I thought this week I might try to interest you in some questions I get about America. In general, what Malagasy people know about America, they learned from a movie, so you can imagine why they would have a lot of questions. I have a friend whose house I hang around a lot, and there are always other people there visiting her and hanging out. It's seems to be the neighborhood chill spot. This is where I often encounter conversations of the “How is America different from Madagascar?” nature. I tell people that I can't answer that question- that they can ask specific questions, because otherwise I'd have no idea where to begin. Invariably they want to know about the climate, the environment, and the food. These questions are hard to answer too, and the “How is American different from Madagascar?” conversation always begins with me explaining how big America is and the fact that there's basically everything you can think of in America (mountains, beaches, rivers, lakes, deserts, paradise, frozen tundra, etc) and that it's always hot somewhere and always cold somewhere. Basically the main idea is that you can't make general statements about America besides that you can't make general statements about America.
My friend was asking me about the weather in Dayton. I came into the house drenched in sweat and fanning myself (my normal state of being) and threw myself onto the couch muttering about the heat. He asked me if it was hot like this in Dayton right now, and I told him that not only is it not hot like this in Dayton right now, but that there was a foot of snow on the ground. He was flabbergasted, and exclaimed with concern “But what about the vegetables?! Do they die?!” Thus I explained that they've been dead for months and that we import or food from all over creation to where nothing is ever “out of season.” What a crazy concept, if you really think about it.
One of my classes has a tendency to get me off topic by always asking me “America” questions whenever there's inspiration on the board. I don't mind this; I'm sure they learn more from these 'off-subject distractions' than from the actual lesson. This was a tactic I often employed in French class- anytime you can get the conversation moving away from grammar and towards culture, it's a bonus. Anyways, I had the sentences “Do you have some milk?” “No, I don't have any milk.” on the board, so they wanted to know if I like milk. This line of questioning went from me explaining that I like milk in America, but that I don't drink milk here, all the way to the fact that I've never milked a cow (which they found hilarious) and that there aren't cows walking through the streets of Dayton. I explained to them the different grades of milk and how you can buy it from the store cold and already pasteurized, and that I don't drink milk here because the idea of drinking warm whole milk is altogether nauseating to me. They think I'm so weird!
I was relaxing in the teachers lounge between classes (yes, we have a teachers lounge! if only it had a vending machine!) and the geography teacher had an intensely interesting line of questioning for me. I usually get interesting questions in the teachers lounge. He wanted to know about the geography of the United States, which I explained has everything he could think of. He asked me to explain the “culture of consumption” in the US (yeah, this conversation was in French, I definitely don't have the vocabulary to handle that in Malagasy), so I explained that Americans throw away broken things and buy a replacement instead of getting it fixed. He was fascinated by this. Here nothing goes to waste- I even saw a guy taking apart the metal bars of broken umbrellas to make jewelry- amazing. He also wanted to know about Native Americans. I get questions about Native Americans more than I would have ever thought, and they always inspire a complicated conversation. He asked about their culture and history- something which is altogether impossible to summarize in any language. I try though. I wish “the trail of tears” was in my French dictionary.
There's this other guy who comes by once a week for English lessons. He always asks the strangest questions and never believes my answers, which is really frustrating. He asked me if I went to Ohio University, which I found odd; what does this guy know about Athens? It turns out that he was under the impression that there are 50 universities in America, one for each state (Alabama University – Wyoming University). I explained that there are state universities but also lots and lots of other universities, and he absolutely refused to believe me. Then he wanted to know how many football players there are in America- and was frustrated that I didn't know. I'm like NFL players? I have no clue whatsoever.
Invariably, people want to know how much money Americans make. This is a tough question. Some people live on $8000/year, some people make a million dollars in one day! The salaries are as diverse as the geography! So they want to know how much a teacher makes, which is still impossible to answer because it depends on the state, the district, years of experience, etc etc etc. When I throw a ballpark salary at them (and I don't even know!) they are astounded by how much money that is. And then rolls in the explanation of how while $8000 is a hell of a lot of ariary, it ain't gonna afford you any kind of lifestyle in America. Explaining America is a tough job, and all of my answers are completely different than the answers another American would give. That's what America is all about, I guess.
It's incredibly hot, by the way. The sun rays shoot down from the sky and stab my flesh as I make my way to and from school twice a day. It's like I'm living a sunny sauna.
Time for mail shout outs! Major package shout outs to Francis, Peggy and Matt! Thanks a million. Letter shout outs to my stage mates Derek, Fraser, Beth, Lorna! Thanks! I will reply to every letter I get!