Monday, November 19, 2012

Project Update


Well, even though the last month I haven’t had my computer, I still have made strides in focusing on what projects I want to pursue, so I thought I would give you all a brief overview.

Cooperative Fiombonantsoa—Silk Weavers
The silk weavers and cultivators have been my main focus, and I think they will continue to be.  After discussing the problems they face, and spending time observing their business, I have decided on a few projects for them.  First of all, they already have a production house on the major national road going to Ampefy, a major tourist town, and Tana.  The government is currently working to finish the road between Ampefy and Antsirabe, making a tourist triangle between those two towns and Tana.  The production house has a room that could be used for a small silk boutique that the weavers could use to sell to tourists traveling that road.

My proposed project is to help them build signs in Malagasy, French, and English to let tourists know to stop and browse.  I want to to teach them how to be persuasive sellers, as well as conduct a pricing workshop so they are making sure they are putting the correct price for the amount of work.  I also think it would be good to set up production so that tourists can see it, sort of an eco-tourism attraction.

I am also working with a friend to design a tag that will match the signs to put in with their product packaging.  I just sent about 50 scarves to be sold at DC’s Eastern Market in January, that I want to put the cards with, as well as in the packaging when we sell the scarves on the Village Store website (when we get a new order I will tell you, but there are some money moving issues going on there right now).  So, that is step one.  Don’t think it should be tooooo difficult.  But you never know here.

Step two will have a much more lasting impact on the actual production of the silk.  Currently, the silk my weavers cultivate is called landikely, and is found in Madagascar as well as parts of mainland Africa and Asia.  They weave with both the landikely and the landibe, which is found only in Madagascar.  The two worms live on two different trees.  My weavers cannot cultivate from May until November because it the trees the lanikely grow on are too cold and won’t grow.  In addition, the cooperative gets their eggs from Kenya, and the eggs are too cold and won’t hatch.  I want to develop a project to build greenhouses so the weavers can cultivate the silk year round and have a little more stability in terms of their product.

In researching greenhouses, I cam across a website that talked about a project at Penn State University working on affordable greenhouses in Kenya and Tanzania to promote food security, so my current stage is looking into that further.  Truly excited to get this project off the ground, I think it will make a huge difference and can be used as an example for people to use greenhouses for farming other things.

Sekoly Harenasoa—School in Manazary
Manazary is a town about 18 km south of Miarinarivo on a horrible road.  And I say that having only been on it in the dry season, it is about to get a lot worse.  The director of the school, a woman named Beatrice, came to the first meeting I ever had in Miarinarivo back in May.  She is incredibly hard working and passionate about what she does.  So I go out there Fridays when I can (the only day there is a taxi-brousse) and talk to her abou the school.  They have just over 100 kids, ages 3-12, and 4 teachers and 4 rooms that they rent on the first floor of someone’s house.  What they really want is to build a new school.  Minnie, the previous volunteer, helped them come up with a budget for a 10 room school house made out of concrete.  They already own the land where they want to build it.  Minnie went with them to talk to the head of education for the region in Miarinarivo, but that was no help.  So I am currently trying to find grants that can help us raise the around $16,000 to build the new school.  All project funding through Peace Corps caps out around $5,000, so I am trying to find alternative sources.  More to come on that.

Cooperatives Mendrika and SASIVAMA—Rock Sculptors
These groups have been a bit of a challenge for me.  They worked very closely with Minnie, and so the transition was hard on them.  They didn’t have to go back to the beginning, since she helped them so much, but they had to find the patience to tell me all about their organization and deal with me still learning Malagasy.  But, I am optimistic about the new project I have lined up for them come January.  At Minnie’s suggestion, I applied to be the project for an MBA consulting class at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.  They look for Peace Corps volunteers every year to develop project proposals that groups of students will consult on.  January to May, these students will help me figure out how to market these very heavy granite sculptures, since it is so difficult to sell them to tourists.

