Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tales From the Bay of Sakalava

Holiday greetings and all that jazz. This was my third Christmas in Diego. If you had told me the first time that I'd be here for the following two Christmases, I'd have told you that you were crazy. Oh well, Diego-Suarez, Madagascar- not a terrible place to spend three sequential Jesus's birthday celebrations.

This year a few other volunteers came up for vacation. Just staycation for me. But then I didn't have to have a horrible brousse-ride across the country. The four of us had a great week here in the DieGo... eating seafood, lounging by the pool, riding out to the beach, cooking American foods, watching a lot of Modern Family and bootleg movies, etc. But on one very special day, we took a boat to Emerald Isle. Which normally looks like this:

But on this day it looked like this:

The weather wasn't ideal. It was the only day that it wasn't perfectly sunny since the others arrived, go figure). The way out was pretty rough. Not scary rough... but almost scary rough... rough enough to be exciting without being perilous.
Due to either some sort of miscommunication or laziness or straight up fetsiness (what's the english word... shady/dishonest/cheating) the boat guys didn't bring any food for us. Normally they bring food and cook an amazing meal of fish and coconut rice and cucumber salad. It's normally amazing. Normally. (Wait, sorry, maybe I should back up. You have to take a boat from Diego to Emerald Isle. It's one of the most popular outings for tourists in Diego. The boat ride takes about two hours one way. It's a beautiful ride. The water is emerald and you can see straight to the bottom. Breathtaking. There are no stores or anything there, just groups of tourists and their boats.) So our boat guys were cooking, and then I saw them eating rice, but we were still waiting for lunch. I've done this trip a few times now, and I've never had to ask for them to cook or order food or anything. I went over to ask about the food, and they shrugged and said there wasn't any. Well, I ask them, why don't we have food since they always cook and we're paying the normal price and everything was the same as it had always been. They just shrug.
I go back to my friends and tell them that there is no food for us. So, since the weather wasn't that great anyways, we decided we should just go back and order pizza (because we can do that here). So we ask the boat guys to take us back, and they say fine. I asked them about the tide, since normally you have to go in the morning and come back in the afternoon because that's when the tide allows travel. They said it would be ok.
Now the sea was more rough. (No worries, we wearing life vests and all of those good safety procedures were in line). Still not scary, only hilarious. We kept getting nailed by waves. Every few seconds it was as if someone was pouring buckets of warm beautiful sea water on us. Luckily we were all in lovely moods (albeit hungry) and found the proceedings to be amusing rather than upsetting. The boat guys covered themselves with tarps. They're no fun.
Well it turns out they were liars about lunch and liars about the tide. The water was too shallow to allow us passage. They got out and started pushing the boat. Then they made us get out and help push the boat. Then it was clear that we weren't going anywhere, so the boat guys got back in the boat and went to sleep. They went to sleep. We were just standing in the bay (the water was about to our calves and warmer than the air). We were happy to stand around and laugh and had a good time, shared some secrets, got to know each other. Then the other boats who had been out on Emerald Isle started to appear on the horizon. We had been standing there for over an hour. We tried to rouse our sleeping boatmen to let them know that the other boats are going; therefore, we should also be able to go. All of the other boats passed us. We left first, sat out in the low tide for almost two hours, and then were passed by the other groups of tourists. Maddening. And they had also eaten. We needed rice (or pizza, whatever, rice = food).
Finally, upon our return to dry land, we insisted that we get a discount on our trip since we didn't get lunch and that we left first, had to push the boat, the boatmen napped, and we still arrived last. Well, the fetsy boat guys would have none of this. After arguing and being man-handled by these boat guys (who denied sleeping in the boat to their boss), it was clear that we could either pay, or be beaten by scrawny lying men (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean). So, we paid. But I made it clear that they will never have business from Peace Corps volunteers again. There are other boats and other boat guys.
Then we ordered pizza and went out to karaoke... a good end to a good day.
All and all, it was a hilarious day of fun on the sea... though we totally got ripped off. Another lesson learned... even if you have a system with people where you get the same deal for the same price, you must always go over the details. No casual planning. I love it here, but sometimes people rip you off because they know that you'd rather throw money at the problem instead of fighting with them. We were worn down by hunger. My need for rice supersedes my need for justice.

Down to my last weeks here in wonderful, beautiful Diego. I love it here, but I'm somehow ready to move on.

Here is a map of the bay if you're interested. It's the second biggest bay in the world. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/islands_oceans_poles/diego-suarez_76.jpg

Also here is this picture of the market (aka the mall) in Diego. Woo! Diego! Ya! (Sorry, I just drank coffee which I rarely do here.


Happy New Year! Here's hoping that 2011 is half as awesome as 2010!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're all stocked up here

There are a lot of crazy people who call Diego home. Everytime you hit the streets, you never know what could happen. Sure, there were crazy people in Ambanja too, but they were altogether subdued compared to who roams the streets here. It's as if someone goes around Ambanja distributing mental health drugs to all of the crazies. I don't mean to make fun of crazy people. I understand that it's a social/health care issue here. There aren't services for mental health. A lot of these people are quite sick and their conditions could be easily controlled with simple medications. But they aren't. So sometimes walking around town can be interesting.
Here is what to look out for if you find yourself wandering around Diego-Suarez / Antsiranana, Madagascar:
There's this dude who stands or sits on the sidewalk on the main street with his arms slightly open at his sides. He stares up into space with his eyes half open. I see him in different locations around the main street, but I've never seen him in motion. It's curious. But he is harmless, so no worries. I'm told that he over uses a drug called "cot"... Cot is a leaf that people chew. It supposedly has effects that are similar to cocaine. (I tried it once. I started chewing a few leaves... they taste like leaves... and then I spit them out. You have to chew A LOT of them and for a long time. It's gross. A lot of guys walk around with their mouths full of it... but I digress).
There's a guy who walks around wearing very dirty and tattered clothes. He sometimes yells absuses, but not necessarily at you or any specific person, but it can be startling.
But there's one who takes the proverbial cake. Previous volunteers referred to her as "Bottle Lady" but I haven't really ever seen her with bottles, but I will continue to use the name for continuity's sake. She's quite frightening. Her regular haunt is the food market, which makes a venture to the "grocery store" potentially perilous. According to my students, she doesn't like white people, and she can small fear. When I was talking about how I'm afraid of her with my class, some of them were laughing so hard that they were crying; not funny. If you are white and you are scared, she will target you. And if you're white, you SHOULD be scared because she punches white people. She's punched me, wiped stuff on me, pinched me, all to varying degrees of severity. But sometimes when she punches you (usually in the arm) it really hurts! She's also often seen running through the streets. Other Malagasy people know she's crazy and yell at her or chase her away. I've seen her running fullspeed down the street being chased by someone with a stick. I assume that she commited some sin against him. She looks like she should live under a bridge and control the passage of billygoats. The last time I went to the market, though, she was apparently in a good mood, and she merely patted my arm as I went by. All the Malagasy people who live here know that she's crazy, and they laugh when she "acts out". She changes her clothes and is quite fat; someone must be clothing and feeding her. Does she go home to a family at night who feeds and cares for her after she terrorizes the streets all day? I'm very curious about all things Bottle Lady, but I am very afraid of her.


There she is. I didn't take this picture. I am far too fearful of her to purposefully get close enough for photographs. I found this picture on the volunteer computer at the Diego transit house. She's gained a lot of weight since this picture was taken.

There are a lot of other crazy people too. If you're looking out for crazy people, keep these guidelines in mind:
Crazy people don't wear shoes. Not everyone who isn't wearing shoes is crazy, but no one who IS wearing shoes is crazy. Note: plastic bags tied around your feet aren't shoes.
Crazy people don't walk in straight lines. Drunk people don't walk in straight lines. Sometimes a suspected crazy person is just drunk. But some crazy people are also drunk. It's best to avoid anyone isn't walking in a striaght line.
Crazy people yell. Drunk people yell. Sometimes a crazy person is drunk and then they yell a lot. It's best to avoid anyone who yells.
Crazy people are sometimes nice. Bottle Lady is not nice.

*Disclaimer* I don't find mental illness funny. I understand that it's a serious issue. I'm not trying to make fun of people who have mental illnesses. I just wanted to share some of what makes Diego an unpredictable place to live.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Visit to Ambanja

Just passed the "three-months-til-I'm-home" date. CrAzY!
I would be more sad, but it's bloody hot here in Diego, but not nearly as hot as it is in Ambanja, were I spent last week.

