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!