Monday, July 30, 2012

Namako! Mijery!! Namako milomano amin’ny tele!!! (My friend! Watch!! My friend is swimming on the TV!!!)

July 28, 2012

Happy first day of the summer Olympics 2012!

To be fair, I hadn’t been keeping track of when they started, here is the story of how I not only figured it out, but got to watch one person I know and two people I know of swim today J:

So, it all started on Wednesday, which is market day in Miarinarivo.  I usually go before 8 to visit Adalene (I actually have no idea how it is spelled), the wife of my point person with my silk weavers, Claude.  I usually go over to their house to eat lunch after meeting with the silk weavers because they live across the street; also they are really nice and have decided to adopt me and my “special gasy,” which they only laugh at in a nice way.  She usually force feeds me 3 servings and sends me home with multiple kilos of bananas, which I generally attempt to refuse to no avail. She can be awfully forceful for such a small woman.  (For those of you who are keeping track of my photos on facebook, these are also the people with the baby pigs and DUCKS).  One time, she mentioned that they also grow strawberries.  I should have known my reaction would have consequences, but I had not seen strawberries yet here, and they are my favorite fruit, so needless to say, I got excited.  She told me she sells them at the market every week, but they are usually gone by 8 am because there are not very many right now because it is cold (yes, I promise you, I am not a pansy, it is pretty cold).  So I started a routine of going to find her before 8 Wednesday mornings.  Only the first time did she let me pay for them.  Now she stashes some in her bag for me and makes me take them for free.  More incentive to make their family a buttload of money from selling scarves in the states.  So anyway, this past week she hassled me for not coming to visit them more often.  To be fair, I had been there quite a bit lately, but I was in meetings for this whole exportation thing.  So I agreed to go the upcoming Saturday.

I thought I had timed it well, I left after I ate lunch and needed to be home by 5 to talk to my parents on the phone, so I figured I had avoided them having to feed me.  I was wrong, of course.  I got there a little after 1 and Adalene brings me upstairs where they are watching TV.  It is very rare to have a TV in this country, outside of Tana particularly.  It is even more rare to have one hooked up to cable.  Also their cable channels are awesome—there were some in Malagasy, English, French, Spanish, and even German.  If more people could afford TVs in Madagascar, they would be a very culturally sensitive people.  Anyway, they ask me if I have already eaten, and I say yes, but they go buy bread and make juice anyway.  They also ask me if I will eat dinner with them, and I tell them I have to leave by 4, so of course they decide to eat at 3:30.

So we are having a laugh while I explain what is going on in the English kid’s program involving disappearing dragons and talking dogs.  Reminded me a little of Wishbone (remember Wishbone??) but not as cool.  Silly England.  The program ends, and I ask if there are any channels in Malagasy, because I haven’t really seen TV here.  He hands me the remote to start to surf, and I go one channel up and see the pool with the London 2012 insignia.  I immediately pause and get very excited, launching into a story about how much I love to swim and asking them if they could swim (no) and had ever been to the Indian Ocean or the Mozambique Channel (again, no).  When we clicked to the channel, they were in the middle of the race, so I didn’t know what event it was or who was swimming, only that it was men’s.  Luckily, the commentary was in English, and as soon as they hit the turn, they put the name of the top 3 in the corner; P. VANDERKAAY was in first!  I got very excited, and decided quickly that it would be too difficult to explain that I didn’t really know him, but he was from a neighboring town and swam at Michigan.  For those of you who don’t know, the Vanderkaay’s are from Saline, south of Ann Arbor, and their entire family are absurdly good at swimming.  So I ended up telling them that he was someone I knew from home.  I suppose I could have just said he was famous, but not all Americans, and not even all Americans who follow the Olympics would know him.  So I went on to tell them that I “know” a few people that are Olympians.  This is somewhat true.  Kara Lynn Joyce went to my high school, but she graduated a year before I started.  She did date my sister’s good friend, and he got her to sign a magazine cover for me, so I am counting it.  And then there is Allison Schmitt, who I do actually know.  We swam together for Ann Arbor Swim Club, before it merged with Wolverine Aquatics under the umbrella of Club Wolverine.