I moved to Diego from Ambanja at the beginning of July, and having no structured work left here in Diego, I thought it prudent to head back to Ambanja finally. I spent a few days visiting classes with another English teacher who I collaborated with before. I went with him to all of his classes, and his students asked me questions to practice speaking English with a native speaker. (Read: they stared at me and murmured to themselves for 20 minutes until someone was brave enough to volunteer to ask me how old I am and if I am married. Those are always the first two questions. Who cares?! Ask me if I like to eat rice! Ask me what Malagasy music I like! Something interesting!) They were so strangely shy after they yelled harassments at me while I was waiting outside for the teacher to arrive. Seriously, I'm standing outside and there are ten boys yelling abuses at me from the second floor. As soon as I arrive in the classroom, no one has anything to say. Teenagers. Repeat this process several times over the course of a few days. Oh boy.
Visiting with my old classes, however, was lovely. While I was walking to school, they all greeted me (i.e. "Good morning Miss Dorothy!" "Good afternoon Felix!"). They were very nice and welcoming and on their best behavoir for my visit. Then all of the students knew I was in Ambanja, so they passed by my old house and wanted to chat. It was nice.
You know what else is nice? Fine French cuisine for Thanksgiving dinner, that's nice. We (myself and 6 other volunteers) went out to eat at the nice restaurant in Ambanja for Thanksgiving. We went around the table and cheered to what we were thankful for and had a jolly good time. It was my third Thanksgiving in Madagascar, and I like shrimp better than turkey anyways.
We also went to the beach. We ordered a private taxi-brousse and went to the beach that's outside Ambanja. We brought along some of out Malagasy pals, including my friend who is 8 and a half months pregnant! One can't ask for more than a beautiful day at Ankify with good friends and sun. (Maybe a little too much sun).
I stayed with "Momma Peace Corps" who you should remember from tales over the last year. She's always there and ready to provide whatever volunteers need. From a lunch for 10 of rice and beans to a mosquito netted bed to sleep in, she's got you covered.
There are a lot of volunteers around Ambanja now that PC Madagascar has been reopened for a year. Back in my day it was just me, and then eventually Katie, and we had to walk 4k uphill both ways. But now there are Americans all over the place! My replacement in Ambanja, Josh, is carrying on all the keeping of realness. It was werid though to not only be the only person there from my orginal group of volunteers, but now that Brittany and Corie are gone, I was the only one who reinstated too. Time flies when you're sweating your flesh off. Man I miss Brittany and Corie (and all my stagemates). The new people are rad as hell, but I really miss the Tamatave crew, my stage, and all the other reinstaters!
I really like Ambanja, I've missed parts of it here from Diego, but what I didn't miss the most is the heat. It's only 237k South of here, but it's much more tropical (read: humid) and doesn't have the bay breeze. I had my good old friend Heat Rash back after being there for a couple of days.
Now I'm here in Diego, working on graduate school paperwork, being crafty (making a purse from frippe clothes that I don't want to take home, PBN, coloring book) until I can find some teachers who will let their students ask me how old I am and if I'm married.

For all of your Madagascar chocolate needs, check this out. It's a chocolate company run by two RPCVs from Madagascar. Everything is organic and fair trade and all that hippy stuff, so eat chocolate and feel good about supporting the cocoa growers of Ambanja. http://www.madecasse.com/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Weeks Worth of Rambling...

For having two weeks of nothing to do, I've been pretty busy. Today is the first day that I am uncomfortably bored (hence I am writing a blog), though one should note that my tolerance for boredom is impressively high.
After the last day of teaching, Kinsey, Corie, Brittany, Katie and I set out on a day trip to explore the wonders of The North, guided by our very own Superman (that's what we call Kamar, the Chef de Diego). We went to the tsingy rouge which is about 40k south of Diego. I've discussed tsingy rocks before, eloquently lamented against them at length, spit on their name and spirit, cursed them as the most vile of all geological phenomenon, and the like; however, I have different feelings about the red tsingy. Why? Well, their virtue lies simply in their redness. They're not just 'stupid pointy rocks'; they're stupid pointy RED rocks. Red makes all the difference. The drive was lovely, as was the company, and the private car far superior to traveling by taxi brousse. Here are some pictures:


Then we headed to the sacred lake of Anivorano. The legend goes that a traveler was making his way through the village of Anivorano, and he stopped to ask for water from the villagers. They all rejected his pleas, which goes against most cultures' tendency to care for visitors. Thus the parched nomad cursed the people, and transformed them into crocodiles. The ancestors of these crocodiles still call the lake home. Every so often (there's a schedule, I just don't know it), the people sacrifice cows for the crocodiles of the lake. This makes it quite easy to coax the crocodiles out of the water. Simply clap your hands and sing like they do when there's a sacrificial dead cow waiting on shore, and they come creeping out of the water like pavolves dog. What we were wondering, though, was how they would react when they come out of the water expecting a free dead cow, and found only delicious humans standing idly by with their cameras ready. Unfortunately, we didn't exactly get to find out. One crocodile came up to the edge of the water, but apparently didn't smell bleeding cow and wasn't fooled. We also saw a little baby chilling under the reeds at the edge of the lake.
That night, there was a party for Kinsey and I with the English since we had finished working with them. We sang karaoke, gave speeches, and it was really nice. They even gave up sweet presents.
The next morning Kinsey headed out of the town at dawn to go back to her site and left me to fend for myself. I had really grown accustomed to her multi-ingredients cooking, and all the other nice things that come with having Kinsey around (cooking being the most concrete).
Fret not, I was not alone. It was the weekend of the quarterly regional volunteer meeting. We took the opportunity to dominate the Grand Hotel pool (which is the nicest pool I've ever been to) with our loud American tendencies. For lunch, you can take a break from the cool water to eat fantastically amazing wonderful multiple course French cuisine. Life is calling, how far will you go?
That night, all of the volunteers headed over to the university for the English department's Halloween party. The 4th year students organized and threw the party. They had asked me about how to decorate and dress up for a Halloween party since it would be their first attempt at celebrating the holiday. They did an amazing job, including carving a jack-o-lantern out of a watermelon. For Halloween, I, as usual, dressed up as something convenient (i.e. something warm if it's cold out, something simple if I'm busy), and went as a tourist, equipped with a camera bag around my neck to capture all of the memories and light breathable hiking clothes (“performance gear”) which is good for going out dancing. It was a heck of a night.
The next day, we lost one of our own, as Corie flew to Tana to begin the process of Close of Service (COS), and is, as I type, in Chicago probably enjoying some food product which is slathered in delicious melty cheese. I'm next.
Fast forward a week or so (it was good and fun, just nothing interesting to report to the masses) (the masses being the 5 people who read this).
Last Tuesday, I headed down to Brittany's site, Anketrakabe, to enjoy some time in the countryside. Anketrakabe was lovely and welcoming as always. We completed the world map mural on the wall of the elementary school that Brittany started with her mom when her mom came to visit. It kept sprinkling for twenty minutes every other twenty minutes, which complicated matters a bit, but we were successful after all (even though I did take a nasty spill off the bench while trying to stencil out “Carte du Monde” on the wall... my leg is still swollen and it hurts to put pressure on it, but hey, anything is worth the hilarity of someone falling down).
As usual, we took all of our meals with Brittany's “family” which consists of her “mom”, two “sisters”, and two “brothers.” The older brother is now living in Diego so he can go to middle school thanks to funding provided by Brittany's sister's sorority. The other brother is adorably cute, and coming from me, that's saying something. The youngest girl is 2 and provides endless entertainment as most two year olds do when they aren't yours. Brittany's “mom” made us cookies, which was no small feat considering what we're working with. The eggs we got were too small to make the batter moist enough, so she added two additional goose eggs, which made the batter bright orange. Anketrakabe is a normal Malagasy village. There is no running water or electricity, so it's not like we're baking in an oven or nothing. We baked the cookies in a homemade oven on an open fire (let's go camping and I'll show you that trick). The first round came out as a shapeless mound of cookieness. It was delicious. There weren't even chocolate chips, just plain cookies. Seriously, some of the best cookies I've ever had in my life. Brittany's Malagasy family was welcoming and funny. They even dressed my falling wounds (I still had bruises from a falling incident the week prior) with ground curry root. My knee is still a little yellow.
I also taught an English lesson at Anketrakabe's new middle school. There's only one classroom / class. There are only 37 students (you know I've been here too long when I say “only 37”), and they were all behaved like perfect angels. We studied apologizing and sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (which is still stuck in my head, by the way). It had been a while since I had worked with little ones (they're about 12), and it was a lovely, refreshing experience.
So here I am, back in Diego, with nothing much structured to do. I'm making a purse out of all of the clothes I've accumulated that I don't want to carry across two oceans, a continent, around Morocco and Paris, etc. It's a good project. I've made myself available to the students at the English department, but most of them are gone for the summer or completing their job shadowing projects. When they're done with those I'll have plenty of work helping them with their reports.
So it's almost 3 months until I'm home. Don't forget about me. I have regular and good internet access... You can email me... don't be shy. I like to have breaks from working on my grad school applications. Oy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last Day of Working (possibly, potentially, ever...)

