Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ok, trying to use shutterfly... will slowly be posting pictures to alisonthieme.shutterfly.com

Don't go chasing waterfalls...they might give you tropical diseases

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Money dance!

June 26th Pictures

Loving it!

Blog 07/17/2010

Ranomafana Part 2:
After a few more hikes around Ranomafana (and no more leeches), I have seen several interesting things which I am posting in picture form. Enjoy! Tatum came out to visit before the bike trip so we went around to a couple waterfalls.

Food!
The best part about seeing other volunteers is that you can combine forces and create delicious food. Since seeing Tatum we’ve continued on the good food binge started with Abe, Brian, Mike and Tod. The past week has held: Tacos, “Chipotle” style steak fajita burritos complete with guacamole, salsa, cilantro rice, pinto beans and lettuce, BBQ steak sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownies (THANKS SHIRLEY!!!), chili, stew, and tonight will hopefully be pizza (the dough is rising now). Thanks to anyone who has sent me a care packages, especially those with seasoning packets which are making this all possible. =D

Camera:
So after not using my camera for a while I came back to my house, opened my trunk and found my camera…DEAD. After a week or so of worry (especially since Abe has the same camera and his was DOA) I have recharged it and it works. Hopefully with the power of my camera and his lenses combined we shall form…Captain Planet!…or at least some better quality pictures. I may in the future post some pictures taken on my camera but not by me. If anyone knows of an easy way to post videos I’ll try to do that eventually.

COS Trip?
As I travel a bit around Madagascar, meet other travelers, and talk with fellow PCVs, the topic of a COS (Close of Service) trip has come up. Past PC Mad Volunteers have done a variety of trips and I’m considering (aka planning and hoping) doing a trip of my own. There is no foreseen limit to time (other than the desire to see friends and family at home) and the only limit is money. The ideal would be to visit friends in South Africa, make our way over land to some Swahili speaking countries, and then maybe continue back to do “the loop” in West Africa or catch a boat to Asia from Mozambique. Does anybody know of any cheap (but safe) travel options in the Africa/Asia realm? We have heard rumors of some boats and freighters that are slow but cheap but nothing with any confirmation. Thankfully a lot of the countries we want to go to have Peace Corps established there which makes finding things once we get there easier as well as giving us a support system on the ground (and will also hopefully make it so my parents worry less).

Work:
Recently I have been learning more about vetiver grass in Ranomafana. The local cell phone tower is on the verge of collapse and to prevent further erosion, vetiver grass is being used. In Ranomafana I went up to the ValBio research center and got to meet with researchers and staff. Many of their projects are fascinating and since they host study abroad groups as well as other programs, they get a broad range of studies while also supporting the local community. Learning from them was great and hopefully I can find some inspiration from any of their amazing projects to apply in my own village.
The bike trip starts this week and so hopefully we can get some good AIDS information out to the public. After the bike trip I hopefully will be starting my SRI demonstration field as the rice planting season in my village is now. Between holidays and my trip, planting has been temporarily postponed until I get back. I’m finally submitting funding forms after having them deleted and having to find a computer to retype them on. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Coolest carnivorous flower ever

Vingt-six and other stuff

Fety Piranena:

June 26th is the Madagascar independence day. This independence day marked the nation's 50th anniversary of independence from France. As this is the biggest holiday of the year for Malagasy it comes standard with a holiday season. Most of June consists of some form of preparation for the 26th (Pronounced the French way vingt-six [van-seese] and referred to as such) and starting as early as April people were talking about the coming holiday. Notably the Christmas holiday is a religious and family oriented holiday, not a season. The party in my village started on the 25th with an all-night dance. After being invited by multiple people, I attended with several of them and enjoyed the rarity of music and a light bulb run off of a generator. This all occurred in the open-air market at the top of the hill in my village. I left when most of the children left and the music continued for 12 hours. At night the kids all had poppers which they would utilize when nobody was paying attention in order to receive the maximum reaction from each explosion.