As soon as I get finished with my story (which I can tell without being glued to the screen because the channel kept switching to horse racing and biking), Adalene suggests we go strawberry picking so I will have some to take home (in addition to the 2 kilos of bananas she had already given me, of course).  So we go do that, and upon our return they are beginning the women’s 400m freestyle relay.  So I start to watch with interest again, not knowing who would be on the relay team.  Didn’t recognize the first two names, but got very excited about Natalie Coughlin.  That time I didn’t claim to know her, and just said she was famous.  But then, much to my surprise, anchoring the relay was none other than Allison Schmitt, who I had just finished telling them about!!  They won the heat, but I believe the Australians beat their time for the number one seed in the finals.  Still, Americans and Aussies love to duke it out in the pool.

So not only did I get to see a little of the Olympics, which I thought I would miss all of, I got to see the one person I cared most about seeing, and 2 others that I was very happy to watch.

Good luck in the rest of the games, USA, I am rooting for you, even if I can’t watch.
2 weeks till I am home!  Maybe I will catch the closing ceremonies J

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Story of Silk

July 23, 2012

So my new partners, the Madagascar Cooperative Foundation, that are going to help export my silk products traveled with me to visit my weavers where they live.  The actual silk weaving cooperative is rather large, with different people in different towns who raise the silk worms, turn the cocoons into thread, dye the thread, and weave the products.  We went to go visit the people who actually do the weaving to film them for the website.  So we trekked the 7 km through the mountains on a dirt path.  Beautiful views, but took forever.  When we arrived, it was quickly worth it.  The people of the very small town of Morarano had never had a “vazaha,” or white person visit them before.  Needless to say, they were both very excited and very curious.  They made us lunch, and pretty much everyone stood around us and watched us eat haha.  We then had them bring their looms outside of their homes so we could film them weaving, because the houses are too dark for the camera.  All the people from the town stood around and watched the filming, so that will be amusing to see in the video.  Not quite what we were trying to capture—the typical day in the life of a weaver, but I think it will still be good.

Earlier in the week, MCF, the key people in my cooperative, and myself had met for MCF to ask a few questions and put in a request for a 9 scarf sample to send to the states.  In the process, we ended up learning a lot about the history of silk in Madagascar, and the history of the main family of weavers.  Here is the story, as told by Radany, a 46-year-old weaver and youth trainer.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a terrible disease that came to Madagascar. The dead bodies infected the living, and the disease spread all over the island.  The Malagasy began to ponder a solution.  They thought about what animal was easiest to kill, what animal always died when there was a sickness or a change in weather.  Their conclusion was the fragile silk worm, which they said drew in all of the sickness from the air.  The Malagasy decided they would wrap their dead in cloth made from these worms, and the disease stopped when they did so.  A few years ago, an American professor did a study about this phenomenon, and concluded that the Plague ending in Madagascar coincided with when they started wrapping their dead in silk cloth.  Every 5 or 7 years, depending on the cultural norm of the region, the Malagasy perform a custom called “Famadiana,” or “Turning of the Bones.”  The families of the deceased exhume the bodies from their tombs and perform many cultural customs, among which are drinking A LOT, and more importantly, wrapping another layer of endemic silk around the exhumed body.  This practice is still in place all over the island today.

Because of this phenomenon, it is believed that wearing a silk scarf or other clothing item will protect you from illness or curses.  It is said that if you are wearing silk and someone curses you, the curse will double back to them (I am rubber and you are glue…).  In addition, Radany says he wears silk everyday, and if say an illness like a cough comes through his town, he says he will only get sick one in five times.  He also cautioned that it only works on airborne illnesses, it can’t help with anything ingested (darn).  Although I haven’t had a cough in awhile…hmmmmm.

