Friday, March 13, 2009

The End is Here

For those of you not on my e-mail list, Peace Corps Madagascar has been suspended. The country's stability has deteriorated. Tanks in the capital, military divided and defecting, two presidents still not negotiating.
This means I am going to South Africa soon, where I will learn about what my options are for the future. Right now I know only vague details, and I still have trouble thinking about leaving, let alone what to do after. I will have better internet access from SA and will try to keep new info posted. For now I am safe, but in shock. Thanks for all your love and support. Maybe I will see some of you sooner than we thought.

And Life Goes On

I am living through a coup d’ etat. It is less exciting than it sounds. There are rallies most every day, police shutting down large parts of cities, deploying tear gas and breaking up protests every day. Whole cities are shutting down in protests called ‘une ville mort’ (dead city), and roads have been blocked.
This is all happening in the capital and regional capitals, out here in the country side, you’d barely know anything is happening. We get daily reports from PC about the happenings around the country, but since the news is controlled by the president, most people here don’t really know what is happening on a day-to-day basis. Let me reiterate that I am safe.
There are heated discussions around town, rumors about protests and clashes with the police, but no rallies, ville mort or even police presence. The police just get drunk all day anyway, and the national military was all called to the capital. What people do know and agree on is that we need a new president. He went one step too far by buying a $60 million presidential jet, and now there is a general call for him to be ousted. It is just happening slowly.
I began working with an NGO called CARE and mentioned to them the ‘political crisis’ and they said ‘No Gordon, it is not a crisis, it is just part of life here in Madagascar. It is the way we do things.’
It was difficult to be pulled from site to consolidation, but I returned and restarted my normal routine and was soon settled. Everything is normal here, and life is as it was, but I am waiting (we all are) for something to happen. Regional capitals are restricted areas. We are on the first level of security alert (standfast) indefinitely. Every time the phone rings I think ‘this could be it, please let me stay!’. However, aside from that mild anxiety, life goes on.

7 Mars, 2009


The President’s blunder does have immediate and lasting consequences for the country. The UN has estimated that it will take at least 7 years for the country to recover from the looting, burning and protesting. The lost harvest and burned goods could cause a food shortage in the near future. This is compounded by the fact that the World Bank, and many other aid groups have pulled funding to the country since President Ravalomanana cannot exactly say where he got the $60 mill for the jet.
A very close to home effect of this loss was explained to me by my landlord. He is a contractor and builder. He is about to finish building a school, dormitory and sanitation project in the countryside about 50 km away. He took out a loan to do this, and now the government can’t pay for it. They owe him money for the project and he is very worried that he will never get it. The bank is harassing him and the government is telling him just to wait. He cannot work on other projects until this one pays and he has money for more materials and labor.
Part of the problem is the lack of liquid capital in the market, it is sort of always like this, waiting for money to come. Part of the problem is that the government has no more money to pay for the public works it needs. This is not to say that the government would pay promptly if there was money, but they would pay eventually. Now, Mr. Calixte may never see that money again.

Malagasy Politics:

There is a pitch-black, fork-tailed flycatcer called a Drongo here. This is the story of how it became the king of the birds:
Once upon a time there was a great fire in the forest. God called all of the birds to him and said “whoever put this fire out will forever be the king of the birds.” All of the birds rushed out to put out the fire, and the Mynah actually succeeded. He used coconuts from the trees where he lives to put out the flames.
Before he went back to see God, he wanted to take a bath. While he was bathing, the drongo, who had watched the whole thing from a distance, flew down and rolled in the ashes. He went to God and told him “I have put out the fire.” Then and there, God anointed the drongo with the ashes and made him king of the birds, which he remains to be even today.
9 Mars, 2009

Ambohibe, The Village High Up on the Hill:

