Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Update

Friday, December 24, 2010 (Happy Christmas Eve!)

And not a creature was stirring… except for the rats in my ceiling…

It’s been a while since my last update. In-Service Training (IST) was great. It was really amazing to see all my training comrades again, but it’s tough accepting that we probably won’t all be together again until next September or October 2011.

Training went like this: we all arrived in Tana in waves December 9, 10, and 11. There was a blur of catching up and merrymaking, culminating in a holiday party hosted by the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at his big, beautiful apartment (complete with DJ, dance floor, pavilion-covered lawn, snacks, and open bar).

On Sunday, December 12 we were taken back to the Peace Corps Training Center (PCTC/Camp Peace Corps) in good ol’ Mantasoa. Everyday was filled with information sessions from after breakfast until dinner. Every evening was filled with more catching up and merrymaking. One of the days we were taken into town in Peace Corps cars for brief reunions with our host families. And then, suddenly, it was over.

We were taken back to Tana on Friday, December 17 and given a tour of the U.S. Embassy. Afterwards we were invited to swim in the U.S. Embassy pool. Quite nice. Once back at the Tana MEVA I found out that my flight back to Diego was scheduled for Monday, December 20, which gave me a few more days with friends.

That Saturday, after a fun morning at the market, Mama Peace Corps’ brother (a musician named Rabbi who lives in Tana) informed me that MPC had arrived in Tana via taxi brousse. He showed up at the MEVA and together we took a city brousse downtown. We then took a taxi up a mountain in the center of town to his sister Eliot’s house. I met Eliot and her adorable daughter Ariel. Then I was reunited with MPC. After a bit of catching up Rabbi showed me an awesome view of the city from a ledge near the house. I had to get back to the MEVA before dark, but I was told to come back the next day with friends to celebrate little Ariel’s 8th birthday.

So, the next morning I went on an excellent Antanarivo Adventure with Molly, Julie, and Paul Cook (follow along with the corresponding Facebook photo album). We got downtown in the midst of a hectic pre-Christmas market day. We then decided it would be more rewarding to hike up the mountain to Eliot’s house rather than take a taxi. I tried to lead us on a shortcut, but we ended up getting lost in backyards before being shown back to the main road.

Once we reached the top, we purchased beverages and then helped prepare food for a bit with the whole MPC family: MPC, Eliot, Rabbi and their mother, little Ariel, family friend Rosa, and my old pal Tsiky (MPC’s son who had come into Tana from university in Antsirabe). Eventually it was apparent that there were too many cooks in the kitchen (Eliot was convinced that Molly, Julie, Paul and I were helpless vazahas and that we’d severely maim ourselves in the process of cutting vegetables), so we went for a walk to check out the excellent view from the ledge.

In the middle of relaxation, I heard a most intriguing sound: live drumbeats. I immediately located the source: the Espace Mahatazana hotel, directly behind us. I left the others, probably without saying a word. I can’t remember. I was drawn to the noise like a moth to the light.

Entering the foyer, I met the maître d'hôtel who was excited that I spoke Malagasy. I told her I had heard the music and come running, so she took me up to a grand ballroom with tables set for a wedding reception. In the corner of the room was a raised platform with drum set, bass, electric guitar, and keyboard. The band was warming up. I rushed over.

They were also excited to hear me speak Malagasy. They asked if I preferred jazz, blues, or rock. I went with blues. The singer/guitarist blew me away with a soulful Malagasy 12-bar. At this point Molly, Julie, and Paul had joined me. When the band was done, the frontman asked if we wanted to come up and sing. No one volunteered, but I made known that I play guitar. He asked if I wanted to play. Was I dreaming?

I got up on stage and let loose with a blues song I wrote in Mantasoa, jamming with the bassist and drummer for a bit after running out of verses. It was incredible. Eliot came at this point to let us know food was ready. End jam session. I was in a euphoric stupor.

We stuffed ourselves with potato, beet and carrot salad, shredded mango and cucumber salad, turkey, fried dough chips (caca pigeon), homemade fruit juice, beer, soda, and cake. We tried to dance it off, but it took a walk back down the mountain to get feeling back into my outer extremities.

We said our goodbyes and took a city brousse back to the MEVA. That night I had a goodbye beer with Ryan F., Brianna, and Hilary. Shortly after getting inside the rickety beer hut, it started pouring. Water was streaming through cracks in the tin roof. We tried to wait it out for a while, but it was not letting up. Eventually the power went out, so we were forced to leave. None of us had umbrellas or raincoats. We ran back through the flooded streets in the dark while the rain came down in sheets. An epic ending to an already epic day.

I left early the next morning for the airport, and then flew to Diego…

I hung out in Diego for the evening before taking a painfully long brousse ride back down to Ambanja the day after that. I’ve been trying to readjust to the heat here since then.

Saturday, December 25, 2010 (Merry Christmas!)

What a splendid Christmas! I got to visit my friend Liza (a friend inherited from Dorothy) who just had a baby a few days ago. Both are doing well. But imagine my surprise yesterday when Liza’s friend Claudine told me that the baby still has no name and that Liza wants me draw up a list of popular American girl names. I brought the list to Liza this morning and she’s going to mull it over.

After that I helped Momyne and Anniece prepare our Christmas lunch: homemade flour tortillas with chili and rice; mac n cheese; and a plate of Oreos from the States. It was the ultimate comfort food feast.

The rest of the day was spent reading and sleeping off the meal until dinner when I had a jam session with the neighborhood drunkard. Now time for bed.

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