26 August 2008

A Couple Quick Plugs

I just wanted to give you all a couple of links to other blogs and pictures. These will round out your ideas of what I am going through a bit.

Brittany has a blog that you all should read. She lives in the same region of the country and is the closest environment volunteer (only a day and a half travel) to me, but is having a quite different experience. You can find a lot of great links on her page, too. She has some great pictures of our trainings and other travel (including to my house) that you might also want to check out.

Liz just sent me the link to her blog. She has posted some wonderful pictures and stories from the summer she spent here in Madagascar as a WWF volunteer. We worked closely together (I can't wait to work with her again come January!) and you can get a really good idea about some of the stuff I have been doing the last few months, and the places I have been.

Also, I have a few photos uploaded though I haven't yet got them sorted at all, but you can find them here.

I hope I am not bombarding you all but I want to give you as much as possible before I disappear off the map again...

For the Love of Petrol!

As I am traveling back to site after a month of training and meetings and fine dining (where else can you get an exquisite French meal for $10 except Tana?) and merrymaking, I am reminded about what havens gas stations are in this country.

Its not that they are anything special from an American perspective - in fact they look just like gas stations back home - but that is what makes them amazing: they are like gas stations back home in a place where nothing is like back home. Not only is it comforting for the homesick, but also for the road weary traveler in Madagascar.

Just like home, it is a few pumps with a convenience store and a bathroom. Imagine a convenience store in a land where nothing seems to be designed with convenience in mind. This is a tropical country, so its hot, and it is easy to get overheated or dehydrated. For many of us that is a constant struggle and the only thing to find is a warm coke or THB. But at the gas station they have refrigeration so I can get a cold drink or, heaven forbid, an ice cream! Many shops here don’t even have an electric lightbulb, let alone a refrigerator.

Then there is the bakery. Not all of them heave this feature, just like not all gas stations back home have an Aztec Grill or some such. If you are fortunate enough to have one of this style in your area, it becomes like Mecca: If I had one I would know exactly which direction it is when I am surveying trees in the forest and would be constantly pulled by it’s energy. While the bread is twice as much as the stale baguette on the corner, it is warm and soft and ….oh so delicious. With the puff pastries and turnovers and other Frenchie thingies, it is hard not to come back multiple times a day when you are near one.

Now, some places in this country are more sanitary then others. In my area, as in many, people don’t even use latrines – they just do their business in the woods or, after dark, wherever they please. You can imagine the stank around those places people pick as their favorite doodie spots. So when you have been traveling and have to use the kabone (latrine) it is amazing to come across a gas station where you can use an actual toilette that usually flushes. And the sink might even have soap.

There are some differences from back home, however. Here, the ‘Gasy seem to know how amazing this Western convenience is and take pride in it. Gas stations are actually clean here – usually immaculately so. They are also quite conspicuous here, where most buildings are more like shacks or crumbly brick leftovers from colonial days. They are apparently such targets that they need to hire guards at night, armed with 50 year old rifles, to deter theft, though I guess maybe it is just that gasoline is so frickin’ expensive these days.

Those of you that know me probably won’t understand how I can write such a post. While I may have avoided these cesspools of capitalist exploitation like the plague back home, I have learned to appreciate even the lowly gas station in a place where everything else makes me feel like I am on a different planet.

25 August 2008


Several of you have asked if I need anything and if they can send packages.

DHL will ship to the Antananarivo address but I am not sure about the other one. The packages will then be forwarded by Peace Corps.

Personaly I don't need anything- I like living on a basic diet of rice and beans and can get by just fine on what is materially available, but luxury is lacking. I would really appreciate anything you sent though, from a letter to granola bars to Dr. Bronner's (the soap here is straight glycerin). It is nice when I visit other volunteers to be able to bring them a small gift like a snickers bar, or Oreos. Also, any pens, or coloring books, or soccer balls and pumps, arts and craft supplies. etc. for the kids will be appreciated more than you can know. Oh, and if you have any pictures of your homes and towns and families, it would be wonderful to be able to give these people a wider perspective about the world, and for me to see your wonderful faces again. Oh yeah, and any semi current magazines like the economist or newsweek would be very much appreciated - I am in way more of a bubble than all you in Humbloldt/Trinity think you are.

When I can get people more organized around the projects they want to carry out, I will be hitting you all up for donations so you might want to hold out for that.

