Thursday, June 19, 2014

Things I Will Miss, and Things I Definitely Will Not

June 18, 2014

In honor of having exactly one month remaining, (and the fact that I just had my first real good-bye with a Malagasy friend) I thought I would talk about the things I have loved here and will miss, and of course the ridiculous things that I definitely hope never to have to encounter again.

Things I Will Miss:
·      The people.  I have met so many interesting people, and I know I will stay in contact with some, but others will be more difficult to stay connected with, and I will miss them everyday.  This includes the Malagasy, as well as the multitude of multinationals that became part of my “Team Vazaha.”  I also love how accepted and welcomed I feel in some of the families I know, like I am a part of them.
·      The mountains.  As anyone who has ever traveled with me can tell you, I am a sucker for mountains.  Probably because Michigan doesn’t have any.  Looking forward to attempting to climb the Ozarks when I move to Arkansas in January :) .
·      “My” dogs and cats.  Gray (cat), White (cat), Pixie (dog), Mino (tiny kitten), Bleu (dog), Boba (dog), Melky (dog), Rex (dog), and Marlo (dog).  I think that is all of them.  As I write this, Gray is curled up in my lap, and Pixie is sleeping with his enormous head on the doorstep (purebred German Shepard).  While none of them technically belong to me, since I vowed after the guinea pigs that I was not allowed to own pets, (I get too attached anyway) I adopted several animals that my friends own.  And I am going to miss them terribly. 
·      Random wandering cows and chickens.  I know it sounds weird, but there is something always amusing about having to pause a soccer game because a cow is lazily munching his way across it.  Or the chickens who look like raptors (seriously, these things are weird) scurrying across the road avoiding the foot and vehicle traffic.  I also love ducks, I think they are just the funniest, and will be looking for them in America.
·      Near complete lack of schedule.  Agriculture and health volunteers have project and personal goals, but unlike the education volunteers, we don’t really follow a set schedule.  If I want to nap between 12 and 2, I can.  If rain makes it impossible to work, that’s just how it goes.  I will definitely miss having complete control over my schedule.
·      Thunderstorms.  They are so good here.  Power cuts aside, sitting on your porch, watching as the lightning dances across the sky and the deafening thunder rolls in is such a wonderful experience.
·      The ocean.  Need I say more?  While I do not live very close to it, every single trip I have been on in this country (which is actually quite a few) has involved a trip to the Indian Ocean or the Mozambique Channel, and I will never be able to get enough.
·      Fresh seafood. Now, this really only applies to when I go to the ocean, but I have had $12 lobster and prawns the size of my head.  Also, the north makes everything coconut and saffron rice, and it is the absolute best.
·      FRUIT!  Did you know I thought I didn’t like pineapple? That was because I had never had it fresh.  The tropical fruit in this country is to die for.  Mango, pocanelle, mandarin, avocado, pineapple, 100 kinds of bananas, and LITCHI!! I will miss litchi most of all.  If you have never tried fresh litchi, you need to make that happen.  I am looking forward to apples and strawberries in the states though.
·      Cheap cost of living.  I can buy 2.2 pounds of tomatoes for about a dollar.  My rent is one of the most expensive in Peace Corps, and it is about $60 per month.  I don’t make a lot of money here, but things don’t cost a whole lot either.  Not looking forward to the cost of living in the states.
·      Biking.  I own the nicest bike I ever will, courtesy of Peace Corps.  It has been quite fun biking through the countryside of the Itasy region.  I am looking forward to testing my bike at home to see if it still works, and to try for a little more flat ground and excellently paved roads.
·      Being multi-lingual.  While this isn’t going to go away completely, I know my Malagasy skills will diminish with lack of use.  I have been improving my French, but it still has a long way to go.  I will really miss being able to talk to people in Malagasy, and making fun of other “vazaha” in Malagasy when they don’t understand.  People were always so surprised by my Malagasy level, and I liked that.
·      Flora and fauna.  Swimming in waterfalls, feeding lemurs of all sizes, crossing paths with a chameleon or tenerec. The flora and fauna of Madagascar is so unique, and I am definitely going to miss it.  Not the spiders though, or the cockroaches.  I have been lucky and haven’t had any rats.
·      Frip. Ahhh second-hand clothing markets.  It was no secret that thrift stores were my favorite places to shop in the states, but here it is really all people do.  I love paying no more than $4 for every piece of clothing I own.  It also makes for excellent costume and theme parties.
·      Meva free box.  Even better than buying second-hand clothing? Getting the clothing and such the other volunteers leave behind, for free.  Reminds me of rummaging through my friend Kiri’s closet in high school and ridding her of anything she hadn’t worn in the last year.