Mpiompy Akoho—Chicken Farmer
This project is still a bit up in the air, but I am optimistic about its future.  There is another volunteer and good friend of mine who is currently working with her town on establishing a very successful chicken farm with funding and training from USAID.  I am hoping I can get her to come up and visit and help me give him advice on how to proceed.  If not, I intend to go to her site (which I might just do anyway) and film the chicken farming they are doing and have the farmers give advice to my farmer in Miarinarivo.

ONN—Office of National Nutrition
I am really excited for this project, which just recently came into focus.  The Office of National Nutrition for our region, Itasy, is located next door to my house.  Minnie told me when I arrived that they wanted to work with me on something.  I had no idea what I was going to do with them for awhile, but eventually went in to meet with them and found out that they are very interested in promoting moringa, a new super food plant that has all kinds of vitamins, minerals, protein, and calcium.  They particularly want to focus in on maternal and child health, which is one of the project sectors of USAID, meaning I should be able to get funding from them.  I met with them a few times, but just last week I decided to bring my French friend, David-Pierre, because he helps run a training center that trains on different agricultural practices.  The meeting went very well, and now I think we will all collaborate on mass trainings on moringa at his training center.  So pumped!

Atlas Corps
I have a good friend Miarinarivo named Toky who was taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer back in 2002.  He since went on to get his masters degree in accounting and is now an auditor under the age of 30.  He is very bright and very driven, and I had heard of a program called Atlas Corps that is pretty much the opposite of Peace Corpst, and I thought he would be perfect for it.  Altlas Corps sends bright, motivated young individuals from developing countries to the US for a year for them to get a good experience working in the non-profit secotr.  They must have good English skills and be committed to returning to their home countries to work and incite change.  Toky is all of these things, and we are working improving his English and preparing the application for him to come to the US.  I have never seen someone light up so much than when I told Toky about this program.  He talks to me about it all the time.

Assemblee de Dieu and First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor
Last but certainly not least, I am still planning to do a partnership with my church in the states and my church in Madgascar.  My Dad and I are going to develop a Sunday morning class for the kids in the states to create a mural for the church in Mada to paint on their walls.  This will be coupled with short youtube clips from both the states and Mada about different aspects of American and Malagasy culture, so both parties get to learn a bit about each other.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t so brief, but I have a lot of ideas in my head!!  And I am excited to see them come into fruition.  I know things will change a lot and there will probably be a lot of bumps in the road, but I am really ready to start seeing these ideas come alive little by little.


The Ocean (Finally!!)


So after my Halloween in Tana, a few volunteers and I decided to make the trek out to Tamatave and Foulpointe, the port town and beach town closest to Tana on the Indian Ocean.  The ride from Tana to Tamatave is about 8 hours, so we spent the day sleeping in a car and watching the scenery change suddenly from brown mountains to green jungle.  We arrive in Tamatave, and I caught my first glimpse of the ocean since arriving on this island.  There isn’t really a beach in Tamatave, so we planned to stay the night there and head the next day to Foulpointe, a small popular Malagasy vacation destination. 

I was absolutely elated and bouncing in my seat to get to Foulpointe and finally take deep ocean air breaths.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the mountains and the town, but have always had a special place in my heart reserved for the ocean.  When I lived in Redondo Beach, CA for 3 months I went to the ocean nearly every day.  I could look at it forever.  We arrive at the beach and check in to our bungalow about 50 feet from the water (heaven).  We immediately put on our suits to go bask in the cool water and hot sun.  We swim for a while, and then lounge on beach chairs we rent and peruse the sellers walking around with food, beer, and souvenirs.

We didn’t arrive to Foulpointe until about 2 in the afternoon, even though we had tried to arrive by noon.  The taxi-brousse in Tamatave needed gas before we left and the first 3 or so stations we drove to were out.  We finally found some an hour and a half after we thought we would be leaving.  My friend Jessie, an education volunteer, and I spent the 2 hour drive concocting different scenarios that we could tell Peace Corps so we could stay at the beach.  Our favorite was an elaborate scheme involving a zombie apocalypse, which became the theme for the rest of the weekend.  We had decided we wanted to tell our Malagasy security officer that there was a zombie apocalypse and we had to stay in Foulpointe, but we thought with the language barrier that he would just text that to the rest of the volunteers and staff in country.  Also tempting just for laughs, but we ultimately decided against it.