Another fun story: Radany picked up a piece of aged wood that they use when weaving.  He said his family has been using that same piece of wood since 1918.  He is the 5th generation of weavers in his family, and started when he was 7.  He is currently teaching his 7 year old how to weave, along with a few other youth apprentices, derived from a partnership with PROSPERER (who I work for).

So, now you know all about silk in Madagascar.  And when the website is up and running, you can go purchase silk scarves from The Village Store and protect yourself haha.

19 days until I am back home! And I will likely be wearing a scarf haha, gotta protect from all the diseases on a plane!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

T-One Month!

July 11, 2012

YAY!!!!!!! I will be returning to the states in exactly one month!!!! Very exciting.  That’s really all I have on that subject.  Get to see my best friend get married, celebrate my birthday, see the Dark Knight Rises, watch Tigers baseball, go to Chicago and see Wrigley Field and DSP alumni, go to mmb band week (unfortunately I will be on a plane to France for the ‘bama game) eat good food, and see my parents, sister, grandparents, friends, and boyfriend.  Overall, it is going to be legen…wait for it…dary! (Yup, I have been watching a lot of HIMYM lately.  Also, there are two episodes in the second season that have some serious Peace Corps shout outs!)



4th of July and Fun With Exportation

July 6, 2012

First, as promised, the recount of occurrences following fetim-pirenena (Independence Day).  So we had to travel back through Tana to get home from Antsirabe.  Earlier in June I had gotten in contact with a guy named Michael O’Day through my silk weavers.  I didn’t know a whole lot of information on him, only that he was an American who worked with artisans to export products to the US.  So I scheduled a meeting with him in Tana for the Thursday following VAC.  They don’t have an office, so he told us to meet him for breakfast at the Cookie Shop in downtown Tana.  Now, I had heard rumors of Cookie Shop from other volunteers but had not yet been there.  I was ill prepared for deliciousness that was to follow.  Emma, Eric, and I arrived at Cookie Shop and spent a solid 10 minutes just staring at the menu.  I have decided it is Starbucks meets Panera in Madagascar.  There were decadent coffee drinks, smoothies, baked goods, and best of all, BAGEL SANDWICHES!!!!!  If there is one food item I miss here in Mada, it is good sandwiches.  I poured over the menu, and finally decided there was no way I could ignore the BBQ chicken sandwich with cheddar cheese, bacon, and grilled onions.  It was everything I hoped for and more.  So yummy!! So needless to say, the business meeting was already a success, before O’Day even arrived.

So, on to real productive things, not just my happy stomach.  Michael O’Day arrived, a young guy, probably mid-twenties, along with a girl named Lacee and another guy named Addison.  We all got along really well, and were so excited to hear what he was doing here.  O’Day was here as a Mormon missionary for two years, and is an alumnus of Brigham-Young University.  After finishing school, he started the Madagascar Cooperative Foundation (, a non-profit that works on development.  They had recently decided to start a boutique in Utah called The Village Store, selling artisanal products.  They would give our artisans consistent business at a 20% markup.  And any money they make will go back into the non-profit to help with things like housing development and food security programs.  Moral of the story: EVERYONE WINS!!!!!! So that is very exciting.  One of my goals when I found out with whom I would be working was to export something, and now that seems like a very real possibility!  And very soon!!  So, best business meeting ever.  We decided to meet up again, Eric and I bringing silk samples, at the 4th of July party for all Americans the next week at the Chargé de Affairs (effectively American Ambassador, since their isn’t one) house in Tana the next week.

So, now on to that story.  Eric and I bring around 10 scarves each to this party, and sit down to chat with O’Day et al about which ones they want as samples to send back to the US.  We start getting bombarded by people asking us if we are selling the stuff haha.  We conclude the meeting with O’Day with him saying he is going to come talk to our weavers directly about pricing and what not.  So then, we have a bunch of silk to sell!! It ended up being very successful; I sold 3 scarves and a tie, and got orders for 10 more!! My weavers saw the envelope of money in my hand and were completely dumbfounded.  I was surprised too; I had no intention of selling silk when I set out that day.  WIN!

