04 May 2008

I Guess I Really Am Living Here for Two Years

I am currently sitting in the bungalow that Brittany and I are sharing in Mananjary on our way to our sites. The plumbing here at Hotel Ideal is faulty (typical) but the loft is cute.

We swore in five days ago, along with our 28 other fellow trainees, as Madagascar’s newest Peace Corps volunteers. I am finally getting around to write about it now. It was at Tsimbazaza, the national zoo and botanical garden in Antananarivo. We had an hour or so to walk around and see the animals and then had a ceremony with the Ambassador and Madagascar’s Minister of the Environment, along with assorted other folks. Unfortunately, our Peace Corps Country Director was at a world director’s conference and couldn’t make it, which was a shame. For the actual swearing in, we were never asked to raise our right hands while we gave our oaths, so I don’t know if we are actually servants of the state or just pretending.

Afterwards, we hung out at the ambassador’s pad for a celebratory lunch; you know, the typical Peace Corps life – swimming, and lounging, eating and schmoozing. Really though, it was an amazing treat.

Then, the next morning, that’s it, vita, done. Two months of spending all our time together and then, poof! we are all off to our respective corners of the island. Brendan, Brittany and I left at 6:30 the next morning. We spent the next two days together shopping for mattresses and stoves and whatnot, as well as visiting partners and government officials (It is a typical cultural practice here that whenever somebody goes into an area to do any sort of work they meet with everybody in charge from the chief of police to mayors to traditional kings. To not do so is perceived as anywhere from disrespectful to downright suspicious). Then after setting up Brendan’s BLU antennae (there is no phone coverage around his site so he uses a radio to communicate – it has an antennae that is about 30 feet long and 20 feet high, strung across two poles that we erected), putting his bike together and eating lunch, we leave him at his site.

To get to his site you have to take a ferry across a river. When we were leaving, as we waited for the ferry, a funeral procession caught up with us. They came walking down the road, singing and chanting, seemingly cheerful and nearly ecstatic. The corpse was on a sling wrapped up in cloths. We rode across the water together, the body not more than five feet from me, and it stunk. It was somehow refreshing to be washed over by such a potent display of life and death. Though we were by no means a focus of their energy, I felt like it was an appropriate welcoming to us as we were in the process of beginning our new lives, adding cultural and existential perspective to my myopic self-centered view.