Sunday, November 27, 2011

Voltaic Systems is awesome!

So in the last two years I've been using a Voltaic Systems "Generator" which is essentially a laptop bag that also is a solar panel and can power a laptop. It got me through Niger and then 2 full years living without electricity in Madagascar. Anyways, 2 cyclone seasons later and now its coming with me to mainland Africa. The company has had continuously great customer service so I want to give them a shout out and my thanks.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shake it, shake it

Tence Mena Concert
As one of the last major events that I will attend in Madagascar, I went to a concert for the artist known as Tence Mena. She has been referred to by many a PCV as the Malagasy version of Rhianna. She even emulates her hair styles. My friend Ryan and I went to the concert which was to start at 2:30pm. Knowing that everything starts late, we arrived at 3:30pm and then waited in the longest line I’ve ever seen in Madagascar. It went a couple blocks down the street. We eventually made it into the concert, after several Malagasy cut in line in front of us. The concert was interesting, Tence Mena and the dancers all changed costumes after each song. This meant that they had a backup singer working the crowd every few minutes so she could change. Too fill some of the time, they had a booty shaking competition in which a child won a lot of money. All of this while my friend and I keep glancing down at the dirty diaper on the ground in our vicinity, trying to maintain eye contact so that it didn’t manage to migrate underfoot.

As the sun set on the concert and the heat of the day faded, the emotions of the crowd gradually changed. A mosh pit formed and the dancing intensified. Eventually everyone was being shoved around and the men started picking up and throwing sand. We headed for the gates. All of the wary Malagasy, especially those with children were trying to leave with us. Unfortunately, since many people refused to pay the $1.50 to enter the concert, they were instead trying to rush the police and force their way in. Since the venue was chosen for its limited number of entryways (Catholic school), our only options were to shove our way out and risk being caught in a fight between police and a crowd, or stay in a crowd that was already disintegrating into madness. I squeezed out while trying to protect a mother and infant also working her way toward safety. My friend had his sunglasses broken in his attempt to escape.

After all the stress of trying to leave the concert, dinner was in order. We went into a nice little restaurant, Salon de le Maharajah. Upon ordering, a fight broke out on the street in front of the restaurant. Our server rushed out and closed the security doors to the restaurant and with near perfect timing, the power went out. We sat in darkness listening to the brawl on the street. The power eventually clicked back on and the street quieted. We had a lovely meal and I made sure that the server got a nice tip for looking out for our safety.

On the walk back, a motorcyclist went down right before our eyes for no apparent reason. Since there were hundreds of people walking back he was embarrassed but apparently unharmed. All in all it was the craziest concert experience I’ve ever had.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mistaken Identity and more

You people all look the same
While walking alone to the taxi station in Fianarantsoa, a Malagasy man yelled, “MIKE!” at me repeatedly. Since Mike is not my name and I’m not a tall blond guy, I didn’t respond. The guy then called me rude names and stuck up for not responding. Now I’m aware that sometimes it is difficult to identify people with similar features from a foreign facial type. That still doesn’t make it okay to yell at me for not responding to a name that isn’t mine and is of a person who looks absolutely nothing like me.

Pills, pills, pills
Something has to be said for Malagasy doctors and pharmacies. Beyond the fact that very few doctors in this country are approved to treat PCVs, its amazing that the vast majority of doctors in the countryside are highly uneducated. A lot of what nurses and doctors practice here is the equivalent to what would be taken care of at home in the US. Most high school students in the states have a better understanding of health and the human body than some of the doctors here. The most common solutions is prescribing tetracycline as a cure all. If a Malagasy person walks into a pharmacy with the name of a medicine, it is presumed that it was prescribed because the names of medicines are not something accessible to laypeople. There aren’t drug seekers other than foreigners.

While doctors visits remain free, the cost of any medicines is left for families to bear. Even with simple and cheap solutions available for many wounds and illnesses, its frustrating to see many issues go on for years. I recently heard of an ear infection that went on until a little girl became deaf. Instead of getting a few drops or pills to fix the issue, they waited until it abscessed. This is the same idea as the family next to me who let their child become so malnourished at age seven, the boy could no longer walk. He needed deworming and nutrition information for his mother. Instead, they waited years and he was near dead. Having learned the very basics of health and first aid, most Americans know when to go to the doctor. This is one of many reasons why health volunteers here have a lot to do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Video Killed the Radio Star

The last few weeks I've been working on editing some videos during the time that I have at internet. The editing program liked to freeze up on me every 20 minutes or so and the whole process got really annoying. Anyways, I've finished 2 videos and put them up on Youtube for you all to enjoy.