So anyway, we arrived at 2 pm and then had about 4 hours of beautiful beach sun.  Then we continued the evening with an amazing seafood dinner and beach themed cocktails.  It was shaping up to be a wonderfully cliché beach vacay.

I woke up at 6 am the next day to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of our bungalow.  The rain continued the rest of the morning, so around 10 we decided to pack up and head back to Tamatave, where are things to do other than the beach.  Also the Tamatave region had their VAC meeting in Tamatave that day, so we could go meet up with a bunch of other volunteers.  But, we had to finish our beach bucket list, so we drank coconut milk out of freshly cracked coconuts (really hard without a straw) before heading back.  The rain continued the rest of the day, so we were really gald we went back to Tamatave, even though we were sad to leave the beach.

Tamatave is big enough that there are quite a few food options, as well as a decent grocery store and some clubs to go dancing.  They also still have fresh seafood.  So we had a pretty darn good time in spite of the rain, making my beach vacation still a win.

I reluctantly headed back to Tana, with a jar of ocean water and sand in my bag, and back to the dry mountains.  Although we have started to get some rain again.  I am looking forward to the emerald green island I arrived on back in March.  I am also looking forward to getting back to the beach in December J



Halloween, while not celebrated in Madagascar, was an absolute trip with American volunteers.  There were a whole lot of us, probably more than 30, in Tana for our VAC meeting, which happens every 4 months.  The original plan was to dress up in costume and go play lazer tag.  The lazer tag ended up being really far away, so we all dressed up and went out on the town to our usual hot spots.

I found a dress about a month before that looked like it could be a sailor or a pirate.  I ended up going with sailor, making a paper hat out of a Peace Corps newsletter, and finding some awesome boots in Tana.  Emma didn’t end up finding a costume, so she wore a dress of mine and we found a tiny little sombrero from a tequila bottle and she went as a giant Mexican.  There was a whole crew that was the cast of the Wizard of Oz, as well as 3 girls that were “dahalo,” or cattle thieves that have recently been plaguing the south in Mada.  There were also some Disney princesses, as well as cowboys and Indians.

But the winner, and champion of the world, was my friend Nick who came in with my training group.  He made a cardboard version of the markers you see along the roads every kilometer.  He was the RN 7, which is the road that runs south from Tana, and he was the marker for Ambositra, which is the larger city near him.  The best part about it was, all of the Malagasy and Americans alike knew exactly what he was, so we got a lot of questions (and laughs) allowing us to share the reason we were all dressed like lunatics in downtown Tana.

One of the volunteers parents had sent them all kinds of Halloween goodies, so we each got a gift bag with a little bit of candy, a glow in the dark bat, and bat rings, which was pretty awesome.  I also stole some pretty sinister looking black vampire teeth form a friend, so then I became an undead sailor.  We all went out dancing, and had a pretty awesome and hilarious time.  The next day, the day of our actual meeting, a couple of the volunteers made us popcorn, hot chocolate, and amazing pumpkin crepes.  All in all, a good rendition of the American tradition I hold so dear.

Also, yes Nicole, I watched Hocus Pocus with Emma and Eric before he left for the states.  Tradition upheld J

Hope you all had a fun Halloween as well!

New Members in TEAM VAZAHA

We have some new arrivals to “Team Vazaha” (foreigner) that have arrived in the past month or so.  The youth center near my house run by a German man and his Malagasy wife take on German volunteers in their gap year between high school and college.  Joel and Joana, 19 and 18, are going to be with me for 6 and 8 months respectively.  We have had a good time so far.  They come to my house to cook when they are sick of eating rice and we watch movies.  Also, Pioneer band nerds, they are both from Stuttgart, so I mentioned that we were there for the 06 world cup.  I talked about the field where we watched the finals, and after careful debate using pictures on facebook from then (man I’m old, that took a loooong time) we decided that we weren’t in the same park, but we were near each other.  But it was really cool thinking that we might have been there together.  At least in the same city though J

Also, the new French volunteer living with my friend David-Pierre has arrived.  Her name is Nolwenn, and she lived the last year and a half in Ft. Dauphin in the far south of Madagascar.  She will also be here for two years.  We work together at the chamber of commerce.  We should be sharing a desk, but currently my laptop has decided that it doesn’t want to work with the wifi, so I am stuck in another room with an Ethernet cable L Fear not!! I will be in Tana on Wednesday and I hope I will be able to figure out what is wrong.

