Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving and a German

Monday, November 29, 2010

So, the political situation described in my last post turned out to be nothing after all (as far as I know). Forces loyal to Andry Rajoelina stormed Ivato and arrested the mutinying military officers. Everything is back to “normal.”

This has been a good week. All the volunteers around Ambanja came in for Thanksgiving. I had to teach in the morning and evening on Thursday, but was able to get out of the latter. We had planned to buy a turkey, but that fell through. We then considered buying the materials necessary to make Mexican food (beans, rice, peppers, and flour can all be found here), but then decided it would be easier to eat vazaha food at the classy Palma Nova restaurant (which I described a few posts back).

Friday we all took a taxi-brousse to Ankify beach, picking up PCV Molly (who came in from her site on the island Nosy Be via ferry) along the way. So, in total 8 Peace Corps volunteers and 3 Malagasy friends hung out on the beach all day to celebrate Thanksgiving. I brought my guitar, Katie brought her excellent portable speakers, and we all swam and relaxed until the sun began to set.

People returned to their sites in waves on Saturday and Sunday. While some of them relaxed at my house on Saturday, I went with my Malagasy friend Anthony to his uncle’s house. Anthony had told me that his uncle was a German expat living here in Ambanja, married to his mother’s sister. He also told me this German man had an electric guitar, drum set, keyboard, harmonica, and a plethora of djembes.

I took my guitar and walked with Anthony for about half a km to the market. He said his uncle’s house was just a little bit past the market. The common Malagasy response to questions about location here in Ambanja is taloha (which means “before” or “up ahead”).

I knew the house might not be so close, but it was still quite an unpleasant trek. I trudged along for an hour on the shade-less dirt road, my legs pretty burnt from the beach the day before. When we arrived, we were greeted by Anthony’s aunt and led into the house.

His uncle was a stout, white-haired, gray-bearded bespectacled man. He was quite friendly, but the language barrier was a bit awkward. He (obviously) spoke German fluently, as well as French, and a little Malagasy, and could understand slow English. I spoke in English, Malagasy, and terrible French, and he responded in French, Malagasy, and broken English.

We discussed the beauty of Madagascar and the plight of its people and its environment. I explained the concept of Peace Corps, and he explained that in his opinion Madagascar just needed more money. To each his own.

Unfortunately, Anthony had not informed him that I was coming over (not a big surprise—my experience has been that Malagasy people tend to show up and leave without much notice) and had to leave before we could play music, but I did see his extensive djembe collection. I would be extremely pleased if he also possessed the alleged electric guitar and drum set.

So Anthony and I made the trek back to my house and I played guitar there.

On Sunday I had to grade more papers of students whose first try was, let’s say, less than satisfactory, whether that meant completely ignoring the extremely explicit directions, or shamelessly copying their friend’s assignments.

We learned in training that while cheating is seen as wrong here, it is culturally acceptable for Malagasy teachers to ignore it when it happens. Nevertheless, it was still shocking to see it practiced so blatantly.

I’m currently in the process of making my end-of-trimester test, which I will administer next Monday and Tuesday. I can imagine how fun it will be to try to prevent 70 students, crammed into small desks and practically sitting on one another’s laps, from copying.

As far as I know, I leave for Diego next Wednesday, December 8 and then fly to Tana on Thursday, December 9. Then I’m re-united with all my friends from pre-service training (PST) for a week of in-service training (IST). I can’t wait!

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Probably Nothing

Friday, November 19, 2010

I don’t really know what to write. I’ve been bombarded with news from many sources (parents, fellow volunteers’ families, Mama Peace Corps’ relatives who live in Antananarivo). From what I’ve pieced together, there are some military officers holed up near the airport in Ivato, an area in the capital city, Antananarivo. They’ve been there since Wednesday, when there was a referendum on a new constitution. The changes to the constitution, which include changing the minimum age to serve as president from 40 to 35, are supported by the current transitional president, Andry Rajoelina, who is 36.

Mr. Rajoelina took power with support of the military in early 2009, replacing the democratically elected Marc Ravolomanana. Now, the same military officers that brought him to power have declared themselves in charge of the country. However, Andry Rajoelina says he is still running things. There seems to be no report of any violence or deaths in the capital. The military is huffing and puffing about disrupting Madagascar’s airspace, which could be a major problem, but as of yet, it seems to be nothing more than talk. Here in Ambanja, Tana could have been swallowed by the earth and no one would have noticed.

Peace Corps has given us one instruction: standfast. This means if major problems do develop, we should be prepared for consolidation. So, we wait. I’ve got 300 papers to grade. I want to know if I’ll need to be packing up any time soon.

One major bummer about this “standfast” situation is that we aren’t allowed to leave our sites for anything except a medical emergency. If they keep us on “standfast” through Thursday, no one will be able to come here to Ambanja to celebrate Thanksgiving. Mampalahelo (makes me sad).

That being said, it's probably nothing and it will all blow over soon. Here's hoping I'm right.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rural Meets Urban

Friday, November 12, 2010

This week I’ve had a few battles with nature and semi-domesticated animals.

Part I: Rain and Ants

Last Saturday the heavens came crashing down. I’ve never been in the presence of so much rain in my life. I couldn’t hear anything but a deafening roar as the earth’s entire supply of freshwater came hammering down on my tin roof. After about two hours, it suddenly stopped. I was amazed. We don’t get summer storms like that in California.

The next morning I was groggily making myself some eggs and a pot of coffee when I noticed a few ants on my table. As I brushed them off I looked up at the wall and nearly had a heart attack: the wall was black, and it was moving. An entire colony of ants was making its way from my ceiling to a window on the opposite side of the room.