This one is of our HIV/AIDS bike trip last year:

This is from the Ranomafana Visitor's center painting project in May:

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dem bones dem bones

Went to a famadihana, also known as a turning of the bones ceremony. The usual is that a family opens their tomb every several years to celebrate the loved ones in their family who died in the past years. The body is removed from the tomb and another layer of cloth is added as an extra shroud. The family places the body on a woven mat and dances while each carrying part of the weight. The local alcohol is consumed and a portion is used to bless the tomb and celebration.

Usually the body is returned to the same tomb which is shared with many families. In my case, the famadihana was a bit different. The family that was having the celebration had finished construction on a new tomb and so instead of honoring one person and returning them to their place, many bodies were removed and carried to the new tomb down the road. This meant that many people participated and the bodies had groups of people carrying them all down the road in a very happy procession. Dancing with a body means that there is a drummer and a few other musicians making up songs and the corpse is carried forward several feet, and then back as the mob tries to figure out which way they are moving at the moment.

Older bodies are lighter and require less people to carry them. Some of the shrouds appear to have a lump. If a child and mother die, the child is wrapped on the chest of the mother, whether or not they die at the same time. If a persons spouse dies, the wife is laid on the husband’s chest and they are also wrapped together. In this way, they can be together for eternity.

The whole thing has a bit of a weird smell. Being around that many corpses of varied levels of decay isn’t exactly pleasant. The tombs are kept closed for the majority of the year and if it isn’t famadihana season (July and August), tombs are not allowed to be opened unless the owners gain special permission. If a person dies outside of these months, they may be buried until the tomb can be reopened and they are then moved to their place in the tomb.

While the entire process is very strange, it also is a very happy time. This can be the biggest celebration a family has in a decade and they get to celebrate the lives of those who were closest to them. A woman we were with was happy to be able to visit her deceased mother. Instead of a feeling of loss and suffering, the entire family remembers the value of life and honors their dead.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Pictures!

Posted some new pictures at


Monday, August 8, 2011


Earth Watch Institute
I went out with Earth Watch in July to work as one of their project coordinators. In the span of just a couple weeks we made 7 Madagascar maps (showing forest distribution and regions) and a world map. We also provided paint for the schools themselves to be repained. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with many motivated people. The other projects that the Earth Watch team was working on including trapping fosa and other carnivores in Ankarafantsika National Park, monitoring road kill in an effort to reduce the number of vertebrates killed by introducing speed bumps, pulling the invasive water hyacinth out of the lake as it has only appeared in the last 2 years, and starting construction on a new elementary school. The other staff and volunteers were amazing and a noticeable changes were made in the villages around the park.

Nosy Be, Diego, and Parents!
So my parents arrived at the end of July and after a day of Tana we flew up to Nosy Be. There we relaxed, tanned, snorkeled, saw a lot of wildlife and ate delicious food. One of the days we went out to Nosy Tany Kely and got to see a sea turtle and a lot of sea life. After that we went to Ankarana National Park and met a British guy in our taxi brousse. Seeing my parents was great and going in a taxi brousse was an interesting experience for both of us. I’m used to having my knees bruised after a 10 hour ride and after just a couple hours most Americans (my parents included) get tired of being crammed in a hot, smelly bush taxi. Thankfully, the drive was worth it several times over. We got to see a huge bat cave, several versions of Tsingy (limestone rock formations), lemurs in the wild, a scops owl awake, chameleons, and….A FOSA!!! On our second hike in the park we saw a fosa run across our path and into the forest! My first fosa sighting in the wild! It was amazing.