I also traveled to Tana for our VAC (Volunteer Advisory Council) meeting on November 1st and got to meet 4 new volunteers in the near Tana area, which was pretty cool.  It is so weird to feel like you are the older sibling and know more about the place and the language than someone, because we have been the young ones since March.  Also, on my trek east (I will get to that) I met a couple other new volunteers not in our VAC region, as well as some other volunteers that have been here for a while that I did not know.

Moral of the story:  I like meeting new people, Malagasy, French, German, and American alike.
Every person I meet has a lasting impact on my life, and I have found a Malagasy proverb to represent that: "Tendrombohitra sy zavona: mihaona toa tsy hisaraka, misaraka toa tsy hihaona"
Meaning “Mountains and clouds: they meet as if they will never part, they part as if they will never meet.”  Some other volunteers and I decided we want to make highlands region bracelets that say this, particularly because it has to do with mountains.


Computer Again!!


After a month and a half of reading many books (6) and listening to the same 965 songs on my iphone, my computer has returned J  My apologies for the internet silence, although I did get very good at emailing and facebooking (yep, Oxford is gonna put it in their dictionary) from a computer in French with a French keyboard.  It took me forever and a day to find the @ symbol, let me tell you.

I hope you all are doing well and gearing up for the holiday season.  I haven’t decided if I am just going to ignore Thanksgiving and Christmas and pretend they aren’t happening for two years or go all out and watch a Christmas movie every day and wear a horrible sweater in this sweltering heat.  The heat is the reason it doesn’t actually feel like November.  Compared to many cities in Madagascar this time of year, my town is not all that bad.  I will let you know about heat when I return from my Christmas beach vacation to one of the hottest cities in Madagascar, Mahajanga, on the Mozambique Channel northwest of me.

So, sit back and enjoy the updates from the last month.  Hope you all are doing well and enjoying your holidays!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October Excursions: Chute de la Lily

Hello again!!

I figured while the internet was doing fairly well I would just write a whole slew of posts.  And by that I mean probably just two, but this one will foreshadow what I will be up to in the coming months.

While I have very much enjoyed spending time around my town and working with my silkweavers and rock sculptors, I decided it was time to get out and start seeing Madagascar.  I mean, I have been here 7 months and I have not seen a fraction of what I want to!  Most of that is due to the fact that we aren't supposed to travel the first 5 months, and I was a good volunteer and followed that.  Mostly.

We began Sarah's weekend excursions this past weekend.  My region, Itasy, is known mostly for the lake and fish, as well as Pineapple in Arivonimamo, and bureaucracy in my town, haha.  However, there are a couple tourist attractions that mostly bring Malagasy people from Tana on short weekend trips.  I went to the geysers in Analavory, about 20 km from my town, back in June or July, with the Malagasy family who lives upstairs.  That was pretty cool, but Eric and I have been dying to make the trek to the beautiful waterfall in Ampefy, known as Chute de la Lily.  Emma had already hiked there awhile back, but was more than willing to take us there again.

So we set off around 9 Sunday morning: Eric, Emma, Grace, the British volunteer in Ampefy, and myself.  We hiked the 6 km through the dry burned mountains to the first waterfall.  It is funny, but because it is a waterfall, I assumed we would be hiking through almost jungle, with overhanging trees and a small narrow path that eventually opens up to the falls.  But the road was as open as any other in Itasy, and there aren't very many trees here because they burn the mountains to grow grass for cattle (BAD).