I ate and cleaned everything quickly and swept away any ants who thought it would be a good idea to explore the floor of my domicile. I then went to the general store with Momyne to buy some ant spray.

When I returned, the ant colony had departed. A few stragglers decided to stay behind and frantically run around my windowsill. Their dilatory behavior was rewarded with a quick spray of Attack: Multi-purpose Insect Killer.

Part II: Chickens and Goats

The rest of the week was pretty normal. I taught “Making Requests” and “Indirect vs. Direct Objects.” The class thoroughly enjoyed acting out a dialogue in which they asked, “May I dance with you?” Most chose to respond with a firm and succinct “No!” but occasionally a few were bold enough to try “I’m sorry, but I would prefer not to dance with you.”

On Monday a chicken wandered into my house while I was reading and proceeded to make a big fuss about jumping up and down on my trunk under my desk. I shooed it away easily enough, but it was amusing. This whole “rural meets urban” theme here in Ambanja is always pretty fun.

For example, there is a fairly busy dirt road that I can see from front door right now. A moped just went by, followed by a bicycle and a taxi. However, just a few minutes ago several ox-carts rolled past.

Also, at Mama Peace Corps’ house dinner is made by lighting a fire and burning charcoal, and the kitchen is often lit by candlelight since the power goes out most evenings. But while this cooking is going on, Momyne’s cell phone is blasting music that he transferred to his phone’s memory card via Bluetooth.

And then there was the kid goat that walked into my house and almost chewed the power cord to my laptop (I was also able to shoo it away without any trouble). Not a dull moment around here.

Jonathan arrived in Ambanja last night for some business and should be leaving Sunday. Katie and Jason should be stopping by tomorrow and leaving Sunday as well. We’ll probably watch movies on my computer while geckos watch from the walls (and maybe a goat or a chicken will join us too).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chef CISCO Vaovao

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Giants won the World Series! It took me going to the opposite side of the world, but hey, it works for me.

It’s been an interesting week. Monday and Tuesday there was no school, I believe because of All Saints’ Day, although no one actually told me. Mama Peace Corps just told me it was a holiday, and I called up the proviseur, and sure enough he told me there was no class (I would have shown up at school if I hadn’t called him).

So my pacing was already thrown off because of this holiday situation, and then I showed up at school on Wednesday and discovered that all classes except my English classes were cancelled because there was a new Chef CISCO with whom all the Malagasy teachers needed to meet (CISCO stands for Circumscription Scolaire, and it’s just the school district; the Chef CISCO is the head of the school district, like a superintendent; and it’s French, so Chef=Chief—he doesn’t prepare food). So my students had to watch all their friends go home while they stayed for a lesson on the “present perfect” tense. Lots of fun. They were already ahead of the sections that didn’t have class on Monday or Tuesday, so I let them out early.

So, there’s a new Chef in town. I don’t know why I forgot this in my last post, but there was a protest in my front lawn a week ago. I was getting ready to go to class and a car pulled up in front of the CISCO office (where I live), blasting Malagasy music. It was followed by dozens of protestors carrying signs, apparently calling for the Chef CISCO’s resignation. I guess their protesting worked.

Today when I showed up to teach my evening class, I put my bike in the teacher’s lounge as usual, but found all the other Malagasy teachers sitting in rows of chairs ready for a meeting. The proviseur saw me and told me the new Chef CISCO was coming for an important discussion. I taught from 4:30 – 5:30, after which I found all the teachers still in the lounge, drinking beer and soda and talking to the new Chef CISCO and his wife. I left after introductions.

I don’t know what this new Chef CISCO business will mean for me and my life, except that I think the old Chef will eventually be moving out of his house, which is in the building next to mine. He’s always been pretty standoffish, so I don’t think I’ll miss him much. However, his two little children are pretty adorable and dance whenever I play guitar, so I’ll miss them.

I also don’t know why I forgot this in my last post, Mama Peace Corps’ son, Tsiky, is no longer living in Ambanja. He has left for university in Antsirabe, which is awesome, because from what I’ve observed, not many people here even pass the Baccalaureate (the test to graduate from Lycee). However, he had become a very good friend, so I’ll miss him quite a bit. His friend Momyne, also just a few years younger than me, is now living with Mama Peace Corps while he studies to take the Bacc himself. I’ve been tutoring him with English, but it’s made me sad because he’s supposed to be at the Terminale level, and he’s grossly underprepared for the test.

In other news, I made an ice-blended café latte today. Let me backtrack: Mama Peace Corps is an entrepreneur. She has electricity, so she invested in freezers. In the evenings after work she makes delicious, sugary, whole-milk yogurt and puts it in little re-usable plastic cups with lids. She puts those cups in the freezer, and, presto: frozen yogurt. Men come by with coolers and sell the frozen yogurt cups on the street and at the market. I decided it would be cool to mix coffee and the frozen yogurt in the cups. I thought it tasted pretty good on a hot day.

Food is very important to me, as anyone reading this blog may have guessed. One of the first things Peace Corps has done for my personal development is given me a new appreciation for food, especially for the variety of food available back home. In the U.S., I was faced with choosing from among over a dozen varieties of peanut butter. Here, if I want peanut butter, I need to roast the peanuts and spend about half an hour smashing them with a giant mortar and pestle. Another huge difference is the lack of cheese here. For those reading in the States, try to go through every meal and subtract the cheese. It makes things a lot less delicious. Needless to say, I get a lot more joy out of little things, like iced coffee with real milk.