After Ankarana we made our way (again by bush taxi) to Diego-Suarez. We went out to the Emerald Sea, snorkeled, soaked up the sun, and ate an amazing meal. Diego was in peaceful and (though crawling with prostitutes like Nosy Be) relaxing. My parents and I flew back to Tana and in our last couple hours went to the Croc Farm. Who knew crocodile meat is delicious??? So tasty. It was sad to see my parents leave but at the airport I got to see some Earth Watch volunteer friends and see them off as well. Only a few more months until I’m home!

Vacation Plans
The plan is to go on vacation after I finish Peace Corps in December and head to South Africa. Then I hope to see parts of Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda. If you have friends/contacts in any of these countries let me know as I’ll be traveling with friends for the most part but I am unfamiliar with that part of Africa and can always use a friendly face.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Before it hits the fan

*Oregon Trail tune*
So at the end of June I was wiped out for a few days with dysentery. I was pretty sure that the last case of an American having dysentery was on the Oregon trail (computer or real version). I don’t think that anyone needs details of the symptoms but suffice it to say that they were severe. Since I was at the time sharing a room with some American teens, they of course had to thrown in their medical advice. This would be a good time to put a disclaimer that you should probably not take any medical advice given by teenagers in general. So the first thing they said was that I should take azythromycin (a strong antibiotic used for respiratory infections like pneumonia or STDs). Next they tried to give me Imodium multiple times. Where there are a time and place for both of these medicines, neither are advisable treatments for dysentery.

The day after I started treatment (as recommended by my doctor and unrelated to what the teenagers suggested) I was feeling much better! I went to meet up with some friends who are working on a Infectious Disease research team. Their first thought was to obtain samples to prove what caused all my symptoms. When I mentioned the teenagers’ advice they also went on a rant against Imodium. Apparently it works very well for preventing the colon from clearing itself out. The problem comes in with two different problems. The first is that most things that cause diarrhea need to be removed from the body and diarrhea is a natural reaction to do this quickly. The next is that with dysentery, the volume excreted can be more than most other cases. If you take Imodium with a case of dysentery, it still works in blocking you up, but this does nothing for the cause of the illness. This means that your colon fills up instead of being able to empty itself. This keeps the infection in your body and allows it to multiply. It also means that with a very large volume that there is a slight chance of the colon actually rupturing…on the inside…which here would be a death sentence. Basically, talk to a doctor when you are sick and ignore what unqualified people tell you.

In the many months that I haven't lived in American society, my discussion of such topics becomes more and more frequent and less delicate. Comments about the state of our digestive system are normal in most conversations and a topic during meals. I'm not sure how the transition back into a more sensitive society will go but I can ensure that I will cause some raised eyebrows for quite a while after returning. 5 more months and I'll be able to see some of your eyebrows go up!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A long and winding trail?

Ah, the joys of being able to type up a blog entry over lunch. Electricity! My new house is near Ranomafana which has this huge waterfall. They have set it up so that they get most of the electricity from hydroelectric power and it is enough that it powers the entire region around it. My new place is surrounded by electricity and the power lines run right above the house. Unfortunately, the transformer to pull it off of the main line is REALLY expensive and not an option. Think 100 years of a Malagasy person’s pay. Working every day and buying food or anything. Not gonna happen.

In the mean time I can type in peace after finishing my lunch and I don’t even get charged extra for sitting here using their power. Same idea happens at the internet place, I can sit and type up things on my computer before I use the internet, hop on for 10 minutes and send out my emails without racking up much of a fee. This transformation in accessibility and cost of internet will probably mean more entries. Pictures are still hard unless I go into my banking town but I posted some on Facebook for those of you who have access to it.

Work! Hey…I do that!
Since moving I’ve talked to several people and already had a meeting with one of the local farmer associations. This one is all younger people (15-25 or so) who want to do a fruit tree planting project. Most of them have not done large scale plantings nor had to raise young fruit trees. To ensure that any trees that are donated to them (through Friends of Madagascar) are put to good use, we are holding several trainings. This week is the independence day festival so we are waiting until next week to really start. The first in a series of trainings will be to go over all of the basics. This means deciding what land is well suited for fruit trees, planning the spacing of the trees so that they each have enough room with the existing trees, size of the holes, and manure quality. Over the course of July, they will dig holes, then in August we will go back and double check everything, they will bring in manure, and in September we will plant. The people who attend the trainings and prove to be diligent farmers will be duly rewarded with trees.

