Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tech Trip and Back

April 8, 2012

Manahoana daholo!

Happy Easter!

It has been a very long and crazy week, it feels like a whole month has gone by since homestay.  Each sector—environment and CED went on a “tech trip” to visit current volunteers in their sites and learn about what they do.  We went south from Tana to Antsirabe, then down to a couple villages and then to Ambositra, then Sandrandahy, Imito, Fandriana, and back to Antsirabe.  Then we went west of Tana to the Itasy region (my region J) to Arivonimamo, Miarinarivo (my site J) and Ampefy.  Then all the way back to Mantasoa.  Environment hit the coast near Tamatave in the east, which we were pretty jealous of.  They got to go to the beach and see lemurs!  Still haven’t seen any yet although there are rumors of mouse lemurs here at the training center.

I am going to go through this chronologically, relying heavily on my journal because Sunday feels like so long ago!

Sunday, April 1, 2012
I had been kind of sick since the previous Wednesday, but Sunday morning I woke up feeling awful so I called one of the peace corps doctors and he put me on cipro—an antibiotic, which is officially the best drug ever.  By the end of the day I was feeling great, and completely normal by the next morning.  Unfortunately I still didn’t feel well in the car and the windy roads for 5 hours didn’t really help.  Luckily they are paved really well.  Some cool things happened on the drive down though.  Saw far more Fords than I had thus far, my full count is now up to 11!  Haha mostly European and Asian cars here.  Also, Malagasy radio stations like Elton John and one played “My Way” in French.  Doda, the driver of my car, really likes to sing along.  As the trip wore on we also found out he loves so do karaoke and dance, which was hilarious.  Driving the windy, narrow roads with bikers in the shoulder made me think of biking in San Francisco with Erica and Helina the month before I left.  Cars whipping past us as we made our way flying down the mountains to Sausalito.  We also ate lunch at our first typical “hotely:” rice and some sort of meat, usually with a broth and a little bit of vegetables, all for around 2500-3000 Ar., or 2.50-3 dollars.  Really fast and pretty good, although later in the trip we had much better ones.

We arrived in Antsirabe in the mid afternoon and met up with two current volunteers who live in the area.  Antsirabe is really interesting because Norwegians founded it, so it has a very European feel.  It was the biggest town we had been to yet, and is incredibly clean and has a lot of greenery.  Our hotel was really nice, and we had Internet, allowing me to post all of the previous blog posts.  We went to a nicer restaurant for dinner, owned by French people.  It was called “Pousse-pousse,” which is the Malagasy name for the rickshaws all over town.  It was themed like pousse-pousse’s where you sit in booths that are covered to look like the rickshaws.  We had absolutely incredible cheeseburgers, our first real taste of American food in awhile.

Monday, April 2, 2012
We had breakfast at this awesome French bakery with all kinds of pastries and chai-ish tea, which made me very happy.  Then we packed up and went to Jackie’s site, who was training us for the day.  Found out later she was roommates with Lauren Walens (pi-hi grad and band member with me) at American!  Small world.  She has been here for a year and works with a boutique and hostel in Antsirabe selling handicrafts, as well as a few other projects.  Her site was awesome, full of beautiful mountains and waterfalls.  Then we went to Dan’s site, who works with woodworkers—traditional Betsileo art.  He was really cool, and has also been in country for a year.  He doesn’t cook for himself at all, the other volunteers mentioned that he is one of the most friendly and integrated volunteers.  He eats with a family that lives in the compound with him, as well as with some other members of the community.