Things I Will Definitely Not:
·      Verbal harassment.  Quite possibly my least favorite thing about being here.  Being an (extremely) white woman, I am easily noticed, and the Malagasy are all about pointing out the obvious.  It is completely acceptable for people to run around shouting “vazaha, vazaha!” whenever I am near (white person, foreigner).  They also often greet me in that manner, saying “bonjour vazaha,” assuming I am French.  The kids I can forgive, if I haven’t corrected them before.  One of the most rewarding things is to have a kid greet me in Malagasy with my proper name.  However, the men are the absolute worst.  Bonjour Cherie, I love you, je t’aime, are you married, come home with me, all in the sleaziest of voices.  That is usually where it ends, but there has been the occasional inappropriate grab, and I am looking forward to a culture where that is no longer acceptable.
·      Taxi-brousses and other transportation. Not that it isn’t fun to try and squeeze 30 people in a van that has a capacity of 16 and then try and climb hills while the engine groans and warms the floor beneath your feet…Not to mention the fact that the taxis in Tana are all from about 1965.
·      The roads.  Don’t get me wrong, my main road is fantastic and I love it.  But, stray about 10 feet and you’ve got a complete mess on your hands, and it takes YEARS to get anywhere.  This country is roughly 1,000 miles long.  It would take you over 3 days to get from North to South.
·      Crime.  The pick-pocket and robbery situations have gotten out of hand in Tana.  I have been lucky, thankfully, and only been robbed once.  (Don’t worry, nothing that couldn’t be replaced, and I wasn’t hurt.)  I am looking forward to being back in a place where I feel safer after dark.  My town is no problem, but everything closes at 7, haha.
·      “Sauce.” Anything “sauce” on a menu is just oil and MSG.  No wonder I gained 10 pounds the first year. (Don’t worry, I have since figured out balance in my life).
·      Odd foods.  Fish heads for cow brains for breakfast? No thank you.  Jiggly pieces of fat? None for me.  At least I have been spared some of the foods I have heard other volunteers eat: locusts, cockroach-esque bugs, sea turtle eggs, bat, tenerec, bull testicle…
·      Mountains of rice.  This place doesn’t mess around.  Seriously, the most rice per capita in the entire world.  And when you are eating with friends, they decide when you have had enough.  Did I mention the 10 pounds?
·      Being a “pet.”  It is inevitable, when you are as white as I am, people like to have you as a friend just so they can show you off to people.  This is not all of my relationships, certainly, but there are definitely some that feel this way.
·      Begging.  Again, when you are white, people assume you have money, and bombard you with begging.  The most annoying is when you think someone is your friend and then they ask you if they can have your stuff, or tell you that you should give them a “New Years” present.
·      Power cuts.  While I do love the quiet ambiance of a town lit by candlelight and that is incapable of blasting thumping music at deafening decibels, when your computer battery doesn’t work it is quite annoying when the power goes out almost every day of rainy season.
·      Water cuts.  The worst.  All I want to do is shower, but when it doesn’t rain from May-October, I have to save that water for drinking.  Luckily it is cold so I don’t smell (much).
·      Mountain burning.  Every year they blacken my beautiful mountains so the cows can have new growth to eat, leading to a complete lack of trees, soil erosion, and a general destabilizing of the environment.  I don’t see it changing, and the lack of awareness and forward thinking is definitely something I am not going to miss.
·      Risk of tropical diseases.  Whatever happened to the common cold? Let’s go back to that.  I have been lucky, only dysentery…twice.  Other volunteers have suffered from things like malaria, giardia, worms, dengue fever, and scarlet fever.  Feeling healthy and lucky!