I’m heading up to work with Earthwatch for a few weeks next month. Before I do that, it will be the perfect time to start air layering lychees. This means we will be preparing different branches of existing trees to grow their own roots (still attached to the tree) and then in December and January they should be ready to be chopped off the tree and planted. Down time in the next month or two will consist of training several groups of people to produce their own trees.

How hiking in Madagascar differs from Los Angeles
Today I went on a 4 hour hike around the park. Mike and I hike up on the north side of the town of Ranomafana and went until there were no trails left. Then we went some more. There are several rivers and streams around Ranomafana and we ended up having to cross one over and over by way of steppingstone. My new hiking boots are quickly getting worn in.

Somewhere on the hike we got to talking about how hiking in the US is so much different than hiking here. When I mention trails here, they are likely footpaths that are no wider than a single boot. There are often large rocks, brush, and saplings in these paths that are either trampled or avoided. The most terrifying part for me is the large population of terrestrial leeches that live in the forest liter and brush. They are (supposedly) small and crawl around like inchworms…up shoes, up socks, into pant legs, and up as far as thighs. They also linger on leaves and will gladly climb onto the hands of the unsuspecting. They then transform from skinny creepy worms to stereotypical leeches getting fatter and fatter on the very blood you need to continue hiking around. When they eventually are satisfied and fall off, you are then left bleeding your way through a rainforest. To make matters worse, like sharks, the next leech is attracted to your ever bloody sock-line and attaches itself in the SAME place! Anticoagulants help insure this cycle continues until you eventually run out of the forest screaming and slapping leeches off (I still can’t think of a more logical way to handle this inevitable situation).

With a lack of a maintained trail, we usually end up using whatever is handy to propel ourselves up hills and to keep from falling down them. This usually means grabbing onto a well placed tree and leveraging. Since we weren’t actually in the national park, the deforestation makes a lot of that impossible. Instead of gracefully (and somewhat neatly) making our way around, we end up scrambling, falling, and butt scooting more than most people would like to admit. The forest seems to have natural defenses to silly Americans trampling around. These include but are not limited to: thorns, trip-wire like vines, and plants with sticky seeds that love hair and can even stick to skin. My very least favorite is a plant or bug that causes your skin to burn for a few minutes, puff up into hives for a few minutes, make you believe that you are going to have a major allergic reaction and NEED to get out of the forest NOW, then magically stop reacting and go back to normal after 10 minutes or so. This time I ended up limping out (new boots) with completely filthy and bloody pants, burrs stuck to all of my clothes, a layer of plant life on my backpack, mud coated boots (that were dry on the inside, despite slipping in shallow water a few times, thanks Teva!), a couple of leeches inside my pants, and a temporarily hive covered hand.

All of this makes you wonder why I keep going back in for more. Refer to pictures of all the interesting plants, animals, insects, fungi, and waterfalls for rationale. =D Same time next week?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On the road again

Ranomafana Painting Project
After moving out of my old site, I went up to Ranomafana to work with Valbio and Madagascar National Parks on Mike's project. We were assigned to paint the new visitors center for the park. There were 2 large rooms and another wall to paint in a week. The eight of us worked long days and finished some really great paintings as well as a topographical map.

River Trip
So for vacation we had planned on a group of 4 to go out to Tsingy. We ended up realizing that another group of 5 volunteers were going at the same time so our groups merged together. We spent 3 days going down a river in canoes and spotting various interesting things along the banks. We stopped at a gorgeous waterfall and eventually docked at a place to meet up with our "car". While we had reserved 4x4s to take us to the park, we were greeted by a camion, a very large vehicle usually used for transporting cattle. Long days in the car ensued. The good news is that Tsingy Bemaraha is totally worth it. The park is amazing and you actually have to wear a harness for a good portion of Grand Tsingy (the big rocks). We climbed up some huge rocks and into some small caves. We also visited Petit Tsingy which is the miniature version. The rocks are limestone and have been worn away over millions of years by rain.