We then continued south to Ambositra, which was still nice but not as nice as Antsirabe.  On the recommendation of Brad and Jackie, the volunteers with us well versed in the area, we went and had dinner at this place called Oasis, with a pretty varied menu.  We learned what the typical menu items are of “vazaha” (foreigner) restaurants in Madagascar.  I had “bol reverse” (yeah I have no idea how that is spelled, it’s French) which was akin to bi-bim-bop so I got super excited about that.  Many other people had spaghetti Bolognese and steak fritte.  All menu items we have seen in several restaurants since then.  Also misao, which is an Asian noodle dish that is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
We officially met the poster children of Peace Corps on Tuesday.  Natalie is the CED volunteer in Sandrandahy, which will be Amy’s site next month when Natalie COS.’  She got engaged in December to an Environment volunteer named Dan who was in her stage 2 years ago.  They are totally awesome and so chill and give off a sweet hippie vibe, I love it.  Natalie works with Sahalandy, an organization of silk weavers in Sandrandahy.  The silkworms are endemic to Madagascar, and the organization does everything in the process of making to scarves from start to finish.  A typical scarf takes a month.  The sad thing is the Tapia trees where the worms nest are being clear cut, and there is also danger from predatory birds.  Pretty much the worms are being wiped out, which means a lot of silk is imported from China.  However, Sahalandy does not use very much of the imported silk, just for some accents in some scarves because it is shinier.  Some organizations are working on Tapia preservation, and Prosperer, my French NGO, is currently conducting research on a spider in my region that weaves strong silk, potentially as a substitution so the silk would still be endemic to Mada.

So Natalie and Sahalandy got in to several festivals—the first one in Santa Fe, New Mexico last July.  She and Dan flew with her Malagasy counterpart to the states, exporting about 1500 scarves.  They made almost 40,000 dollars at this festival for a co-operative of about 80 people.  That is a killing for these people.  They are returning to that festival this July and going to a different in New York the same time I am going to be home!  I know it is on top of the wedding, so I probably won’t be able to go, but it is 6 days long so maybe.  Definitely going to look into it.  I bought a scarf and want to get a whole bunch of beanies, I freaking love them.  Gonna have to go back and visit Amy for those.  Gonna look like a total hippie Alex, haha.

*Holy wow this is long, see why it felt like a month? Aaaand go…*

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Headed to Imito where Cha Cha (CED) and Wallie (Health) live.  Wallie’s house is huge and so awesome!  Made me realize that I didn’t even think about bringing stuff to decorate with.  There is a whole tub of stuff in my basement that came home with me from campus that I might have to wade through when I come home in August to bring back with me.  Also talked to Wallie about cooking because she loves to cook and it got me really psyched to start cooking for myself at site—that may fade quickly as I get lazy…

Then we went to Fandriana, which was a bit of a dive.  We had a great time though, and the food at our hotel was awesome, even though we had been spoiled with American food.  We all piled into these small rooms with beds on the floor, and there weren’t quite enough beds so there was some interesting bed sharing going on that was highly amusing.  The power was supposed to go out at nine, and it was raining like crazy, so we stayed at the hotel and played around.  We have created our own version of “flat Stanley,” who gets into all kinds of shenanigans.  I will post all about him later, he has his own blog but it isn’t finished yet.  We also created a match up of Environment VS CED “fights” that were pretty hilarious.

Thursday, April 5, 2012
We did a “CEDavenger hunt” in the morning which entailed going around talking to people which was kind of fun.  Then loaded up and went back to Antsirabe.  Got our Internet as well as pizza fix, which was nice.  Jackie and Cha Cha, who know Antsirabe pretty well, suggested a restaurant but it seemed to be closed and it was raining so we bailed and went to the “crappy” pizza place, which I still thought was pretty good.  All about managed expectations haha.  We also got stopped by the gendarmes (police) in the road.  We had seen a few road blocks prior to that but they always waved us through, probably because they don’t want us blabbing to the embassy that they wanted a bribe.  But the guy today wouldn’t let us go for like 20 minutes and Lucie, our CED director looked so pissed.  She is an intimidating woman; you don’t want to cross her.  Finally got through and I don’t think we bribed them, there may have been some phone calls to some high up people though.