I took a trip to Ambohibe with my friend Claude Amie yesterday. It is 18km away from Vavatenina down a really bad road. I didn’t expect much, but it is a really nice little village. I commented to Claude that for a town it’s size, it should have a road. He explained to me that in 1987 the government gave the Mayor a lot of money to build a road, and she built a big house instead. Now she is in jail, the house is unused and the town barely has a road.
It was a really nice trip. Claude is from the deep countryside (35 km from Ambohibe) and went there for middle school. He showed me around, the school is nicer than the one in Vavaten, and there is a nice soccer field down by the river; and introduced me to his friends.
While we were there, they were celebrating Women’s Rights Day. The Mayor made a speech and a group of girls sang and danced. Then a group of older women sang and danced to. I told Claude it made me really happy to see a cultural event like that; I ahad been dismayed at the lack of culture in Vavaten. He explained to me that there are lots of such events in the countryside. Dances, songs, celebrations (the day before they killed a cow in the town square), story telling acted out with masks, all these things happen here, but not in Vavaten. People don’t do them in the city because they think it is uncivilized. They hide their culture in the boonies so that the foreigners like me don’t judge them.
This idea made me really sad. Hide your culture? We are not the same, and you don’t have to be ashamed of that, but they are. I now remember a few times that very Catholic people in town, the same ones who told me never to go to a tomb-turning ceremony, disappeared for a day or two into the forest or country. Mostly near holidays. They all just told me they went to see family, but now I suspect there were alterior motives for their trips.
The upside is that now I know where to find such experiences, and Claude knows I am looking for them so he will keep me informed.
9 Mars, 2009

So when is the rainy season?

This is a question that I have asked many people, in many forms, in 3 different languages and still have not received a solid answer for. But now people are just talking about it. I haven’t asked in a while because I thought it had just passed. If that was it I will be disappointed, but I think that was cyclone season and the rainy season is now upon us. that’s what people are saying when they aren’t talking about politics or money.
It occurred to me that the problem may not have been my language skills. but just a deeper disconnect. Then I ask people “when is the rainy season?” or “will it rain more in March?”, they understand the words, but don’t understand what I am asking. They don’t understand how I could not know when the rainy season is. Never mind that I grew up halfway around the world, everyone knows when the rainy season is. What is this crazy white guy asking?
Anyway, it is cooling off (thankfully) and the rain is coming more frequently. The threat of cyclones is almost passed without a major one hitting the East coast this year.
I guess this is just going be the way it is, communication wise. Even if I can coherently speak in Malagasy and French, I will still have a lot of trouble communicating. It is frustrating, but I will just keep trying. So far, some misinformation has caused misadventures, but no major problems. I am working hard to keep it that way, but my luck is bound to run out sometime.
8 Mars, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Compare and contrast:

I assume that many of you watched President Obama’s Inauguration, and I thought this would be a good time to compare experiences. So think back on it, remember where you were, what you were doing, what else was going it? Now, let me tell you what I was doing.
On the day before there was a huge tropical storm here. It rained all day and I was basically stuck in my house. On Inauguration Day, the storm broke in the morning, but we did not have school since it rained so hard yesterday. The morning was beautiful, and I went for a run in the cloudy late morning heat. I cooked and ate lunch with Brad, we played guitar and then tried to figure out what time the Inauguration would happen. My mom said 9:30, is that Pacific time (11 hours different) or Eastern? What time is that here? What did the radio say this morning?
By the time we had it figured out (turns out we were wrong anyway), it looked like rain again. Brad has the working radio and we have to cross town to get to his house. We left just in time to get caught in a tropical deluge. It then rained as it only can in the tropics, for the next two hours. We found a BBC station on the short-wave that promised coverage. Then the station moved. So we found its new frequency, got beers and waited.
For the speech and ceremony, it was 7:30 pm. The rain had stopped, but we were still wet, eating rice, sitting close to the radio with a dubious connection and picking fleas off of our legs as fast as we could find them. We were able to make out the speech, and it was definitely a memorable experience.