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?