We reached the falls around 11.  A beautiful, cascading chute of water with an emerald green pool at the bottom.  Because it is the dry season, the water was very low.  But there were still quite a few people playing in the water, and a couple crazy young men jumping from behind the water into the pool.  They are crazy, because they had no idea how deep the water was.

My Malagasy friend, Dominique, a man in his 30s and a lawyer I met in Miarinarivo, met up with us at the first falls.  He has a motorcycle, so he left significantly later in the morning.  He brought a few things for a picnic and we bought rice from the little stand by the falls.  Then he joined us on the trek to the more secluded seond falls.

Secluded was right.  Where there had been close to 40 or so people at the first falls, the second, another 2 km away, was completely deserted.  And just as stunning.  The pool was smaller, but the falls larger.  I al excited to return during the rainy season to compare the two, I am sure they are very different.

So, all in all my first excursion in a series of awesome weeends to come was a complete success.

Up next: excursions take a cultural turn when Sarah and Eric head to Tsiroanomandidy (say that 3 times fast) to attend the wedding of the younger brother of Eric's friend in Arivonimamo.  Tsiroanomandidy is where the main road ends, the one that passes through my town going west from Tana.  I am really looking forward to that, because I haven't been to a Malagasy wedding yet.  That is Saturday, and we are going to head to Ampefy again on Sunday because there is a huge festival about fish going on all weekend, culminating with a concert at one of the hotels of the famous Malagasy band, Mahaleo.

The end of the month:  We have another advidory council (VAC) meeting, like the one in Antsirabe in June.  This one will be in Tana, and will involve Halloween themed lazer tag (among the productive things).  Then, because I STILL have not seen the ocean (it is what i get for livingin the dead center of the island) or a national park, while Eric heads off to the states to see his little bro get married (awwwwwww) I am dragging Emma to Andasibe National Park to see lemurs and other such odd things.  Then we are going to continue east to Tamatave and Foulpointe on the coast, and crash the Tamatave region VAC as well.  SO EXCITED!

Thanksgiving:  These plans are not yet confirmed, but I am trying to organize a trip south to Fianarantsoa and Ranomafana National Park and Hot Springs.  There are 2 guys from my stage that are OSU fans, and a girl in the far south east who bleeds blue like me.  The Michigan/OSU game is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so I am hoping to take a little vacation to cool places I want to see, and at the same time celebrate the greqtest rivalry in all of college sports.

Christmas and New Years: Emma's family is coming from the states around the 21st, so I am going to stick around Itasy and help show them around for a couple of days.  Then they are jetting of to Toliara in the south west. My friend Christina's sister is coming from the states for Christmas, so I am going to head down near her to Fianarantsoa, probably with Eric and anyone else we can wrangle up.  We are talking about taking the train from Fianarantsoa to Manakara on the coast on Christmas day (It will be like Harry Potter!!-Christina) and then spend a few days enjoying the coast in the south east.  Then head back to Tana for New Years because that is supposed to get crazy!  Then I will head back to my site and buckle down for a bit and get some work done.  Probably.

Looking forward to the next few months!  I have a feeling they are just going to fly.


Technological Meltdown

Manahoana daholo!!

Hope you all are doing well, and enjoying the beautiful colors of fall.  I do miss it.  However, things have started to get quite warm here, and I am looking forward to the return of the rain.  Although I sure about a month in I will be mad at all the mud.  But I am excited for the rice fields to glow green again instead of burnt and brown.

I have an interesting October ahead of me though.  During our monthly Prosperer meeting at the beginning of the month, my computer froze and now will not boot.  So this blog post comes to you from an incredible slow French PC in my office.  The good news is I had backed up my hard drive just two days prior to the crash, so not all is lost.  Luckily, Emma has a Mac as well, so I was able to open my back-up from her computer and put important documents on a portable flash drive to use at work.  Unfortunately, some of the documents don't work on this computer, so my productivity might not be quite the sma until it is fixed.

Speaking of fixed, special shout out to my Dad's coworker, Oliver Kripfgans, for knowing way more than me about computers, and sending things that will soon arrive to make my computer better.

