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.