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aiza ny kabone?

amber's in madagascar for 27 months

I have been here long enough now to become confused when people in the other hemisphere talk about season changes.  Example: people are talking about wearing sweaters and whatnot and my tan is coming back.

Last post I promised tales of a Malagasy wedding.  Well folks I have failed you.  To summarize, the efficient transportation system here got in my way.  In short I am bummed about this so as soon as I get back to site my new priority will be finding a wedding to crash.

The school year is starting soon! Monday is the first staff meeting where I may find out which classes I am teaching.  Classes start either October 3rd or 10th.  Either way I am looking forward to a routine again.  Come January I will be moving houses/sites.  I applied for a different position in PC Mada and was selected.  To summarize my title come next year will be Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.  The job will take me to Fianarantsoa where I will live at the MEVA (place of hot showers) and work and teach in the city.  I am excited because I will have the opportunity to expand on small projects that have already been started by other volunteers in the area (teacher trainings, clubs etc) and I will get to work with other volunteers on their projects.  Also I will work with Peace Corps staff on Peace Corps things.  Hopefully that all makes sense!  Don’t worry though, I will still see you all again in September 2012.

The picture in this post with the red writing – we had an impromptu English Club meeting today in lieu of the wedding and these are some of the vocabulary words we discussed today.  The other picture – Toni looks good in my sunglasses.


At the training center, on Fridays, the staff held a firecamp (yes a funny translation/use but we let the staff continue to call it a firecamp because it made us laugh so) where the training staff and the trainees can exchange and share fomba (culture, ways), songs, stories and fady (taboos) about their culture or what they have learned about the opposite culture.  It was so much fun, except the firecamp failed on one front: no marshmallows or hot dogs.

Otherwise it has been very mangina (quiet) here, I was living at the training center for the past three weeks training the new education volunteers that will be sworn in later this week. When that happens my stage will officially be the ignored middle child and I will be that much further into my service here. Brianna is about to get a new sitemate from the education group who is entertaining and my region will also pick up an awesome education volunteer a few hours south of me.

I did have a great weekend in Tana hitting up a few vazaha places I have not been yet with Hilary and Brianna.  We enjoyed two date nights out the three of us and had some awesome food and got to catch up.

So hang tight, there will be more interesting things (theoretically) to come in the next two months with the start of school coming as well as a big Peace Corps 50th Anniversary party in Fianar that will also coincide with the opening of the American Corner (an American cultural and English resource center) and the arrival of the Embassy’s mobile culture display. I am also going to a Malagasy wedding out in the boonies so that will provide many great cultural interaction stories to make you laugh at my awkwardness.

I am recently back from Mahajanga (alternatively Majunga) in the northeast. While there I got to see a couple of other volunteers and some baobabs (finally!). Mahajanga is great because of a number of factors. First, it is “winter” here, so the weather was warm (read: hot because I am used to the more temperate highlands) and dry during the day but cool and mosquito filled at night. Second, the board. The board is a long roadway on the ocean front that gets going at night. If you see any of my photos on my picasa page ( most of the night photos are from there. The big thing are fish brochettes, ice cream and staring at people. There are also horse rides, weird child car rides that are pushed by a person, popcorn and cotton candy, carnival rides and the occasional concert. Since it is the long school break right now, it is really hopping. Third, it is relatively cheap! More Malagasy than vazahas vacation here (mostly just because it is kind of out of the way from other tourist spots on the island), so the pricing really reflects this. Fourth, there are coconuts/mangoes/papaya/cheap seafood… etc. Fifth, it has a very large Muslim population and it is Ramadan right now. Many shops were closed as result but we were right by a mosque so we heard all the calls to prayer and saw some awesome outfits. Some volunteers that live in this area are also following Ramadan with their friends at site so hanging with the vacationing girls posed difficulties. Sixth, one night as we sat down at a fish brochette stand, a few people down was my Malagasy tutor from Ambalavao. In case you forgot that is where I live and it is approximately 1000 kilometers from there, so it is becoming a smaller island. Some girls had outfits made while we were there, and we all bought lambas (the cloths, like the ones in the beach photos) of course. I want to go back, it was a great vacation and now I finally get why people like beach vacations. But now I am back on the plateau getting ready to help train the new trainees. OH! One last thing, in reference to my last entry about sharks and beaches, we went swimming in the ocean but no sharks! Just seaweed…

so my feed appears to be down but my photos can be found at

So before I head out on vacation, I thought I would tell you some random things.