I write to you now as I should be in class teaching my last class with the third year students at the university. Unfortunately, none of them showed up for class. In keeping with always demonstrating the best of American culture, the last week of classes was devoted to fun, games, music, and movies (of course), and I was looking forward to it. As the minutes ticked by, I sat alone in front of the locked classroom philosophically contemplating all of the minutes I've spent in this country waiting in front of locked doors. Man am I good at waiting. I sent a few text messages, watched some cows while pondering the significance of truancy, and passed a half an hour without even realizing it. After 45 minutes I indignantly retired to my room.
If I wasn't flexible and easy going enough already, Madagascar entered new realms of requiring patience this week as the university is on strike. As a true and blue union girl, I didn't fancy “crossing the line” to teach, but my students had projects due and presentations to give, and I have nothing to do with the political cause at hand. Most of my students weren't interested in joining the strikers. (No, I can not explain who exactly is striking, and why exactly they are striking. The students have tried to explain it to me. The students in one department are on strike because some of the teachers are on strike because they didn't get paid? I think I am culturally unable to understand striking like this because it's such an alien idea to me. Could you imagine if all of the students at a university in the states decided to strike? Refused to attend classes and stood outside demonstrating? It just wouldn't happen – at least not these days.) So my classes went on as planned (sort of) in the beginning of the week. In one of my classes, the students didn't want to have class in the regular classroom because they didn't want the students who were striking to see them studying. We went to the English library, which wasn't open that early, so they gave their presentations in the hall outside the library. (Also can't imagine that happening in the states).
Don't get me wrong, I have loved teaching here at the university. The students have been great. The administration and other teachers have been great. I really can't complain. I'm just very disappointed to not have some of my final classes. I was saving up my best fun stuff for the end. And this is the end to my structured work in Madagascar. I will still be “working,” but this is my last week teaching in a classroom and having a schedule. I suppose it's a fitting end to two years of adapting to a very flexible work environment. I should have learned by now.
While we're on a down note... let's talk about some recent teaching failures.
Big fail: explaining “cooties.” Part of the last week fun included reading some Calvin and Hobbes, which was enjoyable for both me and the students, but also quite challenging. There was one where Hobbes was explaining to Calvin what it felt like to fall in love (which includes a lot of sweat and eventual brain failure), and Calvin says that that's happened to him before but that he thought it was cooties, not love. Boy it's really hard to explain an imaginary disease which can sound a lot like an STD... I'm pretty sure they thought I was talking about chlamydia or something.
I gave up before I could fail: explaining the difference between “like,” “as,” “as such,” and “as...as”. Man, that is really hard. I was using the internet to help make a worksheet/guide to the differences (they use all of them as if they always mean “for example”). The internet wasn't even able to provide the answers (look up the definition for 'as' and think about how you can explain it... jeez!). After over an hour of working and reworking the explanation, I got really confused, and decided that it's not something that can be explained. Please let me know if you can shine a light on this mystery. At first it seems like you can use them interchangeably (besides 'as...as'), but you can't. Why is English so hard?
Even though English is really hard (success: explaining the difference between “even though,” “even if,” and “even”), teaching ESL is one of the most fun (funnest?) things I could think of teaching. No matter what you do, as long as it's in English, it's educational. For example, if you like Alicia Keys, and you think that your students will like Alicia Keys, give them the lyrics, talk about the lyrics, listen to the music and watch the music videos- there's a lesson! While teaching here at the university, I've used articles from Newsweek, Time, Rolling Stone, BBC, and CNN on a variety of topics from Obamacare to that chick who pulled the girl down by her ponytail in a college soccer game last year. We've read/translated/interpreted/listened to songs of Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna. We've watched Friends, Lost, Bowling for Columbine, Planet Earth. We've read Calvin and Hobbes, the poetry of Robert Frost, American documents like the “Bill of Rights”, and much much more (in addition to contextualized grammar/vocabulary/phonetics lessons). You can use literature, art, current events, popular culture, really anything, as classroom content. It sure beats teaching how to factor, solve for x, prove geometric theorems, etc as far as I'm concerned. I love the freedom and creativity it allows. A lot of my inspiration for what I do with my classes comes from my French teacher from Wright State. She would have whole class sessions where we watched funny popular videos on You Tube. As long as it's in the target language, it's good practice, and has value; even if it's something that would be a waste of time if you were doing it in your native language (again, You Tube). I'm glad I found something that I find challenging and rewarding and something I'm passionate about to do as a career so early in life. And here I get to do it with a beautiful white sand beach and lemurs down the street. I can gaze out of my classroom window to the distant mountains and the deeply blue bay (that is if you look past all of the mess of the dorms).
On a final note... This week I was watching Lost with one of my classes. The episode ended just as the class was over. I was just joking when I said, “so do you want to stay and watch the next episode? I don't have anything to do.” But none of them moved. They just sat there very quietly and seriously. So I asked again, serious this time, “Do you want to stay and watch the next episode?” And they nodded their heads gravely. I said “Ok, well, class is over, so you can go, but I don't mind to stay and watch another episode, so you can stay if you want.” Not one of them left. They all stayed for another episode after class was over. Lost is the best show ever.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vacation, Training, and Fosa, oh my!

Please excuse my prolonged absence from blog posting... I've been so delightfully busy these last... uh... 2 months?

First, let me recount a brief tale of my vacation. At the beginning of August, I went South of Tana (the capital) for the first time in my 20 months here. Finally. We (me and some friends from my original stage who came back together) enjoyed brief stays in Antsirabe and Miandrivazo before embarking on an 3 day canoe trip floating West of the ________ river. We camped 3 nights on the river bank on the way. It's not very far, but there's a pathetically weak current, and the boatmen can't be troubled to paddle any more than absolutely necessary.
After finishing the butt-numbing but otherwise pleasant floatacular, we stayed in some more quiet villages inthemiddleofnowhere (really, I've never felt so inthemiddleofnowhere in my life) on the way to the legendary tsingy park, Bemahara. For those of you who don't know (and why would you), tsingy (or what I like to call “stupid pointy rocks”) are sharp limestone rocks which resemble stalagmites that aren't in a cave... if you are, for some reason, interested in the science behind this geological phenomenon, direct your search elsewhere... rocks... you know how I feel about them. We hiked in the “grand tsingy” first and then hit up the “petite tsingy” later, decidedly making the latter outing quiet undramatic. I'll grudgingly admit that the park is pretty cool when you're not gripping onto impossibly sharp chunks of pointy limestone for dear life. Please see photos on Facebook.
After the river and rock portion of our adventure we finally arrived to the Tree Portion, the much anticipated pilgrimage to the baobab trees outside of Morondava. The image that you picture when you imagine Madagascar (if you ever find yourself doing such) is probably from this area. Rocks, blah; but trees, yes please. It was everything that I thought it could be since getting my invitation to Peace Corps Madagascar in March 2008. We watched the sunset and the sky turn purple in the forest of >500 year old water hoarding trees. Magical.
Finally, we returned to city life in Morondava, which is my favorite city that I've been to in Madagascar. It's right on the beach, there's amazing and affordable food (read: shrimp), and it's small enough to be enjoyed by foot. I seriously loved Morondava. Though I wouldn't want to be anywhere near there during the hot season.
Then we ventured to a private nature reserve, Kirindy, outside Morondava. It's home to lemurs galore, and the infamous singular carnivore of Madagascar, the fosa. According to guide books, fosa are allegedly very allusive, and a few days stay are recommended to get a chance to see one. We wanted to camp at the park, but were cautioned against it due to the possibility of “miattack” by fosa. We took a nap before heading out on our hike, and Kinsey woke us up claiming to have seen a fosa as she was fetching water from the pump. No one believed her, and we told her such, but she persisted, so we got out of bed. It was not a sun/hike induced hallucination; the fosa was snacking out of the garbage can. That night we saw another one (or the same one?) on our night hike in a more authentic setting. We also saw all kinds of lemurs being all adorable all over the place. I loved Kirindy!
What a fantastic vacation, river, rocks, trees, beach, fosa, lemurs... pretty much the iconic Madagascar experience. If you want to come and do it to, I will be your guide if you pay my way... haha.
The best way to end a vacation? Micommanding a taxi brousse back to the capital, 14 hours of excitement!
For the 3 weeks following vacation, my colleagues and I helped train the newly arrived volunteers in a training village outside the capital. By day we watched them practice teaching and lead sessions on how to survive teaching here for two years. By night we played Cranium and read to each other from a trashy novel around the fire. Meeting the new people was great, and strengthening the bonds of our 2+ year friendships was ever better (sorry new people). One of the new people is replacing me in Ambanja which is exciting. It's good to have the number of volunteers in country back to where it was before we were evacuated a year and a half ago.
Since then, I've been back enjoying life working at the university in Diego. It's really a dream come true. I'm getting a good preview of what I'm planning to do with the rest of my life, and loving it. It sure is windy here, and there are a lot more critters in my house than I'd prefer (no more rats though). The wind is so strong that it whips the dirt around, smacking into your face/eyes/any exposed flesh. It hurts dude. But aside from that, I love being in Diego and seeing other Peace Corps Volunteers all the time, speaking English in class, and tackling interesting topics (we spent a good hour talking about health care reform and Sarah Palin in one of my classes... I know, I'm a little late...). I asked my students what they thought Americans should do about the cost of health care and insurance, and they suggested that we strike, how French of them. I have an amazing amount of freedom with my course content, and having resources like the internet and a small library leave me free to be creative. We've been covering elementary but intensive topics like the difference between analzying and summarizing, and citing sources. I actually teach about 30 hours a week; it's like being a real teacher! I love it.
This week I'm headed back to the capital for Close of Service Conference, and it's the first time I've ever been not happy about leaving site to go to Tana.
Tsara velona.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Most Important Blog Ever: My Review of Lost's Sixth and Final Season

