So I went to Mauritius.  Leaving the country was a bit of a hassle and stressful to say the least, but I made it out and was quite relieved to be sitting on the plane and legal once again.

I was lucky that a friend of one of my roommates happened to live there and I was able to crash at their place for the 6 days I was there. I had a few minor hiccups as the airport only because I didn’t know the guys last name when I landed, but nobody really gave me too much trouble as I don’t think I really looked that threatening.  I think they were more worried for my own safety rather than what I would have done to anyone in the country. Mauritius was quite a trip, in multiple senses of the word. It’s a prior British and French colony so it has mixes of both and it was quite interesting to see what stuck.

The official language in Mauritius is English. The signs are all in English and if it is an official government document then it needs to be in English as well. However, primarily, the people speak French. In fact, there were a lot of people who I stopped on the street and was forced to speak bad French because they didn’t speak any English at all. Then there was the group of people who felt insulted if I thought they didn’t speak English and so I had to put up with them not really understanding me nor I understanding them.  On top of that, there is a heavy Indian influence, so everyone looked Indian.

Language aside, I found comfort at the Madagascar Embassy. There, they were all Malagasy and they spoke Malagasy and we knew that we could just stick to that in order to communicate properly. I gave all of the paperwork and managed to get my new transferable visa within two days.

Aside from the ‘work’ it was nice to just have a vacation. Other than the United States, this was my first vacation outside of Madagascar in over three years. It was about time I got out of there! Like I said, I was staying with friends of friends and so it just worked out that I was able to spend time with them (or their friends) when everyone was free. I got to see various beaches, walk around towns, go to a National Park as well as go out to clubs at night. It was so developed and clean and was a nice change of pace from the day to day struggles of Madagascar.  However, the buses in Madagascar were surprisingly more efficient than the ones in Mauritius. I think this has something to do with the fact that a lot more Mauritians own cars. Altogether, Mauritius was a great time and definitely somewhere that I would consider going again (but it would be much more planned…like a vacation).  

Coming back to the office and office life has been difficult. It’s the first time in over three years that I’ve had office work to do; and I don’t really have office work that I’m doing. However, I needed to write the report about best practices, lessons learned, and recommendations that I found in the Anosy region. I went through all of my notes and organized it all out and then wrote it…three times. I just couldn’t get what I wanted out of the report as far as the format was concerned and so I kept on changing it. However, I finally got something that I think will work, but I’m still not entirely sure.

Now, I’ve just been spending time translating, which I think is absolutely awful and makes my head hurt just thinking about it. However, it’s one of those masochistic things that I seem to enjoy ever so much and so I just think no pain, no gain. I’d love to be able to write well in Malagasy and so this is a good activity to really improve my writing skills. In addition, written Malagasy is all in the official dialect so it will help me to learn the vocabulary in Tana. Of course, as I finished the first draft of the Gasy version, I realized I didn’t put any of the accents on the words. That was another great, time consuming, learning experience. I’m a pro at using the option but and replace all now.

However, my time in the office hasn’t been all bad. It has really given me a chance to settle into things and meet all of the people. I have to say that I was really intimidated when I started working here. I didn’t really feel like I was an expert in Malagasy, I don’t speak French, I hadn’t been working on the project for the past 4 years and so I really didn’t know how to interact initially or how much people would want to interact with me. However, they really are a great group of people that are working on the project and I’m really enjoying the people that are in the office and their hard work. Each day I seem to become more and more use to the situation and closer to my co-workers.

So when I spoke to my dad last night I thought about these things and thought about how boring it was (Mauritius aside). I thought that there wasn’t much to talk about. I’ve become another boring drone and the office has sucked out my soul and everything exciting that was in that soul from the past. But, after our conversation, I thought that there isn’t any way that my life could be that boring; if it were, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am.  So I started thinking about the little things that go on in my life that might draw some interest. That’s when I thought about walking.

I’ve been walking… a lot. My backpack (with my computer in it) is a little bit bigger than I would like to take on the bus and the walk to work really isn’t that far so I walk to and from work everyday. I figure it takes about 15-20 minutes to take the bus and 30 minutes to walk. Not only is it good for me to get outside and move, but also it only takes a maximum of 15 minutes extra of my day (30 minutes round trip, I guess), which is really inconsequential. It hasn’t rained hard on me, but even if it’s just drizzling I’ll still walk to and from work.  It feels good when I leave the house and I need it after work. There are also a lot of things going on during this time. These are some of the things that come to mind or that I notice in my 30 minutes of travel:

 

1 – The Air. No, it’s not fresh. It’s not clean. It’s not very pleasant about 85% of the time. I do notice that it is slightly better when it’s raining. For this reason, I’ve managed to slow my heart rate as much as possible. Sometimes, I wonder if I even breathe while I walk. I keep my mouth shut and just move my legs and I really don’t breathe at all, at least not hard. I like to think that it’s because my lungs are getting stronger. However, it could be that the pollution is slowly killing them J