First, my experience, generally speaking, has been that whenever I speak Malagasy with people their first question is: American? Alternatively the question is: Peace Corps? And then conversation follows about how PCVs in Mada are mahay (capable, smart, this translates broadly) at Malagasy. In addition, on more than one occasion I have been told by a Malagasy person that French speaking tourists are haughty for not speaking any Malagasy or not even trying. My point? Americans tend to have a positive light on them here and it is really nice, especially after traveling other places, where people have been haughty to me for being American.

Second, so another vazaha gets into my taxi brousse with his apparent guide (or maybe Malagasy female road companion? they seemed super cozy and he only speaks English and she didn’t really speak English) and was in a tizzy because the bottled water they had just bought was already opened. The concern is that maybe it is a recycled bottle with dirty water inside. They return to the vendor to exchange, and he does not allow that.  They return to the brousse and the woman thinks that maybe she had already opened it herself and that it is no problem.  The vazaha says, well worst case scenario it is just tap water.  I don’t think he knows what this “tap water” is made of here.

Third, Madagascar is a country of dialects.  My dialect for example, is Betsileo, which is very close to the standard/official language with a few vocab changes and more sh sounds included.  See previous postings regarding East TN and me for more detail.  Some dialects also include much more French.  In my town French is spoken with tourists, numbers and prices sometime are in French, and we use French when there is just not a Malagasy word for what we are talking about.  But it is not French heavy.  In other places French still plays a huge role in their dialect.  For the most part Malagasy people can understand people from other regions, but sometimes there is a problem.  In Fianar this week, a volunteer who now lives there, had her old “site brother” shipped down via brousse to celebrate the fact that he passed 6th grade.  He is from Diego and speaks Sakalava.  So in a room of this volunteer, the now 5th grader, myself and another mutual Malagasy university friend, conversation was insane.  The volunteer (who has been in and out of country since 2008 and is super mahay Malagasy) had to translate essentially between two Malagasy people.  It was a sight.  I thought it was really interesting and a cool experience, then I remembered I am going on vacation to Mahajanga, where I believe Sakalava is spoken, and I am going to be so confused.

For those of you who don’t know how to read a calendar, I have been gone for a year, and haven’t seen most of you for even longer than that. Moving on, I pick poor places to vacation regarding swimming capability. What I mean is as follows: last Christmas I went to Manakara (in the south eastish) and it is impossible to swim and even really stand in the water without having your suit ripped off you by currents (it got awkward). So for vacation this summer before I head to the rainy cold training center to train the new version of my training group, I am going to Mahajanga. This is in the north westish. Now, according to Lonely Planet on page 177 of the Madagascar book “North and south of town are beaches, although most are not suitable as they are plagued by SHARKS and strong currents.” So I may get to see sharks! That would be really cool. Actually going on vacation here also means the following: I have to do it on the cheap and dirty on a whole new level, and to get to Mahajanga I will be in overcrowded taxi brousses for about a total of 24 hours to go about 1000 kilometers. So I am breaking this trip down into small pieces to make it there with my sanity. But on the bright side I can get my tan back, eat/drink coconuts and have seafood brochettes on the beach. Also I hear there are some pretty nice hotel pools.

On the site front, I was NOT prepared for summer break. I went to a training seminar and a VAC meeting in Tana the day I finished with school, then I got back to site and was smacked in the face with complete boredom (so now I know what it is like to be an environment volunteer! Jokes). Now I can study Malagasy more/sit around with people and gossip, and go to tutoring once a week which is fun. I started a spinach garden (which I am pretty sure will never sprout because all the chickens were already all over it, I really need to make a fence), and I have started to weave scarves with Emma. If the spinach ever grows I promised the Soalandy women I would cook the vazaha greens for everybody vazaha style if they cooked rice. I am also trying to train the puppies but it is really hard because I don’t have any bribe treats and they have fleas so I don’t actually want to be near them. Generally speaking it is going pretty much the same, except I finished a year in country, so that is really nice to check off on my calendar. But that doesn’t mean I only have one year left! Let the countdown to the beach commence.

So I have a youtube page where I have uploaded random clips from my day to day here. I started it only as a place to upload them to show some people but I thought I’d make my small audience aware. for your boredom at work! Also type “cute animals” into the youtube search engine, that is equally if not more, entertaining.