And as a bonus…

Things I Am Looking Forward To in America:
·      Things open past 7:30.
·      Barbeques.
·      Pools.
·      Snow.
·      FOOTBALL!!
·      Sandwiches.
·      Salads.
·      Bars.
·      Pizza.
·      Movie theaters
·      Bowling alleys.
·      Game nights.
·      Decent cars.
·      Awesome roads.
·      Apples.
·      Seasons.
·      Hi-speed Internet.
·      Unlimited texting.
·      Cheese.
·      Strawberries.
·      Unlimited hot water.
·      Concerts of people I actually know.
·      Not the constant center of attention.

See you soon America!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Saying Goodbye to the FYFG Stage, and Moving Forward

June 4, 2014

Sorry it has been so long since my last post.  Things are winding down here, and therefore I have been pretty busy try to wrap everything up.  I have about a month and a half remaining, but let me catch you up on what happened in the last couple of months.

So going back to April.  My contract was supposed to end in April, but as you know, I decided to stay 3 months longer.  My stagemates, however, mostly went home, which was pretty difficult for me.  When you spend two years with a group of 25 people as your support system, it is hard to let them go.  I am so proud of all they accomplished, and happy that they are back with their families, and moving forward with their lives.  Several of them, like me, will be going to get their masters degrees.  I can’t wait to meet up with all of them in America and see what all they are up to.

But, never fear, the new volunteers are here! A whole new crop of agriculture and health volunteers arrived for training in Mantasoa at the end of February, and Eric, Emma, and my replacements arrived in Itasy at the end of April.  While I very much miss Eric and Emma, it is nice to have new volunteers around.  It is funny spending time with volunteers so early in their service, because it makes you realize how much you have learned.  They are full of questions that I didn’t even know I knew the answer to.  They are also wowed by my language skills, since I have been here so much longer than them, haha.

As for work, I am spending most of my time planning and implementing my 7 sports tournaments in association with my moringa nutrition project.  So far 4 down and 3 to go, whoohoo!  The rest of my time is spent doing follow-up work and some meetings with all of the people that I have worked with.  It has been a little hard to think that I am leaving these people so soon.  It is also hard to take the backseat in projects and with work groups.  I leave so soon, and I need to make sure that my little birdies know how to fly without me.  It is great to see them do well on their own, but there are some decisions that I would make differently, and I am learning to let those things go.

Well that is all I have for now.  I so much look forward to coming home and seeing all of you soon!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Next Step

Salama e!

Here it is! The much anticipated glance into what the next few years have in store for me.  Finalized (ish) this morning, I am happy to announce that I will be attending the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville AND the University of Arkansas at Little Rock starting January 2015.  I will be pursuing a dual master's degree in public service and business administration over my 2.5 years there. Yay!  I am still awaiting assistantship news from the business school, but I received financial aid from the clinton school.  Whoohoo!

But what will you be doing in the mean time, Sarah?  Glad you asked.  Here is a breakdown of the next few years and where I will be and when, for y'all's information (yeah, I might as well get used to that word, eh?)

First, when I finish here in July, I will be traveling through Asia on my way home.  Here is what that schedule looks like:

July 18: Officially finish Peace Corps.  28 months!
July 19: Fly from Antananarivo, Madagascar, to Johannesburg, South Africa
July 20: Johannesburg
July 21: Drive/bus from Johannesburg to Capetown
July 22-26: Capetown
July 27-28: Fly to Shanghai, China to meet my Dad, via Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi
July 28-August 6: Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing with my Dad
August 7: Fly to Manila, Philippines
August 8-11: Manila
August 11: Fly to San Francisco to meet some college and Peace Corps friends
August 12-14 San Francisco
August 14: Fly to Detroit via Atlanta
August: Arrive in Detroit, and go out for a 25th birthday lunch with my Mom!