Ok, guys, here we go.

First, let's start with the big problems and get them out of the way...
In the season 5 finale, which I can't claim to know like I know seasons 1-3, but still, I watched The Incident many times to discuss its horribleness, Ilana says that Frank may be a candidate. Frank hears this, and asks what he's a candidate for, they don't answer him, and he never brings it up again in season 6. Frank's name was never in the cave or on the lighthouse dial. How could Ilana not know at that point who is and who is not a candidate? All through season 6 she seems quite certain (except for the Kwons). Not a huge snafu, but can only be interpreted as the writers didn't know who the candidates were at the end of season 5: Dislike.
I know this sounds picky, but it really bothers me. Why is the plane in the premiere a completely different plane from the pilot? It has different style of seats; it doesn't have that big Oceanic glass circle. Why not use the same kind plane? (Was this supposed to be a hint that it all wasn't "real"?...)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Naveen Andrews, who plays Sayid, is of Indian decent. Every other person who plays an Iraqi is Iraqi, including his brother. This looks ridiculous. The actors have obviously different ethnicity, but they are playing brothers. They could have at least found a half Indian, half Arab to play his brother so they might look something alike.
The Black Rock vs The Four Toed Statue: I really think that Taweret would have won that battle. The Black Rock is washed ashore on a big wave, hits that statue breaking it to pieces, but the ship goes on to land untainted in the jungle, far from the statue? There are way cooler ways to explain how the Black Rock got to the jungle and how the statue broke... I guess at that point they needed to hit two birds with one stone.
This brings me to another issue: Island geography. They laugh in the face of previously established geography rules all throughout season 6. They make journeys that previously took days in a matter of hours.
For 5 seasons, they adhered to a strict subtitling rule: if the people in the scene don't understand the language that's being spoken, we as the audience don't get subtitles. For example, if Sun and Jin are speaking to each other alone in Korean, we get subtitles, but if there are other people who don't speak Korean standing by, we don't. When Sun flips out at Richard for wanting to blow up the plane, suddenly we have subtitles, even though we shouldn't because no one understands what she's saying. Not only did they break the rule, they did it for no good reason. You don't need subtitles to understand the gist of it. Why would they throw out a rule with a 5 season long precedence so late in the game?
This also seems picky, but in the premiere, Kate's bathroom door is on backwards so that she can kick it open and knock out Edward Mars. Ok, that's fine, but you can see that the door has been turned around (all of the hinges are on the outside), but they are normal on all the other bathroom doors.
In "Across the Sea" we finally find out who Adam and Eve are, but then they cheapen it by flashing back to season 1 to show flight 815ers finding the bodies. Did we really need that? They never flash back to remind you why something is important. If you're a real Lost fan, you know about Adam and Eve.
Personally, I hated the temple and everything that happened there. It didn't have anything to do with anything, and it didn't explain anything. Feel free to contradict me because I'd like to like it, but I don't.
No one ever freaking told Claire that her mom was alive and well and taking care of Aaron.
Richard joins the ranks of Matthew Abaddon as someone who is better in mystery than in reality. He doesn't arrive on the island until 1867, which appeases those who had qualms with the dynamite on the Black Rock, but I thought we got over that 4 seasons ago. His back story just isn't that cool.
Everything with Libby was crap. She messed up Hurley's episode. I thought she was supposed to be gone for good. Stupid Libby.
In the second to last scene when all the people are in the church to "move on" it's really a Hodge podge group of people. There are a lot of 815ers absent and Penny is there even though she'd never been on the island. I just wonder the logic behind who is there and who isn't there.
Lastly, I am not satisfied with how the man in black became the smoke monster. While I concede that I don't know any proper way to make a black smoke monster, throwing a dude down a cave waterfall into light seems like one of the least cool ways.

Now, unanswered questions & things that should have happened, but didn't...
Food Drops! I know they touched on this in the Sri Lanka video, but they never explained why they are still getting food drops in 2004 and presumably after (Rose and Bernard have dharama food even in the finale.)
Nothing ever happened with Annie. She was introduced in Ben's first centric episode and it seemed like she had a big impact in his life... then she was never heard or discussed again. They really should have brought her back to help explain why Ben is the way that he is. They should have shown Annie being put into mortal peril by the wrongdoings of the Dharama Initiative thus inspiring Ben's contempt and later destruction of the DI people. I thought maybe they were holding off on this to let the actors become older so that when they did do the scene they'd be teenagers. I was wrong.
What's with the ash ring that stops the black smoke monster?
What's about Walt and his powers. This was such an interesting aspect of seasons 1&2. They never explained anything about it. What happened to Walt? How is he? I'm worried! There was so much drama behind getting him off the island, but then he's basically off the show. Was he too busy doing KFC commericals to make an appearance in the final season? I don't even remember them even mentioning him at all.
Sayid never discovered that Kelvin Inman, who made him a torcherer, was on the island and pressed the button for years. Why not have a 2 minute scene where he finds this out and understands that his whole life has been leading him to the island and that everything is connected?
We never saw Juliet with her sister off the island. They dedicate a lot of time and emotion to their relationship in previous seasons, and this relationship is always at the root of Juliet's motivation. They could have easily just thrown her in the concert scene (then David would have been with his aunts on both sides).
I'm sure people are tired of me harping about this... but Locke should have been Boone's dad. There was so much foreshadowing of this connection in season 1 (Locke sacrifices his son for the island, at one point he even calls him "son"). Boone's dad is never mentioned. They could have easily made that connection in season 6, and then they could have been together as father and son in the last scene of them moving on.
Who the hell is Jacob's mom? Seriously.
Who built the lighthouse, statue, and light plug thingie?
What exactly is the loop hole that allowed the man in black as Locke to kill Jocab?
What rules was Widmore breaking when he had Alex killed?
What's with Ethan? He's introduced as Ethan Rom in season 1. In season 5 we find out that he is the son of Horrace Goodspeed and in the Dharma Imitative (at least as a baby), but then he's with Ben when they take Alex from Danielle. Then in the flash sideways he's Ethan Goodspeed (which makes sense, but why throw that in at all if it's never explained?). Oh Ethan, you're so mysterious.
Lastly, I was really waiting for a line of dialogue between Jack and Sawyer in the finale about bygones being bygones.

Things that seemed important at the time, but never went anywhere:
Claire's baby's daddy, Thomas. Whatever happened with him? His painting is in the wall of Widmore's office, yet he never returned. I always thought he'd play a role in how things worked out.
The monk at Desmond's monastery has a picture of Eloise on his desk... I was waiting for him to come back and be a major player with Eloise.
Nothing ever comes of Aaron. He's such a big part of the characters motivations. I was always waiting for him to matter to the island, but I guess he's just a normal baby. Same with Clementine. While I'm glad they didn't do a second generation thing where all of the original survivors kids go back to the island, I wish they would have mentioned her.

