Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reflections on our trip

As always seems to happen when we are all together, there was also hilarity, although I don’t think milk came out of anyone’s nose this time.  Alex was forced to use a bathroom down “Jack the Ripper Alley”, Sarah is scarily aggressive when it comes to cockroaches, and Brian and Nicole cannot pull off a covert operation – banana peels and fruit that we were trying to sneak out of the restaurant for the lemurs were treated like a hot potato! – Donna

My favorite thing was the lemurs at Berenty.  You really got a taste of their personalities and curiosity.  It was so much fun to interact with them and see them in their environment. – Nicole

For me, the most memorable aspect of the trip was how different each place was.  Tana is a traffic jam of different cultures and tastes, and the city has so much energy compared to the rest of the country.  The highlands are much more relaxed; the terrain is beautiful, and the markets, ox-driven carts and agriculture make it tough to gauge time (in a good way).  The lemur parks allow you to enjoy nature in person, without feeling like a tourist.  Finally, Fort Dauphin gives you the tropical vacation experience, and a chance to eat yourself into a seafood coma next to the Indian Ocean.  Our two-week trip really felt like four or five vacations, all on the same island. - Alex

Ft. Dauphin and Berenty! Part 2

Salama (hello in the south)! The next day we left the highlands and flew to Ft. Dauphin, which is on the Indian Ocean on the south coast of Madagascar.  We could have driven, but it would have taken days because the roads are very bad.  Ft. Dauphin and the ocean were great! We met Sam, another volunteer, and spent 2 days on the beach and a little bit of time shopping in the town.  We had lots of fresh seafood including oysters (only Brian), shrimp, lobster and fish.  One restaurant owner proudly showed us a plate with 2 very large, very raw squid he had acquired that day. We had lunch at a hotel on a cliff overlooking the beach and the ocean.  The hotel has an infinity pool that looks out over the ocean as well, so it was very cool. Breakfast at our hotel was also great, I loved the jam made with fruit and vanilla.

From Ft. Dauphin, we took a 3 hour van ride to go about 54 miles to Berenty. The road is the major East-West route along the coast, and while it was paved at one time, most of the asphalt has washed away and it’s now rutted and pot holed clay.  In the rainy season, it is sometimes impassable.  We passed through a few small villages, where people waved at us, and we passed taxi brousses loaded with people.  One had chickens in cages on the roof and another had a goat!  People headed to or from market I’m sure.

Berenty is a private reserve and most documentaries about lemurs were filmed there.  Berenty is in the spiny forest.  I am not a desert person, but the plants in the spiny forest are very cool.  There are also baobabs there, but not the giant ones that you see in pictures. The ring-tailed lemurs at Berenty are very used to people, so they come right up to the open-air restaurant.  In fact, they will hop up on your table and steal food if you don’t watch them.  The sifakas there are also pretty used to people, and while they won’t come as close as the ring tails, they are around and you can watch them interact.  The sifakas walk on their 2 hind legs with their arms raised in the air when they are moving around and crossing the road, very cute to watch.

We did 3 hikes in Berenty, morning, afternoon and night and saw bats, chameleons, lizards, an owl, and 4 or 5 different types of lemurs.  Since it is a private reserve, they also have a few things in enclosures – turtles and a crocodile.  It s a very cool place, worth the 3 hour drive!

After the 3 hour drive back to Ft. Dauphin, we had dinner at a restaurant on the beach.  The next day we flew back to Tana where we spent the afternoon and early evening.  Then Brian, Nicole, and I left Alex to spend the rest of his vacation with Sarah, and we headed to the airport to fly to Paris where we would spend another 3 days.  It was a lovely transition back to the developed world and a nice break in the 24 hour trip.

Sarah, it was great to see you talk so easily and fluently to everyone, friends and strangers, and to hear your friends talk about you.  You have obviously touched the lives of the people with whom you work.  Misaotra (thank you) to Madagascar, Clark, Sarah and all of her friends who gave us such a great trip!


