Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Halloween VAC


Manahoana indray namako!

Hope you all are enjoying your holiday season.  I recently got packages smelling heavenly of cinnamon so I am getting in the spirit too!  Sad I will be missing another set of holidays at home, but excited about my last five months of service here in Madagascar.  Well, the time has come again for me to coordinate another meeting/part for all of the highlands volunteers.  We returned to Ampefy (Emma’s town, 30 km west of me) for some beach fun and a costumed Halloween party.  It was great fun, but as always there were some frustrations involved in planning an event for 20 people.

On Halloween, the day before everyone was set to arrive in Ampefy, Eric and Emma joined me in my town to help me carve “pumpkins” for decorations.  These are really a kind of large squash with a green outside and orange inside, but they still work fairly well and taste like pumpkin.  Our planned designs using paper cutouts didn’t fair so well, the pumpkins were too small and oblong, so we ended up mostly free handing and trying to correct our mistakes.  All and all pretty amusing.  We also decided to have a Tim Burton movie marathon, and ended up watching Batman Returns and Beetlejuice.  Eric had never seen Beetlejuice!  I couldn’t believe it.  Not my usual Halloween night, where my family and I always watch Young Frankenstein, but I took care of that one, Hocus Pocus, Sweeney Todd, and Halloweentown earlier in the week J Also, I used the pumpkin guts to make a pretty good facsimile of my mom’s sweet potato casserole.  Yum!

The next day, we headed out to Ampefy to get ready for the arrival of all the other volunteers.  Nearly half the group who came out was new volunteers, so helping all of them navigate to Ampefy after only swearing in 6 weeks prior was a bit of a trip.  We have a new volunteer, Ian, in our region, and one close by, Zach, so they showed up fairly early and joined Eric, Emma, and me for a pizza lunch.  The way Ian looked at the pizza it was like solid gold and rubies, too funny. Everybody else was coming through Tana, so the few volunteers who had made the trip before had to help heard all of the newbies on their way.  Everybody finally arrive between 7 and 8 in the evening, so we mostly just got dinner, grabbed a few drinks, and caught up with everyone we hadn’t seen in awhile or hadn’t met.

The next day was set for the big meeting at the beach.  Emma had talked to a tax-brousse driver in town and set up a private ride for us the 8 km to the beach on the lake owned by a hotel.  The guy was supposed to pick us up at 10 am, so when 10:30 rolled around and he still wasn’t there, we began to call.  He said he was in town and on his way the first time.  15 minutes later he said he was in a town 10 km south of Emma dropping people off, even though we paid him extra not to work in the morning so he would be on time to pick us up.  At 11 we wouldn’t get ahold of him, but 10 minutes later a smaller taxi-brousse with a different driver arrived.  The driver said the guy we had set everything up with was on the road from Tana but had four flat tires so he called this new guy to come pick us up and take us.  This new guy would not budge from the price we set up with the previous guy, even though that was at a premium because we wanted him on time.  So an hour and a half late and too much money later, we finally got on the road to the beach.

The actual beach day and meeting were pretty relaxing.  The weather was beautiful, the food was delicious, and we had a beautiful sandy beach with beach chairs and umbrellas all to ourselves.  However, late in the day it started to look incredibly stormy, but we waited until the last minute to leave.  Hilarious mistake.  The clouds had surrounded our little beach on the lake, coming from all sides.  We had just gotten under the pavilion to square the bill when someone shouted, “look! A double rainbow!!”  People started taking pictures of that awesome spectacle, but then someone said, “look at that wall of rain coming across the lake, how cool!”  That is when I yelled, “let’s head for the car before that hits us.”  Unfortunately, everyone was too engrossed in the rainbows to listen to me, except for two people.  So the three of us headed to the car, and got in just as a mini-cyclone hit the area.  There was deafening wind, pounding rain, and even hail!  The road on which we had come was mostly mud anyway, but would be nearly impassable if the rest of the group didn’t come soon.  They start racing one by one to the car, looking like they had been swimming even though none of us had touched the lake.

We finally got everyone in the car and started on the road back.  The driver could barely see out the windshield, so I was glad this wasn’t a well-traveled road.  We passed houses with their roofs blown off, lost our spare tire off the back and had to return for it (it was already in someone’s ox cart to be sold somewhere else, they had to buy it back), and got stuck in the mud multiple times.  We volunteers were used to it though, and all still in good spirits when we finally arrived back in Ampefy.

The plan for the night was dinner on your own, then meet back for a Halloween party.  Our hotel had hosted us at the VAC in February, and allegedly knew what we wanted.  However, when we returned from dinner, they were not selling any alcohol or snacks, the communal area with the speakers, karaoke machine, and couches was shut up, and all of the staff was asleep.  It was 8:30.  In a mass scramble, we went and bought nearly all of the beer the small town of Ampefy had to offer, set up an ipod on some small portable speakers, and managed to salvage the party by 10:30 pm.  So there were definitely some unexpected hiccups, but that is life in Madagascar.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moringa! Moringa!! Moringa!!!


Manahoana indray!

I want to tell you about a project that I am really proud of, one of my biggest to date.  When I first arrived in Madagascar, my fellow economic development volunteers were trained with environment volunteers.  They talked all the time about this tree called moringa.  I had never heard of it, but I soon learned that it is practically magic in terms of nutrition.  High in protein, vitamins, and calcium, the leaves and seeds could do wonders for a country hat mostly lives on rice and deep fried carbs.  The moringa tree is gaining popularity throughout Africa, South America, and Asia because it grows in very sandy soil and doesn’t require a lot of water once the tree is already grown.  Plus, the tree begins producing leaves and seeds in just a few months, and lives for about 15 years.  Yay sustainability!

Back in July, I developed a project plan that would spread moringa throughout the Itasy region, partnered with the Office of National Nutrition and an agricultural training center 11 km west of my town.  There will be 6 pilot sites and a production site at the agricultural training center partnered with the French volunteers in my town.  We received the $3,000 in USAID funding when the project was accepted in September, and began buying supplies right away.  Each pilot is partnered with a school or youth organization, and will have about 15 trees.  We just completed the first three-day training to teach the heads of the pilot sites how to grow, process, and utilize the different parts of the tree for different uses.  We taught them how to make all kinds of different recipes, salt licks for cattle, how to dry and pound the leaves into a powder to use as a nutritional supplement, and lots of other things!

I was a little nervous to see how a project of this scope.  There will be pilots all over the region, and in my experience you have constantly monitor your counterparts to make sure they are following up.  So far, I didn’t need to worry.  I was so impressed with how engaged and hardworking all of the pilot heads were during the first training.  I keep hearing from Eric and Emma about how excited the community members are, and how they are already starting to train other people, even without the help of the professional trainers.

The next step is preparing these three-day trainings at each of the pilot sites and giving seeds to community members.  The idea is to get moringa widespread in communities all over, and teach people how to use it in a bunch of different ways.  Also, I will be preparing basketball and soccer tournaments at each of the pilot sites.  The programs will also involve moringa games and programs, associating fun, fitness, and nutrition together.  Excited to keep moving forward!