Ok! Now- Stuff that I liked! (in no particular order)
I love all of the irony in the flash sideways (i.e. Ben gives his father oxygen instead of gassing him to death, Desmond finds Penny running in the stadium, Locke cripples his father, etc).
In the flash sideways, it seems like everything is either the same or opposite as it was before, but everyone still has the same problems. I like that. It's like either your the evil lying leader of "the others" or a high school history teacher, but your emotional problems are still the same.
I love that it's Desmond who figures it all out (with the help of Charlie and Daniel) and brings everyone together.
Hurley is the new Jacob. Thank goodness. He is also the only candidate who has never killed anyone (except in pure defense). He is "good."
Elosie is wearing pins that are like "the mark" that Juliet gets for killing Pickett. She has one for everyone that we've seen her kill.
Juliet is Jack's son's mom. Called it the second they showed that Jack had a son. I love being right.
Great casting for the Jacob/MIB flashback... the boys looked just like the adults and were good actors, and Allison Janney was great and creeptastic. I liked the boy in black's intrigue with the game on the beach.
I love the little things like Richard reading Luke 14 in his jail cell.
Desmond talks Sayid out of killing him. Desmond is that shit.
I love Sayid, Jin & Sun's death. It was well done. I like that Sayid died saving the others and that Jin & Sun died together after they reunite. (Is Kate going to raise Ji Yeon now? ha.)
I liked the freighter peoples role on the periphery. They didn't take up too much focus, but we got to see them again.
There were a lot of parallels in the finale to other important episodes (there were a lot of allusions to Man of Science, Man of Faith, Through the Lookings Glass, and the pilot of course.)
The Jack and "Locke" fight at the cliffs was pretty bad ass.
Jack and "Locke" ultimately end up working together to end everything, but they are expecting different outcomes. It was an interesting dichotomy to watch enemies working together to achieve a common goal while thinking that the other is dooming them self in the process.
When Jack fixes Locke in the flash sideways (which was... whatever) was the first time that Jack ever cared for Locke medically. Locke never went to Jack for medical help on the island, but in the flash sideways he fixes him. I like irony.

All and all, I liked season 6. Nothing can beat seasons 1, 2 & 3, but season 6 kicks seasons 4 & 5's asses. I could keep going and going with this, but I have a feeling that no one even made it this far.
There are a lot of issues here that need further analysis and discussion when I return.

Also, there should be a spin off sitcom of Hurley and Ben running the island.

Stay tuned for an epic vacation blog!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

No Title

The last week went by really fast... maybe because I was sucked into a Lost watching time warp...

Teaching at the university has been fantastic! The students are great, there are so many resources and I get to pretty much do whatever I want (like have them watch and analyze the language and cultural issues in the Lost pilot parts 1&2). On Friday night, we went to a birthday party for one of Kinsey's students. It was a good time. Everything about living in Diego and working at the university is amazing.

Now I'm in Tana and about to head out on an epic adventure of baobab trees and tsingy forests, floating down a river, and traveling across some of the worst national roads in country. It should be a grand time. I wish you were all here to go with us!

You'll have to wait for my Lost review... next time...

If you don't hear from me in the next two weeks, I was eaten by a crocodile.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wow, it's like really really windy man

Whoa, it's been a while, hasn't it? I've been all over the island and back in the past few weeks and haven't been without serious stimulation of some kind or another since the beginning of July. I will breifly chronical my passage.

I spent a few lovely days in Diego with some other PCVs who came up North for vacation. You may have seen photographic evidence of the ensuing fun on Facebook.

Then I hit the road out to Mahajunga to meet up with my long-lost stagemates, Beth and Brain, who showed me the town pcv style (that means we ate the best food in town).

After that, our Education 2008 trio left the toasty coastal excitement for the blustering cloudiness of the highlands, specifically the capital, Tana. A few days in Tana can do a body good (or bad... but either way, it's worth it). We hit up the best food spots and used the crap out of the internet.

Then on to everyone's favorite Winter Camp- Mantasoa, for a training of trainers (that's right, TOT) conference. It was fun to be really cold and shiver after moaning and moaning about the heat for the last 7 months. It was also great to reconnect with my stagemates. I haven't seen enough of them since returning here; I saw some of them more often when we were in America than I do now.

After a few more days enjoying the cuisine of Tana, Kinsey and I set sail (via airplane) to Diego to start teaching at the university.
Life in Diego... It's good.
We're living in the visiting teacher housing at the Univeristy of Antsiranana, which offers a breathtaking view of the Bay of Diego (the 2nd biggest bay in the world) and Sugar Loaf (see facebook). But in exchange for this, we have to endure constant high winds from the Indian Ocean that come across the bay. There will never be a good hair day in Diego. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom and a shared kitchen. Kinsey has been learning me up on Malagasy cooking. We also have little patios that have great views- but you can only sit there and read so long before your eyes are dried out from the constant wind.
I started teaching on Wednesday. I'm teaching 3rd and 4th year Academic Writing and 4th year Applied Linguistics and Teaching Methods. I'm teaching 28 hours/week not including movie club and conversation club hosted by the English department. It's nice to be busy and intellectually stimulated. I have a ton of resources (I can even make copies from time to time!). The students' English levels are great- they can understand controversial conversations and have extensive lexicons. At the end of my first class, I opened up discussion time for any questions they have. A student raised his hand without hesitation and asked "When can you use 'douchebag' and what is the difference between 'douchebag' and 'douche'?" They're fun.
Conversation club last night was... interesting. The topic was: Men in skirts. I don't know where they got this topic. A pair of students gave a presentation on the history of men wearing skirts/dresses, and then we discussed it. There's only so much that can be said, and two hours later, it definitely felt like we were beating a dead thing with a very big stick.
Our house also came with dogs. There must have been a long line of friendly foreigners who have fed these dogs. There are about 3 female dogs who keep close to the house and are very friendly and passive towards us. One of them runs over to us and lays down with her belly sticking up everytime she sees us.... I will feed and adore her, but I ain't touching that belly.

ANNOUNCEMENT!
Thanks so much to everyone who has sent me a package! (Specifically: Mom, Matt, Shannon, Fran, Peggy, Jane, Nina, Abbie, Fraser, Ben and Ronda). They are so great to get and mean a lot to me! However, the tax on them here in Diego is super expensive (of course it's worth it, but it's still expensive), so if you still want to send a package, send it to Tana:
Dorothy Mayne
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 12091
Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
101 Antananarivo
Madagascar

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Veloma Ambanja (Pictures!)


Here is me and my Malagasy family. "Mohammad," Liza, Momma Peace Corps, and Tsiky (hiding behind me in an uncharacteristic moment of shyness)

Quite an eventful week or so... how do I condense it into a readable, chronological, whimsical tale?
First of all, most of last week Momma Peace Corps was out of town, leaving her son, Tsiky, the dude whose name I have no idea how to spell (Mamoshad? Let's call him Mohammad), and me the run of the place. All of the neighbors were complaining about our loud rap music (Momma PC gots a nice sound system, and Tsiky and Mohammad like Snoop Dog and Dr Dre) and we sat around watching TV most of the time. Without a woman around (I don't count), we resorted to eating cold rice and papaya for dinner. On the eve before Independence day, we watched the celebration on TV instead of going to a celebration ourselves; we were being very American. First they showed a fireworks/laser light show in London, but Mohammad didn't realize that it wasn't Madagascar because he's never been to the capital. When they started the show in Madagascar, it was an obvious attempt to emulate the London version (and they showed that first to give you an idea of what it was supposed to be like?) But when they cut to the capital and started that show, Mohammad was like, “What?! This is Madagascar? Where was that before?” And I told him it was London. After thinking the London one was Madagascar, he was very disappointed in the actual show. I thought it was jolly good attempt, but the TV coverage of it was like a high school news project (the camera was set up behind a tree, so the fire works and laser light show were seen from behind the tree).
The next day, Independence Day, I was supposed to be in another freaking parade... I've already been in the School Days parade and the Women's Day parade, which make sense because I'm a teacher at the school and a woman, but why would I, as an installation of neocolonialism (that's right, I said it), be in the Independence Day parade? Plus I hate being in parades. Instead, I hung out at Momma Peace Corps house (she was back) and watched TV and cooked and ate like someone who is representing America should. When I arrived, Mohammad was just finishing killing the chicken, and Liza (my best friend in Ambanja) poured boiling water on its body ease the process of feather removal. She and I were pulling out feathers as I heard a distinct chicken chatter and jumped back from the lifeless, almost bald dead bird. Everyone laughed at me. There was another chicken under the table that was still alive that I didn’t realize was there.
Independence Day night was a drunken mess. Excuse me for generalizing, but when Malagasy people drink, they get DrUnK. Independence Day in Madagascar is renowned among volunteers as a day of avoiding drunken crowds and laying low after lunch. Not that Malagasy people are generally big drinkers, but if you drink one day of the year, it will be Independence Day. I spent the evening watching Malagasy music videos (look up “Chila” on youtube if you want to feel some of my suffering for yourself- Malagasy music is... uh... Thumper wouldn't say anything about it), dancing, and drinking. Everyone was getting good and hydrated, and I was thinking about heading home before it was “too late” but decided to stick around and gather some fodder for you fine people. Well, let me tell you, drunk dialing exists across cultures... Momma PC's boyfriend pulled me aside so that we could have a heart to heart, and he told me that he loves Momma PC but that she lies to him and it makes him sad. Then, in English, he says, “Ok, give me five,” and we continued our revelry. I did my part (goal 2) to teach them about American culture. When Momma PC's boyfriend passed out with his shoes on, I told them about how if someone passes out with their shoes on that gives everyone free license to mess with them. The next morning I taught them an English phrase: “the hair of the dog that bit me.” Cheers to 50 years Madagascar!