Also, fun anecdote from the party.  It was predominantly US embassy workers and their significant others.  There was also military personnel, students, businessmen and women, and, of course, a small number of Peace Corps Volunteers.  Within 5 minutes of walking in to the party, I spot a guy with a Central Michigan University Dad sweatshirt on.  As he walks past me, of course I have to flag him down and see where he is from.  Turns out, he was born in Grand Rapids and then moved to Bad Axe Michigan, where he lives with his wife, who was in town visiting him, and daughter.  He works with the Marines on anti-piracy in Mada and Comoros (SO COOL!).  When I heard Bad Axe (a very small town in the “thumb” of Michigan), I gave a little start.  My good friend and fellow Michigan tuba player, Kyle Mooney, is from Bad Axe. I asked if they knew him, and they said, “he is like a second son!”  Cue “it’s a small world after all…”

So that was my highly amusing and successful American Independence Day.  I got to wear my incredibly tacky red white and blue Christmas sweater with the tag that says “American Pride, made in the USA,” because it was freeeeeeezing (I swear I am not a pansy, it was probably 50 degrees in the sun, plus wind)  Also, I observed that apparently all countries get pissed off and want their independence in June/July; France, US, Madagascar, and Canada are all within like 2 weeks of one another haha.

That’s all for now! I hope to have exciting exportation updates soon J

VAC and Fetim-Pirenena

June 30, 2012

Manahoana namako!

Just returned from my Volunteer Advisory Council meeting in Antsirabe with the rest of the “Mahaylanders,” the nickname for those of us who live in the highlands of Madagascar.  Every 4 months there are regional meetings of all the volunteers.  We get together and talk about various issues and provide feedback to our VAC rep.  They then take our responses to the national committee meeting.  The VAC rep for each region plans the day and location of each meeting.  This time it was in Antsirabe, and happened to fall (and by happened I mean meticulously planned for our enjoyment) the day before Independence Day here in Madagascar.  Emma, Eric, and I (The Itasy TroisTM) headed down to the meeting on Sunday, June 24.  Got to our hotel and were reunited with Amy and Nick, the other two people from our training group that live in the highlands.  After much catching up we headed to the hotel where most everyone else was staying to say hello.  This hotel, Chez Billy, is a popular spot amongst volunteers.  I posted pictures of it from Tech Trip on facebook as well.  There are two rooms up on the roof, and many lounge chairs and umbrellas.  So that is where the 20 of us Mahaylanders spent a great deal of the 3 days we were in Antsirabe.

Sunday night we went and had fabulous pizza (well, fabulous for Madagascar anyway) and did a “speed dating” session to get to know one another.  Reminded me a lot of rushing DSP haha.  There was a carnival set up in street and people everywhere.  When your country is only 50 years old, Independence Day is a really big deal.  Monday was the actual VAC meeting, so we met and chatted about issues for a while, and then took advantage of how European Antsirabe is (founded by Norwegians) and ate ourselves silly on bread and cheese J.  That night, the 25th, the day before Independence Day (fetim-pirenena) children carry brightly colored paper lanterns through the streets when it gets dark.  Reminded me a lot of Halloween, with the lanterns like pumpkins to carry candy.  There were also quite a few fireworks that we watched from our awesome roof location.  The next day, we decorated our roof with lanterns we had purchased from the day before.  We didn’t participate so much in the activities below, but mostly just watched and relaxed together.  There were a great deal of speeches and parades of military and school children in the town center.  And fireworks again at night.  One of our group found sparklers for sale on the street so we spend the evening eating steak fritte, drinking boxed wine, playing twister, and lighting sparklers.  Overall, a very enjoyable time.  It was really nice to get to know a lot of the people from other sectors, although now I will be very sad to see the health and education volunteers who are finished leave in August and September.  Oh well, we have a new stage coming in soon and I will be a zoky! (Older sibling).