The next few months will likely involve me looking for part-time employment around Ann Arbor, and re-acclimating to life in America.  I have decided to buy a Michigan Football ticket (not even a student one!) because it has been so long since I have seen Michigan football, and it may be one of the last times I will be available for a whole season.

Once November comes around, a very close friend of mine from Madagascar--David-Pierre, a French volunteer--will be finishing his service in Madagascar, and would like to come to America.  The plan is for him to come for a month, and for us to travel around for a bit.  That schedule looks something like this as of right now:

November 15: Arrive in New York City
November 16-18: NYC
November 19: Drive to Philadelphia
November 20-21: Philly
November 22: Drive to Washington DC
November 23-24: DC
November 25: Drive to Ann Arbor
November 26-December 2: Ann Arbor for Thanksgiving and UM vs OSU football!
December 3: Fly to San Francisco
December 4-5: San Francisco
December 7: Drive to Stanford (David-Pierre is interested in a PhD program there, and I wouldn't mind checking out google...)
December 8: Stanford
December 9: Drive to San Jose
December 10: Fly to Los Angeles
December 11-14: LA (Including Santa Monica, the beach, and Hollywood!)
December 15: Return home

In all likelihood, my family will be leaving for Arkansas for Christmas (I finally get to be there again!) around December 22.  Still don't know if we are driving or flying or what, since I need to figure out my car situation and how I am getting all of my stuff to Arkansas.

Wacky school schedule: because Fayetteville and Little Rock are so far apart, the 2.5 year program is split by year.  So, here is my schedule of where I will be for those two years:

January-May 2015: Fayetteville, AR
May 10-August 2015: Some kind of job/internship (TBD)
September 2015-May 2016: Little Rock, AR
May-August 2016: Summer capstone project abroad (TBD)
September 2016-May 2017: Fayetteville, AR
Should be graduating in May, but it is possible to go into the summer semester as well.

Then, who knows? And that is the way I like it :)

I know there is a lot going on in this post, but I wanted to let you all know where I would be, especially while traveling, in case you wanted to meet up!  Anxiously awaiting all of it :)


Maeve Comes to Mada!

Manahoana daholo!

I am sorry it has been so long since my last update, but that is a good thing I swear.  I have been very busy, and definitely a good busy.  But I got to take a little break from all of my nutrition work (which has been my focus lately) when my friend, Maeve, came to visit me from the states!

Maeve and I went to high school and college together, and we also swam, played water polo, and worked at the pool together for several years.  She graduated from Michigan last May, and has taken the year off to do some traveling before she begins dental school at the University of New England in the fall.

Maeve and I took a trip south over the two weeks she was here, joined by some German volunteers and some other Americans.  I got to plan the trip, so we went to some of the places I had never been.  This included two national parks and a beach town on the south west coast, near Toliara.

I really enjoyed when my mom wrote a post about her trip here from her perspective, so I am attaching the link to Maeve's blog.  You can see how she enjoyed Madagascar, and follow her on the rest of her trip around the world!

Since we are not permitted to travel our last 3 months (so for me, starting April 18) this was my last vacation in Madagascar.  And it was a good one!  The next time I travel, it will be en route to America!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Extension Decision



I wanted to take a moment to tell you about some recent decisions I have made regarding my service here and Madagascar.  My contract is up in April, when my 26 months in Madagascar is finished.  However, my nutrition project is going strong, and I feel like it has a lot of potential beyond the initial scope of the project.  However, I really want to come home and spend some time with my family and friends in America.  I have been gone for a very long time, and I can’t wait to see them again.  So, after spending a lot of time thinking about it and debating different scenarios, I have decided to request a 3 months extension to my service.  This means, I will stick around until July 18 to finish this nutrition project on my terms, to its full potential.  Then, I will begin to head home, traveling along the way, to be home in time for my 25th birthday in August!

Look forward to seeing all of you then.

The Holidays Up North


Manahoana daholo!

Here to tell you about my last Christmas is Madagascar, and my trip to the fabulous north of Madagascar.  As always, when traveling in Madagascar, there were some definitely mountains and valleys, as well as actual mountains, valleys, and even rivers running across the road.

