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.

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.