After having completed my grades, I was free to run about town and do as I please with no schedule or commitments. I spent all my evenings at Momma PC's house, where Tsiky pretended to cry whenever I walked into the room since I am finished working in Ambanja. I caught almost all of the World Cup games, even though I'm not happy with their outcomes in general. I had money (figuratively) on Brazil man.
It's sad to leave Ambanja, but how can I be sad to move to Diego? Everyone keeps telling me that they know I am not sad because I will live in Diego instead of Ambanja. They're right... here are a few things I won't miss about Ambanja:
Crossing the street. The big main road that goes from the capital to Diego runs through the middle of town, and crossing it can be perilous. I stand and wait for the rickshaws, bikes, cars, cabs, tractors, and taxi brousses to pass, so I can safely cross, but everyone slows down to stare at me or stops to try to pick me up.
Trying to get a room of 75 16-19 year olds to be quiet enough for me to talk.
Living in between the elementary school playground and the school board offices- loud adults and loud children. (Soon my backyard will be the bay of Diego... quite an improvement from a playground).

Things I will miss about Ambanja:
Momma Peace Corps and family, including Tsiky, Liza, Mohammad, Rosy, Momma PC's boyfriend, and all their neighbors. They are all wonderful people who have been largely responsible for my enjoyment of my time in Ambanja. She makes me pizza :)

(some of) My students. A bunch came by my house to pick up their tests and say goodbye. I got a French-English dictionary for one girl who comes by and constantly asks me to translate single words. I wrote in the inside cover “Study hard. Remember that nothing is impossible!” and she drew me a picture and wrote “Nothing that you desire in your heart is impossible” across the top. Weird. I've given them all of the magazines that y'all fine people have been kind enough to provide.
English club. I heart English club.

English Club... this turned in to quite the photo shoot. Everyone wanted to sit with me and make sure they looked good in every picture. Eventually I had to use the good old trusty "oh, look at that, the battery died" line. These kids are the future of this country, seriously.

On my last night in Ambanja, I had some unexpected guests at my going away party. A crew of PCVs (some of the coolest people on the island, possibly the world) I hadn’t seen since we were evacuated stayed in Ambanja on their way North to Diego. We all stayed at Momma Peace Corps house, and it was a fine time (even though was had to watch Brazil and Ghana lose!).
Now, in Diego, I just returned home from a Jerry Marcos concert. He’s my favorite Malagasy singer (which isn’t saying much, but whatever). It was intense. There was a huge crowd and a good time was had by all. I normally dread and despise Malagasy concerts (or any event with a crowd, to be honest), but this one was an awesome exception. We rolled 8 vazaha deep, and it was a blast.

Happy 4th of July stateside!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beating Algeria


Huzzah! I got a picture to load! This is me with my favorite class, as mentioned in the previous post. I'm going to miss the tabataba loatra little bastards.

I've had a great time watching the World Cup here. There are always people to watch the games with, and it makes for easy conversation. My Malagasy sports commentary skills are improving daily. I don't know if you guys get the same commericals as me, but I love the "say no to racism" commerical! And the "Let's go Africa" one.

On Wednesday, all of the students at the high school took their English exams. The exam time was scheduled too close to the USA game for comfort. I told the room I was proctoring that they needed to hurry because I wanted to watch the game. Only 3 of them laughed, and all three of them got a 100% on their tests (not because they laughed, but because they're smart, and they actually listen when I talk).
Anyways, the game. What a great game! I don't profess to know squat about sports, but I know those guys were playing their hearts out. USA kept getting the ball down to the goal and just barely missing. Algeria could barely get the ball down to their goal, but their keeper was keeping the game tied 0-0. The game was so tense and the players were playing as hard as they could (much better than against England). It was still 0-0 when they gave the game 4 additional minutes. In the last two minutes, Donovan got in there and won us the game. I jumped up and verbally expressed my approval of Donovan's command of the game of football, and everyone laughed at me. The American team exploded with the air of victory.
Earlier that same day, a rat was making its way down from the ceiling (normally they stay up in the ceiling, and I bear no grudge against them besides their incessant noise making, but once they figure out how to descend, we have issues) in the broad daylight as I was sitting there reading. Idiot. I told it what I thought of it when I chased it back up. So, I had a pretty good feeling there would be a rat waiting for me when I returned home from watching the game. I opened the door and saw all of the evidence of amateur rat exploration (knocked over things, things pushed around) and then spotted it across the room, chewing on a picture. I grabbed my big stick (which I keep around for just such encounters) and made to chase it up to the ceiling. The dumb thing didn't know what to do or where to go, and it took off across the room. I big stick in hand, and USA victory in my heart, took a valiant strike at the vermin, and clocked the little bastard on the first hit. I was so surprised that I actually made contact, but not only did I make contact, but I demobilized it enough to inflict another, this time fatal, blow. I ran over to my neighbors house to tell them that I killed a rat with my stick. They were less impressed with me than I was with myself. Really, I am a BAMF, and killing rats with sticks is just how I roll. There was more than one American victory on Wednesday. I posthumously named the rat Algeria.

This Saturday is Madagascar's independence day, so there will be lots of partying to be done. Things will be... why can I not think of the word in English, only in French and Malagasy... good work, English teacher...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

LAST WEEK OF SCHOOL!

Ah the last week of school. It was... well...... On Thursday I had my last session with my worst class. They're uncontrollable, and I usually kick out a student every class (yes, I realize that this is a futile effort as it has not resulted in any long term change in behavior, but it makes me feel better, and sometimes I just can't look at them anymore). They were in a particularly rancid form (or as Beth would put it “more like monsters than human”) for their last class. I was reviewing for their final, and felt like a broken record of my former and all teachers before them as I said “You know, I'm not doing this for my health. I already know this; I'm just trying to help you.” I told them that if they didn't want to review they were free to go, but no one accepted my invitation and all remained, perhaps in an epic final game of Lets Try To Make the Teacher Cry. I'm not going to pretend I've never participated in such a game (Mr Tra.... whatever his name was... he only lasted 4 months at Stivers... and he and his little bell had it coming). My afternoon class was with my favorite section, and they were a joy as always. I don't know how two classes of students can be in basically the same room and with the same amount of students and in practice be so completely different. They aren't exactly quiet, but they make a lot of noise talking to each other in English (I heard a rousing argument over whether or not you can say “I Amn't” or “I'mn't”) and asking me questions. We had already completed all of my review tasks since they're always on the ball and listen to me the first time, so we did tongue twisters. It was a rumbustious task and very fun. I was trying to end class, when they started asking me a bunch of questions, like if I can stay and teach them next year, if I was going to come back to Ambanja to visit, if they could come home to America with me... I told them that the only ones who could come home with me are the twins (they both have earned a perfect 100% for all three trimesters), but that I would only take one, and they had to decide which. Then, as I said “Goodbye!” to dismiss them as usual, they stood up and serenaded me (spontaneously?) with “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles. If I had a heart, I might have shed a tear.
I also had my last English club this week. I showed them pictures of little Alex, who they declared to be the “strongest” baby they've ever seen, and asked when he would be visiting me in Madagascar. I will miss English club.
I love spending the World Cup in a country that cares about the World Cup. All three games are broadcast everyday on the one national channel. It beefs up my small talk to have a sporting event to recall. I've been watching a lot of the games at my friend's house. I'm cheering for Nigeria (which hasn't been easy). It seems like most people here are rooting for France or whatever African team is playing. If anyone needs a Brazil “RONALD 9” jersey for 2 dollars, I've got you covered.
My future here in Madagascar is still uncertain (i.e. I don't know where I will be living a month from now, or what they next months have in store for me) but I'm really good at going with the flow at this point, and not knowing barely even bothers me anymore. (but it would be nice to know...)

Oh yeah, and thanks to everyone who texted me with the news of touchdown jesus... Im glad that giant jesus statues burning the ground made so many of you at home think of me :) I got more texts about it than I got happy birthday texts! haha!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

random and not so random things

Here’s a list of random weird things that have happened recently:

I caused a fender bender… I was standing on my porch, drying my hands, and guy who was driving his car down the street in front of my house was staring at me hard, like I have 6 purple heads and such… well he was so busy gawking at my whiteness that he hit an oncoming car.