First off, I spent the night in Tana in preparation of heading north, since the taxi-brousse from Tana to Ambanja is at least 18 hours, so it leaves at 1 pm (allegedly). Got into Tana in the afternoon, and decided to treat myself to a pedicure at the spa near the PC transit house.  My friend, Arian, came with me to get a massage as well.  Took the lady an hour to make my feet human again (I spend a lot of time in crappy plastic shoes, walking around in the rain and mud).

After all of that, my two friends and I started to head back to the hotel where we were saying.  On a good day, it is about a 10-15 minute cab or bus ride from the spa to our hotel.  Getting out onto the rainy street, however, it was quickly obvious that we were going to have to walk.  Rush hour, two days before the election and a week before Christmas, there was not a bus you didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to get onto, and not a cab that would even glance our way.  So the vacation wasn’t off to the best start, but my pedicure and me made it back to our hotel intact.  Took a bit to wash up and catch up, and then headed out on the town.  Hung out with some of my friends that I was broussing with the next day, as well as a bunch of the most recent group of volunteers, fresh out of their in-service training after the first 5 months in country. 

We were sluggish to get up the next day, but thought we had plenty of time until we had to be at the brousse station at 12:30.  What we didn’t take into account, however, was the sheer madness of the capital around the holidays, met with the insanity of the election two days away.  I headed out with another girl to hit the bank, to make sure I had enough money to start my vacation.  Every single bank we went to, regardless of whether it was my bank in Madagascar (I gave up and decided I could use my American card), had hundreds of people waiting in line.  We walked around town for an hour (so probably should have just gotten in one of the lines) and still came back empty handed.  So feeling a little harassed (and broke), we headed back to grab lunch with the rest of the group.

Well, after a quick lunch, we headed out of the hotel to try and find a cab, which was going to prove to be a herculean task.  Most of the cabs that stopped just kept right on going when they found out where we wanted to go (not even that far, but had to cross the most congested parts of town) and one finally agreed at an exorbitant amount, and would only take 4 of the 5 of us.  So we took the luggage of the 5th (he lives in Tana, and knows the best routes on his own) and piled in the cab.  The cabbies fears we warranted, as we ended up bailing on the cab as soon as we thought we were close enough to walk.  The guy that left our group walked most of the way and beat us there.  Luckily, we arrived at 1 pm, which is when the brousse was scheduled to leave.  Members of our nine-person group came from all over town, and had the same problems we did.  The rest of the brousse had the same problem, and we didn’t leave (of course) until after 3.

Fairly smooth sailing after that…until 2 am.  At that point, we came to a dead stop.  For four hours.  When asking the driver what the problem was, he simply replied, “water.”  After a little more investigation, we realized that every brousse going that way had stopped because there was a river across the road, due to the heavy rainstorm we had passed through.  The brousses waited until after dawn to try and ford it, and our brousse waited until large trucks had moved some of the water off the road so we could actually drive the car through, rather than pushing it.  So, rather than 18 hours, it took us 22 to get from Tana to Ambanja.

But, it was all worth it to get to my new favorite part of the country.  I stayed with one of the nine I broussed with, Kara, and met up with two girls that live near Ambanja, Dani and Gabby.  The rest of the crowd that broussed with us headed straight to Nosy Be, the touristy island off the northwest coast.  Dani, Kara, Gabby, and I had already planned to go to Gabby’s site, where she works with cacao farmers.  However, because of the inaccessibility and limited time, we decided to hit the beach in the port town of Ankify instead.  So we spent a day and a half lounging on the quiet, isolated beach and watching project runway all stars.  Also, playing with adorable dogs that actually like people.

The next step: Ankarana, the national park halfway between Ambanja and Diego, the northernmost town in Madgascar.  Ankarana is a large national reserve with great wildlife and tsingy, the notable limestone formations from Mada.  We spent a full day hiking around the tsingy and checking out the awesome bat cave.  After spending two nights there, we caught a brousse and headed the rest of the way to Diego.  Unfortunately, the road between Ambanja and Diego is impressively bad, especially considering the tourist traffic between Diego and Nosy Be.  So it took us awhile, and we were squished 5 across in a van that should have sat 3, but we finally made it around 9 am on Christmas Eve.