The Fowlkes and Franz go to Madagascar! Part 1

Manao ahoana (hello in the highlands)!  Sarah has asked me to be a guest blogger and tell you about our family trip to Madagascar.  It was a great trip!  I will try to be concise, but it will be hard.  We flew from Detroit to Antananarivo (Tana) via Paris.  There were some last minute flight changes on our way out of Detroit, but in all, the travel went smoothly, it just takes forever!!! 24 hours from the time we left Detroit until we landed in Tana.  So we ate, slept, read and watched movies.

We left the Tana airport around 11 pm, so we went straight to the hotel and to bed.  Sarah has a friend whose father is a taxi brousse driver, so she arranged for him to be our private driver while we were in the highlands.  I am so grateful for Clark, he was awesome!  Driving in late at night, everything looked dark and deserted.  I asked Sarah if the buildings we were seeing were deserted or just closed.  It is winter in Madagascar, and Sarah had told us that it gets cold in the highlands, but we called her a wimp and told her she had been gone from Michigan for too long.  It was sunny and nice during the day, probably in the high 60’s, but it was in the 40’s at night and the hotel did not have heat.  We made sure we booked places with electricity, private bathrooms, and hot water, but we did not ask about heat!  Oh well, after the 1st night we were in places with thicker blankets, so it was ok.

The next morning Sarah took us to a buffet so we could sample some Malagasy dishes.  Everything was very good and nothing was particularly odd.  There is a lot of French influence, so there is bread, great jam, eggs, and a stew with Zebu meat.  When we headed out, things in the city looked very different than the night before.  Lots of people and activity.  Tana is large, busy, and crowded, but it was neat to see.

As we drove out of Tana for Miarinarivo (Sarah’s town - about 2 hours west), we quickly came upon rice fields, brick making fields, and zebu.  There are zebu everywhere!  Zebu carts are very common in the highlands, the zebu also graze beside the road, and small groups of 4-5 are often in the road being moved to a new area by their owners (or maybe to market). We were driving through the mountains, which are beautiful and even though it was the dry season, things were still pretty green.  I was surprised that a lot of the highlands are primarily clay, even the mountains, so lots of things are red, but they also use the clay to make bricks.  Between cooking fires, baking bricks, and burning the grass on the mountains to prepare the pastures for the rainy season, the highlands smell like a campfire all the time!  Most of the houses in the highlands are made of bricks without mortar, and have thatched or tin roofs.  Also, most people in rural areas do not have electricity, and even in towns and cities most people don’t have washing machines, so every river and lake has people washing clothes in it.  Then the clothes are laid out on the bushes or the ground to dry so the country side is very colorful.

We spent the next few days in the highlands.  We met Sarah’s rock sculptors, the people at Prosperer and CCI, her minister and his family, her friend Toky and his family, the people at the youth center, other friends, some of the other Peace Corps volunteers, and some of her silk weavers.  Everyone was so welcoming and friendly.  They also all wanted to feed us, so Sarah warned them ahead of time that we would not be able to eat everywhere we went, it would just be too much food!  We got to see her place, which has electricity, running water (cold only) and a propane stove, so she doesn’t have to cook on an open fire. We also saw her church, the youth center, the market in her town and lots of other interesting things.  It’s a very pretty area in the mountains.

One day we drove to Ampefy to meet Emma, another volunteer, and visit Chute de la Lily.  It was market day in one of the towns we drove through, and it is a sight to see! Local people walk or taxi brousse to town for market day to buy, sell, or just be there.  You almost can’t drive because of all the people and stuff.  There is furniture, chickens, zebu, fruits and vegetables, clothes.  It’s amazing.  Thankfully we had Clark to drive us, and we were just passing through.

Ampefy is pretty, and Chute de la Lily, the waterfall there, is beautiful.  We hiked down to the bottom followed by an entourage of young girls trying to sell us souvenirs.  Everywhere we went, at the airport, outside the hotel, on the beach, we were surrounded by people, primarily children, trying to sell us stuff.  Sarah would talk to all of them, and often they would hang around chatting with her.  A group of 5 Vazaha or “white people” was a quite a sight, so we drew attention wherever we went.  Sometimes when we were driving through a town, people would wave at the van full of white people!  At one restaurant, a little boy at the table behind us was turned around backwards in his chair watching Brian eat.