I tripped over a chameleon while I was fetching water and spilled my bucket all over. The chameleon looked back at me with its crazy little eyes as if I was an idiot until I reminded it that it’s very clever at blending in with its environment.

I am a master snail hunter and destroyer.

My house is apparently the cool place to be on Sunday afternoons. All the girls come over and wash their hair in my shower before they get it braided, and everyone watches Friends while we wait. Some of the girls have started coming over and requesting to watch Friends at other times too.

I went to a traditional Malagasy boxing event with my Rasta friend. There was a huge muscular boxer in an obviously women’s cut t-shirt that read “Silicone Free” across the chest. I couldn’t explain why I was laughing so hard.

I went with another English teacher to another school to have question and answer sessions with his high school students. I was in each class for 2 hours, and both classes asked me only the exact same questions: How old am I? Where do I live? If I am married? And what’s my phone number? Each class took two hours to ask these questions. If I wasn’t already so used to feeling awkward all the time, it would have been really awkward.

In my English club, I did the critical thinking puzzle with the triangle with triangles inside, and you have to count how many triangles there are. The education system here is completely devoid of critical thinking, interpreting, and analyzing skills, so I thought I’d try to get them thinking. No one got it right, but as I showed them all of the additional triangles beyond the obvious ones, it was as if I was showing them an amazing magic trick.

An owner of an Indian restaurant, who is friendly with all of the Northern PCVs, set up a World Cup party for us at his restaurant in Diego. We were sitting on a couch, watching the big screen, as the couch collapsed beneath us. We all agreed that it’s Katie’s fault.

I’m currently having quite perilous stomach issues… though that is neither random nor weird…

And finally, last week I gave all of my classes an exam. They, with a partner, had to write a dialogue about giving advice. They had full use of the notebooks, dictionaries, and any other resource, including me to answer any questions. About a third of them copied a dialogue word for word from their books, all of whom received a zero. About a third of them wrote something that was completely incomprehensible. But a third of them produced amazing gems like this:

Maria: Hi Tamia!
Tamia: Hi Maria! You know, I have a problem, because my boyfriend is left yesterday.
Maria: Why?
Tamia: I don’t know, but I think that he doesn’t love me.
Maria: Oh my god! You could go on vacation for sometimes?
Tamia: I won’t go on vacation.
Maria: Why you won’t go on vacation during sometimes?
Tamia: No, I can’t go because I am sad.
Maria: Then, you should seek a another boy.
Tamia: No!! I meant be with him forever!!
Maria: It’s difficult, love, I believe that you should reflect.
Tamia: Okay, I should reflect a long time, because my heart is so sick.
Maria: Yes, Good luck and good afternoon.
Tamia: Bye
Maria: See you

Amazing! Some of the errors make a lot of sense if you think about translating it directly from French. It has all of the grammatical aspects that I required, and follows a logical line of discourse. Also, I love that the advice for a sick heart is to go on vacation. Most of the exams left me banging my head on the table, but ones like this make me feel like my time in teaching high school in Ambanja hasn’t been completely wasted.

In other news, Im an aunt. Baby Alex was born during the USA England match... tonga soa vie namanako! Congrats to Shannon, Dan, and Grandma (haha)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

lots of teachery stuff

And now for a little insight into the Malagasy education culture...
My school received a massive shipment of math textbooks donated from Sweden. My principal (who speaks English) was telling me about it. He mentioned several times that “there are enough books for each student to have one book. There are as many books as there are students!” The teachers' lounge was abuzz with wonderment over this development. The principal went on to express their confusion over the matter of what to do when the teacher has a book and the students have a book- what are they supposed to do during class? Normally here, most of class time is taken up with the teacher writing the lesson on the board and the students copying it into their notebooks (in essence writing their own textbooks)- not very dynamic or mentally demanding on anyones part. I explained that in the United States you have a book for most subjects, and you read it as a class and discuss it, and the teacher goes further into depth. And for math in particular, you don't have to waste time copying problems, and the teachers don't have to make all the problems up. Everyone has the problem in front of them already, and you can do it together on the board. The teachers thought this to all be quite strange. They didn't know what to do in the classroom when there's a book. During Peace Corps training (going on 2 years ago now!), when we were told that the students and teachers had no books, we were aghast with what to do without one. Additionally, the principal told me that some of the answers to the math problems were in the back of the book. He announced this to me as if it was a scandal, or some kind of obvious oversight on part of the textbook publishers. I told him that that was typical of math and science books I used in school, and that the purpose was to check your answer to see if you had done all of the steps correctly. He asked if students just copied the answer without attempting the problem, which I was able to answer from personal experience; but the teachers just have to see if the students completed all of the steps to see if they had only copied answers from the back. (Of course if you're like me and can set up a math problem but it always falls apart at some point, the answers in the back are perfect!) I thought it was interesting how they didn't know how to proceed with a textbook, when most Americans can't imagine a classroom without one. Moreover, that while the donation from Sweden will certainly have a positive impact, that our western ideas for improving things don't always work within the context of other cultures.
Also on the education front, this week I'm teaching my favorite English grammar point: referential do (when “to do” is used to show tense when negating and forming questions in present and past simple tenses... still not with me? For example, to negate the sentence “I like cookies” you have to add “do” before the “not” even though nothing is being done (“I do not like cookies.”). And to ask if you like cookies, I start with “do” unless I'm asking about when you were young in which case I'd use “did”... don't worry, my lesson was a lot more clear than that.) But this rampant unclear use of “do/does/did & don't/doesn't/didn't” throws ESL learners off since they're trying to translate it, but it doesn't translate to anything, it just functions as a tense marker. There were multiple points during the lesson in each class when I heard students hit with understanding (“OOOOohh!”), and it warmed my icy heart.
This week at English club we learned “The Sweetest Thing” by Akon, Wyclef, and Lil Wayne. It was pretty complicated to explain, but everyone understood eventually. The song is pretty popular here, but the lyrics are too colloquial and full of slang for them to understand when they hear it on the radio. The chorus is “Dollar dollar bills, y'all, where my money at?” so I showed them the 5 dollar bill that's in my wallet ready to buy me a fast food lunch at whatever airport I fly into upon my return to the US. They wanted to know if it still works because Obama isn't on it, adorable. We also did “If I Was President” by Wyclef Jean, which is appropriate for the political situation here. The song mentions Christopher Columbus, so asked them if they knew who he was, and one kid shouted out “1492!” in French. Apparently that number has been pounded into their heads. It also mentions Martin Luther King, who they thought they knew, but they were talking about Martin Luther. And lastly it mentions JFK. I asked them if they knew who JFK is and one said “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, president of the United States” which was awesome. They totally understood the lyrics and were able to see how they are applicable both the Madagascar and the United States. It was a good English club.
I have captured a second disgusting long, fat tailed rat. It has been charged with larceny and disturbing the peace, and was hastily sentenced to death bypassing the formality of trial. I told it, “life's not fair and then you die...” really die. My friend came over, and I proudly showed him my new prize. He asked me if I was going to keep it in the cage on my bookshelf so I have something to be my friend and talk to. I told him, no thankyouverymuch, but that I would keep it at least for the morning to taunt and laugh at which provided more stress relief than you would think.

The next time I post a blog I will probably be an aunt! Good luck Shannon (and Dan!)!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Harrowing Tale of the Ingenuity of Human Reigning Superior Over Lesser Animals

Warning: this blog may be upsetting to those who are into animals rights and have no experience with the annoying animals they get upset about.