Morondava and Baobobs
Coming back from Tsingy we stopped at the Avenue de Baobobs. It is very impressive. Some of the trees are thousands of years old and their scale is hard to capture in photographs. We got there right at sunset and stayed until it was almost dark. Morondava was great and we had a lot of fun exploring the town. It has the market featured in Bizzare Foods. Its so funny because the guy in the show has to say how awful the food is in it, we loved it! It was cheap and tasty. They also had some drink we were calling milk juice that was almost like strawberry quik.

Another year...
Its strange to know that this is my last birthday in Madagascar. Having just moved out of my old site and moving into my new house feels very surreal. Spending my day relaxing and eating good food.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Mario Kart
Being driven in a taxi brousse is a lot like being in Mario Kart with somebody else driving. You race around from one point to another, passing people with no real logic, occasionally there are objects to avoid and, no matter what, your car can't handle curves very well. Also, since you don't necessarily stop to eat, when you are done with your food, you simply toss the biodegradables out the window. I swear, every time I toss a banana peel out the window, I can only think of the following car spinning in circles and getting delayed a few extra seconds (with sound effects).

We are the world
Finished painting my World HIV/AIDS Distribution Map at the local middle school. The kids from both the middle and elementary school have been going in during their recess and lunch to stare at the map and comment. Now I'm working on a Madagascar map along the same lines at the elementary school. I'll post pictures when I get to better internet.

Have packed up most of my stuff and am sending it ahead so that when I finally move I have a manageable amount. Its amazing that I came with 80lbs of stuff crammed into 2 bags and carry-on. Now everything has expanded to be huge and with all the technical books, cooking supplies, seeds, etc I have a LOT of stuff. I'll be living out of my backpack the last two weeks or so here.

The Circle of Peace Corps Life
As I'm moving to my new site, 2 new people are getting installed in my area. A lot of my stuff is being passed down and it will be interesting to see how they are in a few months. Somebody is moving in to the place where I was in the forest for weeks in October. I love the people there so I recommended it as a new site. Hopefully he enjoys it as much as I did.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


*Cue Sonic the Hedgehog theme*
Every night at 10, like clockwork, there starts a strange noise in my house. The first time I heard it, I related it to the sound of somebody running their fingernails down my wall. Thankfully, that was not the case, but after grabbing my headlamp and rape whistle, I climbed out of bed and my mosquito net. As I walked over toward my sword (kid you not, I own a sword now) and scanned the room. Nothing in the bedroom, on to the other room. Scanning the door, firmly locked, now the window, also secure. Stalking around, headlamp on full brightness, rape whistle between my teeth, sword drawn, I realized that the noise was coming from within the house! As weird as it sounds, this is a really reassuring thing, because obviously nobody was in my house which leaves wildlife.

Again scanning the room, this time looking 360 degrees, I finally spotted the source of the noise. A tenrec the size of a nerf ball was up in my rafters. Tenrecs are animals that look like hedgehogs but I think are unrelated and just happen to look alike through convergent evolution. This nocturnal guy was stalking around my house and the source of his noise were the claws and quills brushing along the wood in my rafters and walls. When I shined the light on him/her it stopped and since it couldn’t curl up without falling, it simply closed its eyes and pretended to be invisible. After poking it with my broom handle and it looking sad and defenseless, I let it go about its business, making creepy noises. It comes back every night and to some degree keeps the rats away, so for now we are on good terms.

After showing some people pictures I learned that I actually have 2 types of tenrecs living in my house. The one above is a Setifer and the other are mole tenrecs. One walks around above my bed and the other comes in through the floorboards and lives under my bed. I must say, both of them have distinct, strong odors but are generally mild roommates. Every once in a while I have to ignore them fighting or mating…pretty standard for roommates…

We are the world?
Finishing up the first of 2 maps, one World Aids Distribution map at the middle school, the next will be the same but Madagascar and at the elementary school. I had done about a third of the countries when I started writing the names on them and had about 60 students staring at the map. One kid had on flipflops that said “ANGOLA” and he was shouting excitedly when he found it on the map. Similar reactions happened with Ghana and Thailand. When some of them asked where I was from, I pointed to the South West section of the US and they at first nodded it off, then about thirty seconds later realized how far it is from South Eastern Madagascar. I ended up spending a lot of time explaining different parts of the world and what languages are spoken instead of painting more countries on the map. Its amazing to me that by 18 most people haven’t had time to stare at a map and learn where some major countries yet. Thus far nobody knew where the US was, nor any other country other than Madagascar really. After all the questions of where Canada is in the United States and where was England since the US should be next to it (since we both speak English), I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but needless to say, I’m quite happy with the results of making this map.

