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 (http://madagascarfoundation.org/), 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