In the mean time, Sarah will be reading a lot of books this month, and sitting in her hammock, watching the world go by, rather than watching TV on her computer.  If it weren't for the work thing, being without a computer might actually be kind of nice.  A small technological sebattical (I don't actually know how to spell that word, and this computer is checking my spelling in French, so I apologize for any errors).

I will also probably be going to bed earlier haha.

Until next time!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tsy Mety “Bear Hug”


The busy month of September continues.  Eric began organizing a basketball and soccer tournament for youth back in July, and it started this past weekend.  So Emma, Anders (the education volunteer in Itasy, located near Eric) headed to help out.  Emma and Anders did a fantastic job reffing the basketball, Eric kept score and fouls, and I timed.  The title of this post comes from our lack of technical knowledge of the game of basketball in Malagasy, so it pretty much just degenerated into saying tsy mety (not ok) and then acting out whatever the foul was.  Anders demonstrating a bear hug from behind got a pretty big laugh from players and spectators alike.  The basketball tournament was for 14-17 year old girls, with one fun game for guys of the same age.  And the whole thing took place this weekend.  The soccer tournament was reffed by some Malagasy volunteers who have experience, and that one goes on until the end of the month.

I think this was the most “culture shock” I have experienced here.  Sporting events have some pretty serious differences here.  Things went really well on Saturday.  They ran so smoothly, and we were all on such a high hanging out together and seeing the kids having a good time.  So the prelims of the girls were Saturday, and then on Sunday we had the guys’ game at 1 and then the girls finals at 3.  We knew the guys would be a little more physical, but what we were unprepared for was the end of the game.  2 minutes in to the fourth quarter, things are starting to heat up and get physical, and one of the guys swings an elbow at another.  The next thing I knew, there were two guys up on tables taking the nets down and there were fans all over the court.  In slow motion, Anders blew the whistle when the guys took a swing (didn’t make contact, by the way) and the ball went out of bounds.  One of the coach’s had wanted a time out when they had possession next, so Anders called that.  But then the coaches came over to the table where Eric and I were sitting, and the guys helping run the tournament, and started having a discussion about sports in Madagascar, and everyone understood that the game was over.  With 8 minutes to go.  I just stood there with my mouth gaping open like a trout, completely unaware of how everything descended into anarchy in 30 seconds.

So we wrote that off, shook ourselves out, and started the next game.  Well, 3 minutes in to the fourth quarter of the championship game, on of the girls on the team that was down took a dive and began grabbing her knee, even though no one touched here.  This was the other weird thing in Mada: every injury is assumed a cramp, so people are immediately out there pulling and pushing your legs around to try and work it out.  If anyone actually gets injured, that is the ABSOLUTE LAST THING you want to do.  The lifeguard in me was cringing every time.  So there had been a few “injuries” prior to that where this occurred, but this time the girl was crying and didn’t want to get up.  So the coach piggybacked her I presume to the doctor or home or something.  Also weird thing: all of the fans crowded around her just staring, a complete mob.  And people started playing on the courts while she was still down.  Then, the next thing I knew, everyone was crowding around the table with the trophy on it, fans, players, coaches, everyone.  So it was complete anarchy again.  And we were going to have a ceremony and everything, but then the team with the uninjured player (who were ahead before the injury) lifted their captain up on their shoulders and accepted the trophy.  Apparently the team with the injury threw a fit and forfeited, even though they had enough people to keep playing.  And from the moment of the injury until the accepting of the trophy lasted about one minute.

Again, anarchy.

Anders told us later that he was at a pro basketball game in Tana and they had to stop the game because fans ended up fighting on the court.  So we learned that fans are far too involved, and that sportsmanship is not so good.  We are hoping to continue to do this in Miarinarivo and Ampefy, a whole region wide tournament. And have halftime programs about nutrition and sportsmanship.  Anders taught PE for a bit in the states, and has a good handle on the kinds of things that are lacking in the education system here.  We have him for another year, so this could be really great.

Alright, back to the grind tomorrow.