure). We all had enough room to rest our back on the back of the seat at the same time. We made it from Diego to Tana in less time than it took to go from Tana to Ambanja (sorry, that doesn't sound meaningful without consulting a map, does it?)

By this time we were down to me, Kinsey, Brian and Megan as the others left earlier or were headed other places. We just stayed in Tana for the night, but that's the longest normal people can bare Tana.

New Years Eve day, Brian, Megan and I headed to Tamatave on the East coast. We stayed in a hostel and met up with a few other friends who were passing through (including Mika of Mika and Davis... that's right, PCVs roll with pop stars). After pregaming for New Years with THBs on the beach, we went to an air conditioned Chinese restaurant. We were all beat, and we didn't think we were going to make it to midnight, but somehow we managed to stay awake long enough to go to a bar and have a beer as the year changed over. The bar was weird... it was almost completely empty, but was playing Nelly Furtado, decorated and painted nicely, and the bartender was wearing a James Cavaliers jersey. It seemed more like Ohio than Madagascar (except if we were in Ohio, I would have been drinking Red Stripe instead of THB). We finished our drink (we didn't even have our own, we shared one, we're so lame) and were back at the hostel by 12:20. That's the latest I've stayed up in a long, long time.

New Years day was awful. We went to the amazing vary sasoa place, but it was closed! I'd been sick (like, stomach sick) off and on for... oh, about 6 months, but I felt worse than normal. Also, Tamatave is freaking hot! I was suffering from mild heat stroke and bacterial diarrhea. I took a long nap, but still wanted to have fun. There was a big party down by the beach and I really wanted to go. I didn't manage to stay long and returned to the hostel. On my return trip, I was attacked by 6 puppies (don't laugh, it was scary and I didn't know how to defend myself from puppies. I had to kick them. It was awful!) Brian, Megan and I went to a nice restaurant for dinner, but I couldn't force myself to eat (so i had ice cream for dinner, which was also what i had to breakfast).

My travel companions left the next day, but I wasn't feeling good enough to try an 8 hour brousse, so I stayed in Tamatave an extra day. It turns out I could have gone (I started my cipro treatment the night before... cipro is my new favorite medicine). I felt fine all day, but staying worked out because I had a good time with Michelle and Jordan from my stage. They were passing through on their way home from their vacation, so we got to share our adventure stories; plus who doesn't love Jordan and Michelle? I even got to have that wonderful vary sasoa since it was closed everyday until the day I left, score!
I traveled from Tamatave to Anjozorobe in one day which seemed trivial compared to our other treks of vacation.

It was a great trip. I'd never be able to afford that vacation were I not a volunteer (that doesn't make sense, but it does). We got dirty, sweaty and gross; we got tipsy at the pool bar; we ate great food; we saw beautiful beaches and rain forest; we laughed. Life is good. (6 weeks until next vacation...!)
Tsara ny vacanes, fa mbola mampawonky i madigaskara!

(January 5th)
Now I'm back in Anjozorobe. My house made it ok without me for the 22 days I was gone. All of the buckets I left out to collect water from the leaky roof were full, and the spiders had some serious parties. I have a renewed appreciation for my site, though. I've seen 8 other sites, all of which I like better than mine, but I think my site it good for me. The others are good to visit and mine is a good place for me to live. The climate is good, it's close enough to Tana that I can travel around easily, everything is cheap. Sure, I can't buy ice cream and there are no restaurants or stores, but maybe that's a good thing.

Friday, January 2, 2009

so i wrote a nice long blog

... and saved it on my computer...
now my office program isn't working...
it was like 4 pages long and i don't feel like rewriting it while im paying for internet, so you'll have to wait for my vacation stories until im in tana on the 20th to celebrate our new president :)
here is the 4 pages in three words: vacation was great.