I brought some decorations to spruce up the Diego transit house, which is officially my favorite.  The open floor plan, cleanliness, and capacity of 8 vs 22 makes the Diego house definitely preferable to the one in Tana.  Plus, I am in love with Diego.  The French colonial architecture, laidback beach atmosphere, and care for aesthetic makes the town truly wonderful.  Not to mention the amazing food!  Fresh seafood, lots of Italian, French, and Spanish influence, and coconut rice.  My three travel buddies and I met up with a few more volunteers from around the Diego area and had a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner on the water at a fancy restaurant.  I had BBQ pork ribs, which is the first time I have seen that in Mada.

Christmas morning, I woke up at 6 am to watch A Christmas Story with my family watching it in Arkansas at 9 pm.  Then, the rest of the people at the transit house and I spent a lazy Christmas Day watching every Christmas special on my hard drive and making an excellent fiesta dinner.  Kara and I decided we weren’t wearing clothes, so we donned lambahoanys, traditional wraps, and had “naked Christmas” haha.  I got to skype with my whole family in Arkansas.  The video wasn’t great, but it was great to see them, however fuzzy.

We spent the next few days hitting all of the hotspots in Diego—Ramena Beach, Bodega Restaurant, the pool at the Suarez hotel, and finally, the Emerald Sea.  You have to reserve a private boat to get there, but it is the most beautiful place I have ever been.  The pristine white sand below the water makes the water an impossible aquamarine color.  There were women there who painted our faces with traditional tree bark masks.  Women use this mask all over the country for sunscreen and cosmetic reasons, but the north is the only place I have seen the women paint designs in them, like flowers.  We had an amazing lunch with fish, crab, and coconut rice, and spent the whole afternoon swimming.  The snorkeling wasn’t great because the whole thing is just white sand, but it was truly amazing.  And the whole thing cost each of us about 15 dollars, including lunch :) .  Even the rain held off; it had stormed all day in Diego, but didn’t hit us until our taxi ride the 18 km back to town.

That night, my last in Diego, we hung out with all of the groups coming from their Christmas vacations in other places to Diego for New Years.  There was probably at least 20 of us, so it certainly made for an epic party.  We went dancing, which was an interesting experience.  There were more prostitutes at the club than real people, but they weren’t aggressive, so it was actually kind of a nice place to dance; there weren’t creepy men trying to hit on all the girls, and the prostitutes weren’t bothering the men.  I left the club early, around one, so I could get a little bit of sleep before my 3 am brousse back to Ambanja to head to Nosy Be for the rest of my vacation.

Nosy Be, while definitely touristy, was also really fun.  However, we actually spent most of the week on Nosy Komba, a smaller island just south of Nosy Be.  We rented a house that was mostly just a veranda overlooking the ocean with a truly incredible view.  We dragged the bed out of the bedroom to actually sleep outside, listening to the ocean.  This also meant we had to drag the mosquito net out, they were so bad!  We had a kitchen, so we got to cook a lot during the week.  We also hit the town for some amazing seafood and to buy some beautiful souvenirs.  New Years was spent drinking French champagne and eating a ton of chocolate and Roman Parmesan.  Quiet but still so nice.

From Nosy Komba, we took an excursion to Nosy Tanikely, a very small marine reserve island about an hour’s boat ride away.  The day was stormy, so the colors of the coral were somewhat diminished, but it was some of the best snorkeling I have ever done.  I saw a sea turtle!  And millions of fish, coral, anemones, and urchins.  The island also had lemurs and a lighthouse with an incredible view.  We had lunch there, and then headed back to Nosy Komba.  As a Christmas present to myself, I purchased a plane ticket home from Nosy Be.  Incredible decision.  Would have taken an hour boat ride, hour cab ride, and minimum 18 hours brousse to get back to Tana.  On a plane, it took one hour.  Merry Christmas :)

I hope you all had an amazing holiday, and I look forward to spending the next one in America!