We traveled east of Tana to the rain forest and visited Mitsinjo and Andasibe National Park where we saw our first lemurs!!!  We did a night hike in Mitsinjo.  We didn’t see any lemurs, but we saw chameleons, a gecko, and frogs so Nicole was very happy.  The next day in Andasibe we saw 4 different types of lemurs including the indri, which is the largest species.  We heard the indri calling when we started our hike, it is a very eerie sound that can travel several kilometers.  Maybe because it was chilly, the indri were slow to come to the areas where the guides expected them, so it took a long time to find them, but it was worth it.  They are very cool looking.  Later we heard them calling while we were having lunch at the hotel.  After lunch, we headed back to Tana to prepare for our trip to the coast.

Donna (Sarah’s mom)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My First VAC as Head Honcho


The weekend after independence day, all of the “mahaylanders” got together for our first VAC meeting with me as the team leader! We had a very good discussion about some of the issues facing volunteers and new policies proposed by the new country director.  Then we got on to the fun part J

In the theme of summer BBQs and fun having, I put together an Olympic games themed party.  There were four teams, each with their own color theme (PURPLE RAIN!!!!! Actually my team was supposed to be blue, but my friend Travis pulled his “zoky” (older sibling in Malagasy) card.  Plus purple rain had a sweet theme song and we DOMINATED).  While it was difficult to get everyone moving in the right direction (herding cats was the phrase that came to mind), we did get two members from each team to participate in the highlight of the day, LIVE ACTION MARIO KART!   We rented little tricycles on the streets of Antsirabe and raced them around the little boulevard.  Sadly I was the only one in costume (LAME, I was Toad J), but one group did buy bananas to throw at other teams, which was pretty hilarious.

Herding cats continued after that to get everyone to the hotel, and it was starting to get dark so we didn’t really do a whole lot of the other games.  Purple Rain did some decent domination in beer pong and flip cup (college revival whoo!) and then we went to go get pizza and cheeseburger.  Yay America!

Overall I think it was successful, and everyone seemed to have fun even though we didn’t do everything planned.  Can’t wait to do it again in October!

Fetim-Pirenena in Miarinarivo


I have officially been in Madagascar for two, count em two! Malagasy, American, and French Independence Days.  Apparently everyone gets mad and demands independence all at the same time haha.  And they were awesome, again.  So the 25th of June (the day before Malagasy Independence Day) I went and watched the fireworks my town set off at the high school stadium.  But it was so cold!! I was wearing like 5 shirts and a coat, not to mention light up glasses J and it was only 8 at night.  June is definitely the coldest month in the highlands, and this June was definitely colder than last year.  The fireworks were pretty cool though.  I thought it was funny because they were just as big as in America but with way fewer safety regulations haha.  Don’t worry; no one was hurt or anything.  But I realized Madagascar and America both get their fireworks from China so the caliber is definitely the same.

So the next day was actually Independence Day, which is actually less fun.  I prefer the 25th because everyone is wearing light up stuff, carrying paper lanterns, and watching fireworks.  Actual fetim-pirenena is much more bureaucratic.  There was a “parade” of all important people and schools at the high school stadium and then a delicious reception at the region.  Then I took the rest of the day to just wander around and talk to people. 

Then the 4th of July rolls around and my French friends mentioned that they wanted to make cheeseburgers, so I turned it into a full American BBQ!  We just added French cheese and a bit of wine to combine worlds J.  So I gathered with my French and German friends, wore ridiculous stars and stripes shorts, and made a huge playlist of songs that mention America.  All in all a pretty good holiday.

Didn’t really do much to celebrate the French Bastille Day, but did have a lovely glass of French wine, so I call that a win.

Happy summer holidays all!