The last blog was awful in my opinion. I mostly wrote it because I felt like I needed to update it, but I really didn’t have the time to think and write anything. Now I’m in Tana getting probed to make sure I’ll of my diseases are minimal or at least not contagious and that my extension is approved (my health is fine).  So I thought that I’d put some ‘thought’ into this blog.

I just need to do a small re-cap on some stuff before I share the wonderful world of the little “Gasy moments” that make my life here, even after two years, all the more fun.

The Manirihoazy tree problem got solved. Of course, the guardian of Antanetiambo was supposed to remove the trees; turns out he didn’t know which ones they were so he just removed all of them. I know. Ugh.  However, I met with the nursery again and we talked about our steps for the future. Some people will remove their trees because they don’t want them near the forest. All parties have agreed to plant the new ones in a different location near town that would never be approached by a lemur that wasn’t a complete lunatic. In addition, there might be some new live fences in the area seeing as the leaves can be toxic to cows – good protection for a garden if you ask me.  Altogether, I’ll say crisis averted…for the moment. As time goes by more and more information is coming out that the trees really weren’t that bad (not saying they are ideal). So, this new information, along with a plan for the trees makes everything much easier, and I feel slightly less stupid.

Now, I want to describe various situations over the past few months that just made me laugh and say to myself, “Only in Madagascar…”

A vulnerable situation:

As I do love to shower and shower quite often because otherwise I would have a constant layer of mud caked over my body, I was forced to repair my shower. The boards (if they can even be called boards, more like the thin pieces of wood made from a raphia tree) had become dilapidated to say the least. Half were warped or corroding. The other half were simply broken. I showered and just thought if someone walks by then they’ll walk by. The flooding made things so bad, I finally got it together to get it repaired.

However, before the construction could begin, we had to take care of the wasp nest that was about a meter away from the shower. Yes, another thing I hadn’t wanted to deal with. One would think the vulnerability of being naked and only a meter or so away from a wasp nest would prompt some action, but I guess I’m just a little to comfortable with my situation.

I don’t like wasps. They hurt. I’ve been stung/bit at least 10 times since I’ve been in Madagascar alone and it is not something I enjoy at all. So, of course, like the vazaha I am, I got RABARY to handle the situation. I was thinking there was some protocol to follow. You know, a way to remove a wasp nest safely and soundly. Turns out, some things are just done the old fashioned way.

RABARY walked up to me and simply said, “you might want to be a little farther away for this.” So I went farther away. He had a dried stick that spread into a broom like structure at the end (it was in fact their broom) and made sure he had a steady hold of the stick. He looked at the wasp nest, which was about waist height, and then swung. Yep, no prep, no way to calm the wasps, nothing magical, just a good ole swing. And that’s how it’s done. He finished the arc of his swing and ran (as one would find natural). The wasps swarmed around but didn’t chase him.

I thanked him and then asked when I might be able to shower in the area. He simply replied, “I’d wait at least 30 minutes so the wasps calm down.” I waited 2 hours.

Once shower construction began I was in a whole new world. To any visitor from the states my new shower still might appear a little “rustic”. However, I have bamboo walls that go up over the height of my head, a larger washing space, a new little stand to put things on (clothes, towel, soap, etc.), and a new bamboo door that matches the wall. One would think I’m living the good life, right? I am, except when the wind blows. That door falls down a bit too easily. I just need to shower at a different angle now.

Enhancement:

A lot of volunteers and Malagasy people say that I’m pretty integrated. In many ways I’d agree, and in many ways, I’ll always be a vazaha and never get used to some things. However, the dialogues and the things people ask me now have gotten a lot more interesting. Just the other day I was biking through Andapa doing a bunch of errands when a friend of mine stopped me and said that he needed to ask me about something at his shop (he cuts my hair).

So after meeting with some people about SRI (I can’t escape rice even if I wanted to) I went and talked to him. He has weird business ideas or personal problems from time to time so I really didn’t know what this was going to be all about.

I walk into his shop and he shows me a magazine opened to a certain page. He’s a little shy about the whole encounter, but I can tell he’s serious. The first thing he tells me, “I’m interested.”

Turns out there is an ad in this magazine (I never saw what magazine) for penis enlargement pills that apparently increase size and stamina. He wanted to know if they really exist and if they work because he wants to sell the pills in Madagascar.

I have to say everyone is scheming 24/7 here! He was trying to figure out how to contact them, how much they’d cost and then how he could get them sent to him. Oddly, he didn’t really wonder if the pills worked or not. He finally added that he didn’t want them for himself (whatever) but I think it is such an odd business endeavor.  I guess it can be hard to really pin point what is a marker of development.

Culture shock without even leaving the island:

I’m terrified of going back to the United States. Assuming everything goes as planned, it will be around 29 months in Madagascar before I go back home to California. Don’t get me wrong, I REALLY want to go home and see everyone, but there are a lot of things that I think might be a little overwhelming once I get there (nothing that I can’t handle though; let’s be clear I’m not going to have an emotional breakdown or anything. It will be more like if I went to another planet, or better yet like I’m Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future II.). A few situations from the past few weeks make me wonder a little.

I’m not use to seeing white people. There was this French guy who got on the taxi brouse to go to Andapa with me and I didn’t know how to react. Of course, they put us next to each other (they were shocked when I said we weren’t related) and we didn’t really talk. He didn’t know English, my French isn’t very good and I wasn’t really in a mood to practice and so it was silence. The weirdest part was that when he arrived at the taxi I don’t know who stared more: me or the Gasy people in the car.

This event is coupled with me looking at a possible new house just added to the worries. If someone does replace me, I will move to Andapa. In order to find a decent house in Andapa, I will undoubtedly get an upgrade in my housing. I love my current house. However, I believe my Dad likened it to a dilapidated minor cabin. So I put out the word to all of the people I knew in Andapa and the search went out. I heard about a lot of places but turned them down before I saw them because I knew the situation just wouldn’t work. That’s when I saw a real house.

This thing was like a house that you could find in the States. It had real walls, floors and rooms; a kitchen, a bathroom, and even some couches that would stay in the house if I rented it. After two years of the minor cabin, I was overwhelmed. I kept telling the lady, “I think this house is too nice for me. I’m not sure I can do this.” I guess I just keep getting more and more minimalistic as time goes by.

My real concern was paying for it. However, the lady gave a reasonable price and my extension organization said that they had a budget for it, so it looks like I’ll be stepping it up a bit in the next few months. I’m a little worried about the integration aspect and what the people from Matsobe will think about me in my new house…but I think they’ll like to have a real “vazaha” friend.

The Mi-Beep:

I don’t like buying phone credit. Partially because it is hard to get once I’m out in my village. I stock up on credit a little bit, but sometimes I do run a little low. There aren’t any monthly plans here like you might be used to. This means there is a strict phone protocol that must be followed.

When the phone rings you MUST give a “Hallo” (French sounding of course). Then the person responds and says his or her name twice. You then acknowledge that you know who you’re talking to and they give their message – loud and clear. You simply say ok, you understand and then the phone call ends. No reason to ever exceed 30 seconds.

When this protocol isn’t followed it becomes very upsetting. I also know who follows the protocol and who doesn’t. That determines who gets a call back…and who doesn’t.

And that’s what life is like in the Andapa basin. I’ve just spent the last 5 days in Tana getting medically cleared for my third year extension. My health is fine and so everything should be approved. I’m really excited to have a chance to work another year in Madagascar and I hope to be home for a while around July/August! Then after that, I’ll get back to my Gasy moments.

 

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