That’s all for now, more to come on our return trip from Antsirabe through Tana and the delicious and productive business meeting that ensued.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Surprise Business Trip to Sofia

June 22, 2012

So, story time: how Eric, Emma, and Sarah drove halfway to Diego (look on the map, it is faaaaar) on 3 days notice.

So my counterpart, Nary, comes up to me at the office.  It was a normal day, I was just sitting at my desk that I share with Julia, a French volunteer (who is great fun and speaks awesome English) doing some research and checking my email.  Nary asks me what I am doing next week, and I reminded him that we had made plans to go visit some people interested in working with me in two neighboring towns.  Then he said, well call Emma and Eric and see if they have a program, we are going to Sofia.  Now, I begin to think I have heard him wrong, as it is a Thursday, and he said we were leaving Sunday.  Sofia is far, like really far, not the kind of place you just pick up and go to, that tends to take planning.  It is nicknamed “the black hole” because the road leading to it just suddenly stopped.  But it has since been finished and is now one of the nicest roads in Madagascar.  So I give the run down to Julia, who has been working there longer, to see what she thought about it.  She doesn’t speak gasy, so I recapped the conversation as I understood it.  She came to the same conclusion I did: I must have heard wrong.  I go to find Nary to confirm that what I thought was true, and he is working on a budget proposal on the computer, detailing who was going and where.  There was no arguing with that.  So Eric, Emma, myself, and our respective counterparts through PROSPERER, 14 people in total, prepared to make the very long journey up north…with 3 days notice.

We left early Sunday morning and drove all day, all the way up to Antsohihy.  If we had more notice it would have been nice because two other volunteers from our stage, Dan and Leslie, do their banking in that town.  They also work with PROSPERER in that region.  We stayed the night there, and then the next day went and visited the PROSPERER office and some of the people they work with, such as embroiderers and weavers, and stayed another night there.  The land there is beautiful, and it was really our first chance to see somewhere other than the highlands.  The culture, the food, the architecture, and the climate all vary from where I live.  It is quite hot, there are lots of palm trees and coconuts, it is much more flat, and the houses are made more of sticks than the red clay bricks here.  Also, coconut and curry are heavily present in the food, and there is a lot of goat, which I haven’t seen at all in the highlands.  There is also a larger Muslim population, so many of the hotelys are “halal.”

The next day we drove back south a few hours to Port Bergé.  There is another CED volunteer there, Christina, who has been in country about a year.  We met her at breakfast, and then did some more visits with blacksmiths and beekeepers.  There was debate as to where we would stay that night.  We were only a few hours from Majanga, and after talking to other volunteers in country I have discovered that everyone loves it there.  Plus it is on the Mozambique channel, and I still haven’t been to the ocean since getting here.  So Emma, Eric, and I were really advocating for that.  But our rented van was getting worked on all afternoon, so we ended up just staying in Port Bergé.  So we spent the afternoon exploring the town, and in the evening watched this organized fight celebration, called “Meringy.”  There were lots of festivals and shows leading up to the Independence Day activities on June 26 all over the country.  Pretty much meringy is a bunch of boys kind of half boxing one another in kind of a dance, showboat way.  Kind of hard to explain.  The girls, however, who were few and far between, took each other down when they got in the ring.  We crashed the night with Christina and heard her stories about the region.

The next day we made the long trip back down to Tana.  We stayed at the Peace Corps Meva, and headed back home the next day to catch up on work and sleep before heading south to Antsirabe for VAC a few days later (explanation to come).  We cut the trip short, returning on Thursday morning, but the rest of the group traveled to meetings around Tana until Saturday.  Long business trip!  We also learned that they do a trip to Antsohihy and one to Fianarantsoa (south) every year.  Hopefully next time we will get a little more advanced notice so we can plan a vacation around it.