Movin’ on Up
Up North that is. Just a couple months till I move and I’m already trying to figure out all the logistics. My first load to go up and I just got to see my new living space. Running water is going to be amazing. The view is scenic to say the least and the environment is entirely different from the South East. It’s a lot colder and that transition is going to be a little weird. The past few days has been going around to talk to people in and around Madiorano. I’m getting introduced to future coworkers and to the projects that are already in progress.

Friends of Madagascar
Friends of Madagascar is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is working in Madagascar practicing what they like to call “conservation through education”. Their more structural projects involve building or refurbishing schools and occasionally churches. This is to provide a learning space for students to continue their education (often allowing them to go to middle or high school rather than just elementary) and through this the youth learn more of the sciences and about respecting the environment. Communities involved have expressed interest and are motivated enough to contribute some of the supplies and labor while donations provide the rest.

Another project is a fruit tree project (this one I will be working on personally). The goal is going to be continuing the effort to make fruit trees available to smaller communities around Ranomafana National Park that don’t receive benefits by their proximity to the park. The goal of this is to increase variety and quality of fruit trees in the area to relieve economic and food security pressure on villagers and to help restore degraded land around the park. This is done by bringing in new varieties and also teaching villagers how to raise and graft their own trees from this new stock.

Ways to help
I know that a few of you have asked how you can personally help and now I will be working with Friends of Madagascar. I don’t handle the financial aspects of the NGO so any donations don’t go directly to me, but if you want to donate to the NGO and possibly specify particular project that you want to support, it will help the Madagascar. If you don’t want to donate money, but rather supplies, Friends of Madagascar has a list of items that they pay to have shipped from Florida to Madagascar. These range from school supplies to soccer balls to occasional building supplies. Most of this is distributed in towns that Peace Corps Volunteers live in by the volunteers that find a need for it in their village.

Another way to support Peace Corps Volunteers in Madagagascar and elsewhere is to donate to Peace Corps Partnership Projects. These are projects that PCVs are currently trying to find funding for and are highly varied. If there is a topic that interests you, health, education, business, environment, agriculture, female empowerment, and etcetera there is a related project hoping to get off the ground.

Lastly, Kiva is an unrelated group that gives loans in third world countries to individuals and small groups. You can loan somebody money (in $25 increments) which then funds their business proposal. When they pay the loan back, you get paid back and can either take your money out or reinvest in another project. Basically you can invest in other peoples dreams risk free and while you don’t make anything, you don’t lose anything either. So if you don’t mind not making the single cent you might make in interest in a bank, you can help a person in the country of your choice. How awesome is that? [You can also join a lending team on Kiva, such as Stuff You Should Know or an organization that you like, and support two things at once]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coming around the mountain

Diversity Committee
Since the country is restarting, I have been heading the committee to help PCVs, staff, and HCNs deal with American Diversity while living in Madagascar. In the past few weeks I've visited a couple other volunteers and we are starting to make some activities that other volunteers can do at site. I also went to see the new trainees !!! and talked to them about how to handle various situations where American culture differs from that here and how to better support one another.

Tanambe and Brieville
Travelled to Tanambe and Brieville and visited Erin and Haley. We worked on Diversity Committee activities and caught up. It was so good to see them again, they live several days away from me so its very rare that I see them. Took some pictures at a woman's garden in Tanambe and the pictures should be on my shutterfly ( She had many types of plants and actually runs a landscaping business around town. I'll try to post some more pictures of Brieville if I can.

Women's Day
Planted Moringa at the local hospital on Women's day. After weeks of asking the hospital when they wanted to plant, they came to me the day before the festival to ask me if the next day would be good. It was better than good! We planted the last of the Moringa saplings that I had and then had a "carnivale" which means running around town in a group singing to excite everybody about the festival. After they had speeches, dancing, and drinks.

I am going to be changing my site in June. Since my village has many nutrition and health issues and is less suited to be an environment site, I am moving to allow myself to be replaced. Starting in June I will be living at the Friends of Madagascar house near Ranomafana. This means that my address will change one last time.

