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.