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.
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.
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!
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