Alison Thieme
BP 12091 Corps de la Paix
Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
101 Antananarivo

Sunday, February 20, 2011

10 Months Left!

Blog 02-18-2011

*cue “Jaws” theme*
I figured you didnt want a whole line of “duh duh” to introduce my story. My last trip going back home I was waiting for a bush taxi to take me back from Farafangana. The van pulls up with a large…lump…on top. Curious to see what was on it I walked all the way around it. It was a brown skin with not much identifiable due to the tarp it was on. 10+feet long, several feet around and bigger in the middle…I wasn’t sure what it was! Eventually they moved the tarp slightly and I was able to see its easily recognizable head. On top of the car was a hammerhead shark! The fins and tail were removed and it was still huge! The bunnies I had just bought were supposed to be transported up there with it. As I went to call a friend (before I could snag a picture) the car drove away! It came back an hour later unloaded. What do you pack on top of your car?

Lychee season came and went all to quickly. With the first few drops of rain, the lychees ripen and by December they are finally starting. Within days the ground in my village became covered with peels and seeds. I could buy ~40 lychees for 5 cents. This led to a lot of gorging and a few weeks later…fly season arrived. I love lychees, but I’m not sure that they are worth the flies that came with them. After going on vacation over the holidays, by the time I came back they were gone. A few weeks of eating 100+lychees a day and I already want them back.

When I got back to my home sweet hut, part of the roof to the latrine had blown off. After getting that fixed, a while later the peak of my roof flew off! It was during an ugly day and when I told my neighbors that the top of the roof blew off they came to help. In the rain. I was amazed that they would climb up and fix my roof in a light rain. They wouldn’t accept payment for it as they said it was a favor and I ended up having to tell them that the money was a New Years gift for them to take it. That night it rained harder than I have ever seen and I was unbelievably grateful that they had fixed the huge hole.
The last week has been a bit crazy weather wise. After my roof was patched (it still is leaking a lot in other places and needs to be replaced) I started gathering supplies to redo it. Before enough ravinala leaves could be gathered, a storm hit and the paths flooded. Since the men carry them on these paths I wont be getting my roof fixed for a while.

I am the proud new owner of a white and grey rabbit with dark eyes. He is really cute and eats the weeds I have in my yard. He also loves to eat my sweet potato leaves which is fine with me since they are out of season and need to be dug up anyways. He lives a fairly peaceful life, even though the mayor’s rabbit sometimes escapes his hutch and harasses him. I don’t have a hutch yet so he sleeps in a movable container and spends his days at the end of a leash.

Moringa update
My Moringa tree nursery is tapped out at the moment…because we have planted them all! There are actually 15 left but are reserved for planting at the hospital. We’ve planted at the elementary and middle schools as well as a women’s center. The rest have been distributed amongst the community. I hope to plant again when its not rainy season and increase the numbers from ~100 trees to 200 or 300 trees. The tallest one that I planted in my yard is already taller than I am and I’ve trimmed it to make it bushier (aka more leaves).

World Map
The world map is coming along. I’ve finished a good chunk of the east and am about to start on Africa and Europe. We painted a large blue rectangle for the ocean/background. Next we draw the entire world, then fill it in with color. Since we started a month ago, things are going pretty steadily whenever school isn’t in session and there isn’t a cyclone.

Google calling!
I love google phone calls. When I am at good internet (which is rare) I have the opportunity to call any American number for free! So if I haven’t called you and you want me to, email me your number. Also if you get an unknown 760 number, answer it!

Cyclone Bingiza
As soon as I had to travel to Fianaratsoa there was a cyclone! We got one of the last taxis out of Farafangana, traveled through calf deep water outside of Farafangana and then traveled fairly quickly to Ranomafana. Earlier in the day near the park entrance to Ranomafana Park the river next to the road flooded to 5 or 6 feet deep, flowing water. By the next morning we still had to wait a couple hours for the water to go down to thigh deep. We waded through on foot and pushed the car for a kilometer and a half. By later that day the water was down but a large area of the road had sunken 3 feet due to erosion. Also by that morning the road from Farafangana was chest deep in water and fast moving. Everyone who left after us is stuck there. Out of the two options I’m glad to be stuck in a city with internet and a sturdy house.
For pictures go to

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I roam around...