I had finally had enough of the rat. My attempts at peaceful cohabitations were thwarted when it started messing about in my laundry... eat my peanuts, chew on containers in my trash can, fine, but mess with the clothes and we're done. It was also getting too familiar for my tastes and was no longer scared enough to always run away when I tried to scare it back up into the ceiling after waking me up. Monday morning I woke up to the insolent creature climbing up my mosquito net- the straw that broke the camel's back. That's my territory. No rodents in the bed. I had already tried poisoning it, to no avail. My friend took me to the vet to buy some sort of fumigation spray that would put me out of my house for a few days but was a sure thing, alas, they were out. I decided to get a snap trap and spend the night at my friend's house and hopefully return home in the morning to a minimal mess... but when I was at the market I also found the kind of traps where you put the bait inside, and the rat can get in but can't get out. A genius invention, to whoever came up with it, the faint of heart rodentphoics of the world thank you. I decided on this method. I baited the trap with its favorite, peanuts.
That night it was running around all crazy across my tarp ceiling making quite a ruckus as usual. Around 2am it descended from the ceiling to see what was new with me... I tried not to move too much, so I could see what would happen next without scaring it back into the ceiling. The trap worked like a charm. It was down here no more than a minute before it was inside. I enjoyed a high of triumph over this creature which is inferior to me in all (ok, most) ways. I felt good, in control of my life, and accomplished. I enjoyed an exultant slumber of a warrior having won a battle, and I left it there to deal with later. (I dreamed I killed it by pouring boiling chicken noodle soup on it) It made no more noise than usual when left to have the run of the place. In the morning I had no time to deal with it, so I just left it there. I got home quite late, and moved it to the bathroom, so I could get a full nights sleep. The next morning I still didn't have time to do anything about it, and still hadn't decided what I was going to do at that. Today I finally had time. My plan was to take it to my friends' house and ask them what to do... not that I couldn't handle it on my own, but that I knew they'd get a kick out of my showing up at their house happily carrying a rat in a cage like I had won the lottery. Before I got a chance, My friend, Liza, came over, so I told her and consulted her on the next course of action. I suggested drowning it- putting it (still inside the cage) into a bucket of water. Liza informed me that that would not work because rats can breathe underwater. Instead of arguing on that point (who knows, the special abilities of the creatures here never cease to amaze), I just went with it. She said (for my mahay teny gasy readers) “Mila mampiasa vato” and mimed a violent motion. She picked up my bamboo stick, holding it like a baseball bat, and told me to get the vermin. Not to be terribly anticlimactic, but let's leave it at that.

So what on earth was I so busy with this week? On Wednesday, my new banking partner (another PCV who lives close to Ambanja and will come here for shopping/banking/internet/good food), arrived at my house. I had no idea when he was coming (as far as I knew he was supposed to be here during the first week of May) and was not at all prepared for hosting a guest. In fact, when he arrived, I was asleep, and woke up to him and Kamar (the Peace Corps driver and regional officer in the Northern region) calling for me from my porch. I came outside and was completely confused as to why Kamar was here and didn't even notice that he was with a white guy. After recovering from my stupor, we went to lunch. Kamar speaks Malagasy and French and a little English, and Jonathan, the new guy, doesn't speak French and is has only been in Madagascar for 10 weeks. My assistance was needed to get business efficiently completed. I was surprised at how sufficient my translating experience proved to be. Living immersed in the language, you don't realize how much you're learning, you just start understanding more and more and having more interesting conversations- there are no tests or grades to monitor your growth.
I spent all day Thursday with them getting business done around Ambanja, and Friday was “the big day” for Jonathan, going to his home for the next two years for the first time. His town is only 35k(21miles) away from Ambanja, but on a really, really bad road. It took 3 hours to get there- but not even all the way there. The road doesn't go all the way to his site. We got to about 8k away, unloaded his stuff into carts that are carried by cows, and walked the remainder of the journey. I can't resist resorting to a Lost allusion... Walking through the forest on these little paths, lead by a few Malagasy people, I couldn't help but feel like they were the others and that we were taking Jonathan to the Temple to see if he is a candidate. It really looked like The Island.
We arrived at the town, and I couldn't help but feel more site-envy. It is gorgeous- surrounded by mountains, big but not too big. Obviously, not many foreigners make it there, so we were quite the to do. They had a welcome lunch, and Kamar brought avocadoes to makes guacamole. Brittany taught him how to make it, and now he’s obsessed with it and can not say guacamole, hilarious! The people were very friendly and the children very curious. There was a big audience as Kamar and others were working on making the house meet security standards, and I entertained the children with a routine perfected over the 16 months I've endured crowds of children awkwardly staring at me. Finally, we had to take off, and I bade Jonathan farewell, leaving him standing in the doorway of his house, a crowd of people watching him from behind the stick-fence, and all kinds of crazy emotions going through his mind that I know very well. Me, Kamar and a few Others (oops, I mean Malagasy people) walked back to the blue VW van (oops, I mean Land Rover) to return to the beach camp (oops, I mean my house).
As beautiful as his site was, I was happy, as always, to return to Ambanja, take a real shower, and watch an episode of Lost before bed

Friday, May 7, 2010

meerkats, cartoons, and ants, oh my!

What from my recent exploits shall I regale you with this week?

In I-Love-Teaching-English news:
I wrote an exercise on the board and was occupying myself as the students worked (or as more likely the case, did not work) on it. We're studying future tense, which is very easy, so I made the exercise more interesting by using more complicated subjects (i.e. a sentence with the subjects “The first week of May” instead of a sentence with “I/he/she/they”). One of the sentences had the subject “My friends and I” so I could gauge whether or not they can make the jump from that to “we” or if they would conjugate the verb with 'I'. The students upfront were arguing over whether it should be “My friends and I AM going to play” or “My friends and I ARE going to play.” It went a little something like this: “Should it be 'am' or 'are'?” “'Am.' 'I am,' of course.” “No, I think it might be 'are' because it's plural.” “No, there's no way it could be are, 'I are' sounds wrong.” “In French it would be 'mes amis et moi sont' sont (are) because it's plural”... I was so proud! I stopped their discussion and brought the issue to the whole class for a vote. It was almost completely 50/50 on the controversial am/are issue, as if they had voted down party lines. They were yelling at each other across the classroom, and the debate was getting highly heated. The last time I've seen a discussion about grammar so intense was during my 400 level grammar class where most of the students were at the grad level. I announced that the correct answer is “are” and they reacted very strongly: the ones who were right were all “in your face!” and the ones who were wrong looked as if I had offended their mothers. Then someone asked if I could be “My friends and ME are going to play” which I hoped they would. What a fantastic question! I love that class!
Here are the vocabulary questions that stumped me this week (not that I don't know the words, but that I don't know how to explain them in mutually understood words): soothsayer, clairvoyance, placebo (and a bunch of other words found in a pharmaceutical ad), insurmountable (which I explained as really really hard/impossible), incapability (which took a while to break down).

In weird phenomenon news:
I woke up around 4:30 Wednesday morning (as everyone in EST was enjoying Tuesday night's new Lost) and saw a strange mass on my wall as I turned over in bed. (You might be wondering how I would be able to see anything on my wall at 4:30 in the morning... well, sometimes I sleep with the light on. I have my reasons.) At first it looked like a big patch of black mold that had inexplicably appeared overnight, but as my eyes focused and I looked closely, I realized that it was ants. Thousands of ants, about two feet from where I was in bed. With a rational understanding that they can do no harm to me, I laid there and watched them. Most of them weren't moving. They were more closely packed together in some areas than others, and the whole patch of them covered about a 2 square foot area. Upon further surveillance of their territory, I realized that this was just one small weird part of a huge weirdness. At the top of my wall, where the wall meets the ceiling, there were thousands and thousands more. It looked like the wall was moving in waves. They were all dutifully making their way up into the ceiling, acting on a divine calling that I couldn't possibly comprehend. I watched things play out from the perceived safety of my mosquito net shielded bed. My alarm went off at 5, and I used my customary 20 minutes of hitting sleep to continue my private Nat Geo ant special. By the time I had to get up for school, the waves of ants marching into the ceiling had completed their journey as far as I could see it, and the patch of stationary ants that I first spotted was slowly marching off to join the party. When I returned from class about 3 hours later, all irregular ant activity had subsided, and I have not witnessed such a migration since. After a few days reflection on this event, I have no more insight than I did at the time.

In sharing my knowledge of America news:
My mom sent me a post card from the San Diego zoo which featured a group of adorable meerkats. When I went to the post office to collect my mail, the post office woman (who I am convinced is an idiot-- she always tries to give me other peoples' mail, in addition to other incidents of questionable intelligence) was looking at the post card very curiously. She gave it to me and asked if the animals eat people. Assuming this was another of her lapses in normal human intelligence, I assumed she meant to be asking if people eat meerkats. I immediately called Kinsey to tell her about how dumb the post office lady is (a recurring conversation we have, on both our post offices' parts). Later, my friend came over and saw the post card on my table and asked the same question. After clarifying that she was indeed asking if meerkats eat people, I asked her why she would ask that. She explained that it was because they were sitting on their butts with their legs in front of them (like people) and were fat and full and looked like they were (what best translates to) “good at eating”... why these observations would lead her to think that their pudgy bellies were full of humans, I don't know. In both her and the post office lady's defense, there is no size reference in the picture.

In things that annoy me news:
My neighbor children (if you've sent me mail, I've probably written to you about these annoying brats who pound my metal door like a drum and walk into my house, pick up my stuff, and walk out without ever speaking to me, all in full view of their parents who don't find this behavior worthy of comment) watch this cartoon all the time. The same cartoon, over and over. It's so loud I can hear it. Sometimes they watch it more than once in a day. I'm so familiar with it that I know when they're about to transition into a song and can hum along. Maybe I should buy them a new movie?