2 – Anything goes on the sidewalks. When I say anything, I mean it is an all-out-free-for-all out there! It doesn’t matter if you are old, young, carrying a baby (on your back or in your tummy), going to work, going to school, whatever, people walk like they own the dam sidewalk. I’ve had people look right at me and walk right into me (obviously because I didn’t move either, but that was out of principle) even though I was clearly to a side and they were walking in the middle. To be honest, I just don’t get it. Not at all. I don’t understand why people can’t just be the slightest bit considerate to the personal space of other people. I know it’s cultural differences, but c’mon! Really, you’re going to walk right at me even though there’s plenty of space to avoid me?!? The worst are the short, fat women; like bulldozers…

3 – Swaying hands. I don’t get how a people can walk so slowly but move their arms so much. Many people that I’ve come across on the sidewalks happen to walk really slow, but still have prominent arm movement, as if they were walking fast (and no, it’s not because they are short, their legs are really just moving that slow). I don’t understand it, and probably never will, but I’ve put together a few different hypotheses. First, they move their arms more for momentum so that they don’t have to use leg force. I can’t think of any reason why they wouldn’t have strong legs or why they would need to conserve leg energy though. Second, that it is actually to slow them down. Instead of using the momentum of the arms to speed themselves up, maybe they are trying to use their arms and hands as drag to slow themselves down. Third,  for overall protection. I sometimes wonder if I should be wearing a cup. Honestly, you’ll get people that don’t realize that anyone else is on the sidewalk or that anyone else might want to pass them and they just start throwing these hands all over the place. There’s been a few times when I had to swerve a bit so that I wasn’t popped in the crotch and sent to my knees. Obviously, the swerve, any other movements and my anger went unknown to the person swinging the hands.

4 – Sandwich time.  I’ve been starving most evenings after work. Luckily, there’s a sweet little shop about 2/3 of the way to my house that sells a decent little hamburger. I like to think of it as a street slider and it’s just the thing that I need to help me get the last third of the way home.

5 – Keeping my eyes open. The other day I made it 10 minutes from my house and then was splashed by a passing taxi. Not only was I upset, but I had to finish the walk and then try to clean up the pants in the office bathroom. I also have to keep my eyes out for the motorcycles and scooters because they don’t follow any kind of laws or rules.

6 – People watching. I have to say there are quite a few characters in this world. Not all of them piss me off or annoy me on the sidewalks, but quite a few can make me smile, or even laugh. The other day I was walking to work and there was a man shaving his face as he walked by me. Nobody thought that was weird, which made the whole experience even cooler. I pass the same taxi drivers every evening after work and they still ask me if I want to take a taxi. You’d think they’d catch on. All of the street kids, that probably look so sad and pathetic to foreigners, that are contently playing in the dirt and look so happy and absorbed in their little activities. I like them. Then you can see all of the people in a rush, people pushing things in carts, awkward teenagers, awkward teenage couples, drunks, bums, occasional morning military runs, the occasional crazy person, every once and a while a flock of missionaries, a group of scouts, the men shouting in their nasal voice from the buses, the rich person who seems to be taking the whole world in while he/she sits in her fancy car, the police that I suppose are directing traffic?, the guys that try to sell you the most random thing in the world that you could ever think of (bandages today),  and then everyone else that might happen to be around.

My diet has also changed quite a bit since I’ve been living in Tana. I still stick to eggplant. As long as there is eggplant in the market, you better believe that I’m going to buy it. But, I’ve started eating more leafy greens and more meat, generally. However, I still eat rice and I don’t see any reason to really change that. I’ve also started eating out for lunch. There is a place near the office that serves rice and simple side dishes, so I go there and fork out my $1 to eat; occasionally I’ll splurge and have yogurt. I’ve also started buying fried bananas on the street. They give me a piece of notebook paper to carry the greasy, hot bananas. Sometimes, the notebook paper comes with lessons that were torn out of old notebooks. I’m thinking of saving the papers and making some sort of an art project out of them. I think I’d call it “What I learned on the Streets”.

With all of this eating, the walking just isn’t enough (physically and mentally). I haven’t gone running yet just because I’m lazy and the streets are busy with cars and people. I think I’d have to start running in the morning if I wanted to run, because the evenings in Tana are really hectic. However, I have been jumping rope. I try to do it for 20-25 minutes a day and I like it except for the fact that it’s so stationary. I use my iPod and just change my jumping patterns as the song changes. I’ve also started to lift buckets full of water again, do pull-ups as well as push-ups and sit-ups. I’m feeling a lot stronger each day, but I’m still not as strong as I was before I hurt my knee, then got malaria, had bacterial diarrhea, and then had hernia surgery, but I’m getting there.  I’m already up to a whopping 68-69 kilos (150-152 pounds) so you better believe that I’m going to hit the sumo wrestler circuit any day now.

As administrative things go, I finally got my bank account card, so that makes getting money a lot easier. I still need to switch my address and passport (I gave them the old passport to open the account), but I’m waiting until I have my new passport and visa. I got my passport copy stamped, which seems official and promising, but I still don’t have my passport back from the ministry. It seems like it’s a done deal, but I’ll feel much better once I actually have the passport, with visa, in my hands.

So that’s life in the city. I’m leaving tomorrow for three weeks in the field. I’ll be going around the southeast and I’m excited to get out of Tana and see some places in Madagascar that I’ve never seen before. I’m also happy to speak with more beneficiaries out in the middle of nowhere and see what these people are doing and what they are like. I just hope that I can find someone to wash my clothes at some point along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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