How old is old enough?
Almost every day I get asked how old I am. Apparently it matters a lot to people here. I am far too old to be single and not actively looking. I am too old to not have multiple children by now. Talking to a group of women in my village they were all shocked when I said I was twenty-three. They then all told me their ages. With toddlers and babies on their backs, looking to be late thirties or early forties, they told me they were twenty-four and twenty-six. They then spread the word to their friends of how OLD I am. Hopefully I can avoid matchmakers in the village. I recently had it confirmed that female PCVs cannot reasonably expect to be just friends with any men our own age. It is interpreted as a boyfriend and we modify our behavior accordingly so that we aren’t alone with anyone in our houses. I miss having normal friendships, thankfully I know have a lot of friends under the age of twelve…=P

At dinner the other evening with Erin, we had a group of men (drinking/drunk) whistle at us. Unsurprised, we went to into the restaurant and sat on the patio. As we ate the men started to say “MEOW” at us rather loudly. Instead of whistling or hissing, they were performing their new form of a catcall at us. (This is all made even stranger by the fact that that the noise cats make here is called “mew”, not “meow”, and instead of “kitty kitty” they say, “mimi”, neither of which is “meow”.)Before we could say anything to them they stumbled away into the darkness.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree…
I haven’t had one for two years now. Spent Christmas in Fianaratsoa talking to a few of you on Skype and catching up. I was so happy to see my family on Christmas as my parents borrowed a web cam from the neighbors (many thanks to Phil and Sharon!). It was great to get to talk to everyone, it made my holiday very happy. I hope to be at internet in a few months that is good enough to do that again.

New Years!
Traveled up north to Mahajanga for New Years Eve celebrations. Ate arguably the best pizza on Madagascar at Marco’s and gelato. Also had fish kabobs on the boardwalk which we turned into fish tacos, we brought our own limes and everything. Drank a few beers and strolled the boardwalk with several hundred Malagasy people and went dancing to ring in the new year.

Mid-Service Conference
With one year left in our service, my stage met up to talk about projects, NGOs, and our plans for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. The second year of service supposedly goes by faster and you end up with more work so here goes nothing. I applied for funding for my Moringa project, primarily for seed to buy it and should find out next month whether I’ll be receiving it or not. I also got to meet with many NGO representatives and see quite a few of my friends.
In the time between then and finishing my medical exams, I went to a few get togethers and met RPCVs, embassy staff and marines. It was a lot of fun, not that I’m not ready to go back to my hut. I dislike living out of a bag and not being able to cook, but if I have to, being in good company and eating delicious food is a fine substitute.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I have a theory...

And here it is:
Everyone knows education is important for mental development and can be the biggest influence on improving a society. For the most part, these ideas seem basic, though somewhat foreign as concepts. What seems to go unnoticed in the developed world is the role that education plays on social development, the importance of which becomes apparent when most members of a community haven’t finished elementary school.
My theory goes somewhere along the lines of…social skills stop progressing at whatever grade people stop attending school. The presentation of the effects of this in adults are: mimicry (aka a half an hour of a group of adults mimicking one sentence such as, don’t touch me), poking or other touching that is not age appropriate, following other people around and talking about them in their presence (normally in front of the person in the same language they have been using). If you have these things happen to you, think “wow, its like the person is in 3rd grade,” then realize that they stopped school in 3rd grade, life begins to make sense. This theory applies just as well for more educated people as well. The older students, educated adults, and people who live around educated people are exposed to different social behavior and act in a different manner that most Americans would see as age appropriate. There’s something just weird about seeing fifty year old men mocking a volunteer then asking for money/beer. If that’s a sign of esteem, I’m still not comfortable with it.

I have just discovered the sanity-saving aspects of podcasts. After days of not speaking in English or hearing any English other than a random Celine Dion or Akon song, podcasts are AMAZING! From the more intellectual university talks to more practical “Stuff You Should Know” to comedy, I now have gotten hours of potentially life saving media. Celebrating ensues...=D

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I turn my camera on

and post new pictures.