Friday, April 6, 2012
Itasy!!! We drove from Antsirabe to Arivonimamo, where Binh is currently until Eric is next month.  They were having an artisanal fair, as well as market day so the place was packed.  Binh and Minnie, who is currently at my site, work closely together on projects, and Prosperer has regional meetings once a month so I will be seeing Emma and Eric, my region-mates, at least that often.  I know they work in collaboration with a youth fruit-drying co-op which will be cool.  After lunch and the festival we drove to my town!  Got to see my house, which Minnie has done an incredible job with.  I have a flush toilet and shower, yay.  The space is technically all one room, but Minnie has divided it with a pretty curtain.  Apparently there was nothing in it whe she arrived, she has done a beautiful job decorating.  She comes to the training center this week and is supposed to show me pictures of what it was like and tell me what she is planning on leaving there. We also saw the market, cathedral, commune, my office with Prosperer, the cyber cafes I will be helping promote, and hotely with awesome jus natural (juice). SO EXCITED!  Apparently there are a lot of international volunteers in the area.  Minnie introduced me to her friend Benoit (which made me think of baseball—Alex), who is French.  A German man and his Malagasy wife run the youth center in town, which I am excited to work with.

We also got to meet the rock sculptors that Minnie worked closely with, which was really awesome.  They recently got a generator and power tools, as well as built a workshop.  Made me so ready to just start, I didn’t want to get back in the car to leave.  But fortunately the next place, Ampefy, is incredible, and not too far from me.  We arrived when it was already dark, so didn’t see much going in, but had a good time that night sort of singing karaoke at our hotel.

Saturday, April 7, 2012
Saturday was totally awesome.  We went on a tour of a really big fruit drying operation in Ampefy that provided the training for the youth I am probably going to work with.  Then we went to visit a fish farm in the middle of the lake that Emma will be working with.  There is a rather flat man-made waterfall with huge rocks that we took a boat out to and then walked around.  However, none of us had anticipated this, so we had cameras and cell phones and many were in flip-flops.  Hilarious.  I was definitely singing the praises of my Tevas, which have excellent grip.  Also the sun came out for the first time in a few days so my Teva tan got awesome.  Christina’s double line Chaco tan still takes the cake though.

Then we got lunch and piled back in the van for the trek back to the training center.  We got back around 5 and started relaxing and hearing all about the Environment trip to the beach.

Today as been an equally lazy day, as we just relax before we have to get back to work this week.  A few of us lay out in the sun to try and fix our awkward tans, people played volleyball, some went canoeing, others went in to town to visit the store or their host families.  I stole a bunch of movies and kindle books from people, slowly filling my hard drive with entertainment for the next few years.  I found out the kindle app is free for iphones so yay! Electronic books!  And Christina has all the media in the world.  Contrary to what the info said about PST from other volunteers, I haven’t really watched anything yet.  Last night was the first time I watched a movie.  It was an older black and white called “Harvey” and it was really good, I recommend it.

Just a couple more notes I wanted to share.  I wrote things on my iphone as we were driving home for me to note here.
1.     I have seen 11 Fords
2.     Wallie likes to tell jokes, and told the wide mouth frog joke, for all you mmb people reading.  I burst her bubble a little bit because she is an OSU fan and I told her that the Michigan band director tells that joke all the time
3.     Alex and Hines—there is no Pepsi in this country, only coke (sorry Teeeeeej)
4.     The yellow Fanta is not lemon, it is pineapple.  Still good but not quite as, and very shocking when you are expecting lemon.  I actually figured this out the first week but I forgot to mention it
5.     The first Michigan sweatshirt I saw in this country was worn by the hotely owner with the juice in Miarinarivo.  I think I scared him by getting so excited about it and trying to explain, luckily Minnie was there.
6.     Alex and Dad—Dan and Eric, my fellow trainees, love the black keys
7.     The language trainers were playing music last night and they played the Ratatat remix of Kanye’s diamonds.  I was so happy.

That’s all I got!  I hope to post pictures soon.  I was going to go to the big hotel today but someone went earlier and said their Internet was down, so I decided against it.


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