The actual holiday of vingt-six was composed of a lot of waiting. As everything in Madagascar runs on Malagasy time, the festivities which were supposed to start at 9am were delayed until 11:30am. I was invited to sit on the stage as I was giving a short speech. Through Friends of Madagascar I had acquired some soccer jerseys and balls to distribute to my community. I suppose I should mention that I am not comfortable with public speaking. As we sit on the stage and they fix the microphone to work I pay attention just in time to notice that the mayor is introducing me and saying that I will be giving the first speech. Slowly I made my way around the seats to the microphone to find out that the cord is extremely short. I give my speech, bent in half, partially facing the crowd in order to accommodate the length of the cord. By the time I announced the soccer balls for the schools and the jerseys for the community, the crowd of several hundred people were cheering and didn't notice my shaking like a leaf. The rest of the speeches were all about the success of the country and community in the last fifty years. After the speeches they brought groups from the different community groups up to sing and/or dance. These were similar to American wedding money dances. Some of these were to get support for the local churches or children's groups and got huge support. Donations ranged from five cents to five dollars and one guy even through in his phone as a donation to one of the adult groups.

Once the presentations were done, the adults moved to the local middle school to enjoy refreshments. Sodas for the women and alcoholic drinks for the men. With very large groups of Malagasy people consuming free beverages, a sense of urgency quickly develops. Since each table could get another bottle once theirs was empty, the members of each table are pressured to drink as quickly as possible so that they overall can get the most free drinks. I drank ten cups of soda in under five minutes. Once the drinks were finished (five minutes after they started, approximately ten cases of liter bottles) the women leave to participate in other small parties or start making the feast. The men in the community stay behind to voice their concerns to the officials. The teachers invited me to a small party where even more soda was consumed. I got to talk about some future plans for work with the schools and enjoyed the company. One of my coworkers made dinner for me and by then it was nightfall.

The epitome of class:

For the holiday the officials in the community dress to the nines. This means for most of them, dress pants, shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. The jacket and pants generally are not the same color, fabric or pattern. The same ideas follow for the rest of the outfit. In particular take note of the shoes. With a pant-suit the ideal shoes are dress shoes, if those cannot be acquired then there are three options left. They are as follows in order of increasing fanciness: barefoot, flip flops, and jellies. Yes, jellies. The 3rd grade, American girl standard for shoes is also compatible with black tie events in third world countries. Made out of squishy plastics, they are everything you could hope for for from a shoe and more.

After effects of vingt-six:

Since the speaker system occasionally malfunctioned, the introduction part of my speech was difficult to understand. As a result of this, several people in my village think my name is SON! as this is how it sounded to the crowd. Small children now yell hello to me calling me SON in the highest pitch they can manage.

Friends of Madagascar:

Several people have thanked me for the soccer related contributions and I hopefully can redirect some of that thanks to the Friends of Madagascar staff and donors. THANK YOU!!! The elementary and middle school kids are out there every day playing with the balls and the adults now have enough jerseys that they are well represented when they play neighboring communities.

Winter?

These seasons are made even more different by living off the coast of the Indian Ocean and cyclone season. As of now it is cold and rainy which will continue until September or so when it will become cold and dry and move slowly into heavy rains and a warming trend by November. Its been two solid weeks of rain and its getting hard to find clean clothes. In the rare glimpses of sunshine I run to wash clothes and at least partially dry them before the rains begin again.

Training:

As the bike trip quickly approaches, Melissa and I have been training since IST. The race is 220km over 9 days. A tour de lac if you will which seems fitting since it will overlap with the tour de france. We are way more fit than we were and are now able to go more than 30km comfortably. It will be a test since the first day of the trip is the longest and hardest at 60km. Wish me luck!

Ranomafana:

In Malagasy, Ranomafana means hot water, named after the hot springs in town. Other than these hot springs, most of the water in Ranomafana is cold! Since arriving to work on a vetiver grass project with Mike it has rained every day, bitterly cold. Since the vetiver grass project has had some recent set backs due to terracing issues we went into the forest for the day. I encountered my first LEECHES! EWW!!! They are terrestrial leeches that climb up your feet and pants. My feet were covered in them. We saw a few golden bamboo lemurs and a greater bamboo lemur. Both are some of the most rare species of lemur. They live primarily on bamboo which contains toxic levels of cyanide and is not eaten by other mammals in the forest. We also got to see some spectacular waterfalls, a few birds (it was raining), and a leaf-tailed gecko which was better camouflaged than a chameleon.

The couple volunteers and I have also managed to make hamburgers complete with onion rings and fries. The plan for tonight is chicken tacos. \par