Well, I’m back from my site visit, and I finally feel like I’ve returned to Africa! AND I have now seen the village where I will be spending a little over the next two years of my life! As much as I have enjoyed my host family, the village where we’ve been training has been cold, rainy, and extremely mellow – not at all what I remember from my few months in West Africa. I have loved it, though it has been oddly unfamiliar. I knew that going to an island on the other side of the continent would mean the culture and the people would be very different, yet it has been so different that it was easy to forget that I was back. But this past week in Morondava has reassured me that I am, in fact, back in a part of Africa.
On Sunday morning, I embarked on my journey with Felicia and Shayla (two other trainees), Eddy (a PC staff member), and Andry (a PC driver). We drove to Miandrivazo, the biggest city about halfway between Tana and Morondava. Felicia’s site is just outside Miandrivazo, so we dropped her off and the rest of us continued on to Morondava. We stopped in my town for a few minutes on the way since it’s along the main road. Over the next couple of days I made short trips back to my village (once with Eddy, once on my own), but I spent probably about 3 hours total in the village. I was able to meet the mayor of my town, a midwife at the clinic where I’ll be working, and a couple of other people. I’m still a little bit confused as to my living arrangements, because it appears that the original plans had to be scrapped (I’m not exactly sure why). But I think the “house” that’s going to be mine is actually the middle room in a row of three houses with a shared porch. It is very small—smaller than your standard double room in a college residence hall—and will somehow have to fit a bed, table & chairs, makeshift stove, and dresser. Also probably not ideal for privacy…but, the people who I will share a porch with seem very friendly, and having neighbors will definitely make my house more secure and help me with integrating into the community.
My town is about a 90-minute taxi-brousse ride from Morondava (more on taxi-brousses in a moment). I actually spent most of the site visit in Morondava because my village doesn’t have a hotel. Shayla and I shared a hotel in Morondava each night, and spent the days exploring the city, hanging out near the beach, and trying to accomplish various site visit tasks (pricing out items in the market that we’ll need to buy upon installation, etc.) It’s a big tourist town since it’s the easiest point to get to and from a lot of national parks, river trips, and other places. As with any tourist spot, it has certain amenities for those willing to pay (in this case, places with hot water, A/C, internet access, pizza, ice cream), but also has an authentic culture for those willing to seek it out. So, it will be a fun, occasional getaway on the days I’m allotted to go into the city for banking and other business. Also, FYI if your Madagascar geography is still as mixed up as mine is…other than Shayla who is a couple hours from me, I’m about 6 hours away from Felicia, who will be the next closest volunteer, and another 5 hours or so beyond that from other volunteers. So I’m fairly removed from anyone I know, but that will just mean I’ll be forced to integrate more quickly into my new home!
Tomorrow morning I head back to my training village, and I’m pretty sure we won’t be back in Tana until the end of training/swearing-in/installation during the last week of September. [quick interjection: please send me mail!!!!] But before I go, I’d like to add a little more about life here in general.
Similar to the Ghana tro-tros, which you’ve probably heard a million stories from me about, the easiest and cheapest form of transportation here is in taxi-brousses. These are 15-passenger vans that have been converted so that nearly twice as many people can fit in them. Many of the seats are sideways, or backwards, or are constructed to flip up and down easily to allow passengers to slide in and out…..in other words, MASS CHAOS. But, they are my favorite way to get around. They’re usually not in the greatest condition, every type of person travels in them, you can usually find several animals (chickens, goats, zebu) either inside of them or tied to the top, and consequently there is usually some ridiculous incident that transpires during the journey. During one of my trips to my village the other day, I counted the number of passengers that were in the vehicle. 27. 27 people in a 15-passenger van. But, they are the perfect place to practice the Malagasy language and have pleasant interactions with people. It’s so nice to be back in a place that uses such an entertaining form of transportation!
I’m going to try to put a few pictures up on here, but the internet connection has been spotty so I’m making no promises. In the meantime, write letters, give my phone a call, or you’ll hear from me again in about a month!