I think this will be my last post for a few months so I look forward to corresponding by letter with you all. Peace and love and all that hippy shit that I am so fond of...

Goodbye to WWF Volunteers

So yesterday the last of the 6 volunteers who I had been working with for the last 10 weeks left to their respective home countries or to continue their journeys elsewhere. We worked closely together and they became fast friends of mine and I will miss them dearly.

I just wanted to plug their program really quickly. They came to learn about conservation/development work, and what it means to do it on the ground rather from an office desk. They are all passionate young adults who want to make a difference in the world. WWF gave them the opportunity to come here and work side by side with the field team, doing awareness raising activities in the villages, and helping to carry out the forest surveys. If they aren't up yet, their stories and short videos should be posted soon at this link: http://www.panda.org/how_you_can_help/volunteer/volunteer/volunteer_stories/madagascar/vondrozo_forest/index.cfm

Check out the videos for some possible cameos by your's truly.

Thanks again to all of you volunteers for easing my transition into Malagasy life and for helping me to build bridges with the communities we worked in. You are always welcome back.

06 August 2008

Long Journey to Tana

So about 3 months have elapsed since I have been at site and it is time that I head back to the capital to have a Peace Corps training. I happened to be out in a small village for about a week and needed to leave a couple days earlier then the rest of the team, so a friend was found for me who was going the same direction as I and we walked the 8 km together to the main town in the region.

There I met Charles and Honore, who were staying in another tiny village close by. Honore shuttled our bags with his motorcycle and Charles and I got our bikes out of the mayor’s office and proceeded to ride the 11 km back to my town of residence. Oh, did I mention that it was raining constantly the whole day? The rode was slimy red mud and we had a great time getting caked in it, though our bikes weren’t so enthusiastic. It was a MudFest - the mud is clay and cakes everything so you can imagine how we looked...

When we got back to town, we showered (I mean poured water on ourselves from buckets, of course), and I had some friends help me clean my bike, then we proceeded to celebrate with THB, the national beer in Madagascar, since I was leaving the next day by car and we were drawing to the end of the WWF interns stay in Madagascar. This was the first time that I had gotten drunk in Madagascar, indeed the first time I had gotten drunk in 3 years. We chatted about development theory, peak oil, Christmas plans, etc. until late. The next day, I woke up with a fantastic hangover and at 8:00 a.m. Honore was at my door telling me that the road was too muddy for even a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get through so if I was to get to the town where I could catch a taxi-brousse to the capital, in time to make it to training, then I would have to bike it. That town is 68 km. away over a horrendous road. So I threw some stuff in my panniers, strapped a backpack to my rack, had a coffee with Charles and set off at about 9:00 a.m.

Now, had I been prepared, I would have only had to ride halfway (given, it was the much tougher half) and then been able to catch a ride the second half. Instead, I had miss judged my money situation, because I had not been able to get to the bank (in the town I was riding to) and was waiting on a courier to bring me cash. It was supposed to be in the car that couldn’t make it to me, so I set out with 1000 ariary in my pocket, which is less than a dollar and not enough for a meal, let alone a ride on a taxi. So I had to ride the whole way. 68 muddy, muddy, muddy kilometers. I was dead tired after 40 km., parched, and fuelless. I suffered through the next 8, walking my bike where I didn’t have the strength to ride, and finally came to a small village where a woman was willing to sell me some fried manioc balls, and a little further on, some bananas. Down to 200 ariary, a third of a liter of water, and 20 km. to go. 6.5 hours after setting out, I made it to Farafangana. Before, this ride sounded like a fun recreational activity to do on a whim; now I dread ever having to do it again (which is certain to happen).

The fun just doesn’t stop. I arrived to find that the person who was supposed to have my money was out of town until the next day and I had no food and nowhere to stay. Wondering if I could get accommodations on a tab, I made it to the bank 10 minutes before they closed and was able to withdraw money.

The next day I had a meeting, got another friend to help me clean my bike again, and the day after left for a 16 hour taxi-brousse ride. This time my luck faired better and I got to ride shotgun, instead of crowded in the back with 15 others. And the driver even had an auxiliary cable so I plugged in my iPod and we listened to Manu Chou, the Beatles, and Coldplay. They love the Beatles. I arrived safely in Tana at 2:30 in the morning and got to see all my friends for the first time in months.

I wonder how it will be in the wet season?