Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Vazaha Is Back!

After nearly a month of vacation, work in Tana, and PCV meetings, I made it back to my site. I had barely been out of the taxi-brousse for a minute when I was swarmed by kids from my neighborhood who began excitedly chanting, "The vazaha is back! The vazaha is back!" Despite my protests, many of them helped drag my luggage through the dirt back to my house. After such a long time away from site, including a home visit which reminded me just how different my life in America is, I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to feel upon returning to my village here in Madagascar. It was really nice to receive such a warm welcome back from friends, although admittedly it hasn't been the easiest readjustment.

One of the things that has made settling back in difficult is the fact that, yet again, I've been sick. In the latest of my many digestive troubles, I had what one of the Peace Corps doctors calls the "Double Dragon" -- when the body's only two mechanisms for dealing with an upset stomach are occurring simultaneously. I would never, EVER, wish such a thing upon another person. I was pretty miserable for a couple of days, but luckily I have incredibly hospitable friends and neighbors around me who were more than willing to help. When I couldn't even get out of bed, I sent a couple of kids to the market to buy crackers, toilet paper, and phone credit, and I gave them a little extra money so they could buy chips or candy for themselves as a thank-you. People also offered to fetch water for me or do anything else I needed. I'm not back at 100% yet, but I'm doing okay. But enough about my intestinal troubles . . . .

One of the most widely known facets of Peace Corps is the interaction and exchange between two different cultures. Indeed, rarely a day goes by that I don't think about the differences between Malagasy and American culture. So starkly different are the two that at times it's incredibly easy to forget that there are similarities, too. One of the things I've been doing to help myself try to adjust back to my life here is think of the similarities I have noticed over my time here so far. Here's what I've come up with:

1) Some people will be buttheads no matter what you do. But a smile goes a long way in a difficult situation. There are rude Americans. There are rude Malagasy. Some people will never be satisfied with how they are being treated. And being a foreigner, I probably annoy and anger people on a pretty regular basis without even realizing it. But when I stay calm, patient, friendly, and offer a smile, people are a lot more willing to help me figure out what to do. Same thing in America (try yelling at an employee versus kindly asking for assistance and see how far you get).

2) Little kids think big kids are way cool. It's a rare day when I don't have at least 20 children hanging out in my house/yard. Admittedly, some of this has to do with the fact that I am a very white, very tall (compared to the Malagasy), foreigner. But I also like to tell myself it's because I'm just a big kid and they want to be like me. :)

3) A party's not a party without a lot of food. Sharing food in Madagascar, just like sharing food in America, is an expression of welcome and celebration.

4) Justin Bieber is a pop sensation. While Malagasy music hasn't yet hit it big statesides, American pop culture has certainly infiltrated over here. The kids in my neighborhood have adopted "Baby" as their latest favorite song, so I hear them singing it [or trying to, anyway--their comprehension of the English words is a little subpar] almost constantly.

In other news, last Sunday was "vingt-six" (the 26th...June 26), Madagascar's national holiday. I was expecting there to be quite the party going on, since everyone was concerned when I went to the states that I wouldn't be back in time for the holiday. It was also all anybody could talk about for the week leading up to the big day. Turns out it actually wasn't too different from any other party/festival/big occasion I've seen in my town. I later heard from people that a lot more happens in Morondava and Mahabo--the bigger towns near me. (Shayla also told me she and a bunch of kids from her neighborhood went to see fireworks.) But, I celebrated the best that I could with some friends and neighbors. Mid-afternoon I wandered over to the field by the mayor's office where there was music and "wrestling." (It's not exactly wrestling, but similar idea--this is a popular hobby for Malagasy men & boys.) Since I had only been back in town for a few days, I hadn't seen all of my friends yet, but I ran into many at the party and then visited a few people at home to drop off gifts and such.

Also, a couple more things that may be of interest. This article is from several weeks old by now, but you may find it interesting. By the International Crisis Group, it does a pretty good job of laying out the status of the political crisis here right now and the options for and challenges to moving forward.
Finally, if you have any way to track down the Madagascar episode of Andrew Zimmern/Bizarre Foods, I definitely recommend watching it. The entire episode features Morondava (my area!) and the Sakalava tribe (one of the tribes in my village). My life isn't exactly like the show, of course, but it will give you a good idea of what the area around me looks like and a little cultural insight.
I should get going, so that's it for now. Hope you're all well!

Love love.


  1. Hi Kristen! I thought of you when I saw that episode of Bizarre Foods a few months ago. I bet you're not buying fish at that market and eating it. I wondered how that was going to go down as he was describing the number of days raw in the sun the fish travels to get to the market.

  2. I hope I can find the episode. The similarities and differences you've been mentioning make me feel like you are back to your old self. You have always been able to find positive aspects of any situation.

    I REALLY miss you (like always). It's so great that you had such a nice welcome back. Sorry you dealt with so much as you were trying to get back though. It was SO wonderful getting to talk to you for so long in July, sorry it was cut short though... I hope to talk to you again soon; despite talking for a while I felt like I didn't get to hear much of what was going on with you. I'm sorry about that.

    PS - Linda if you read this... thank you so much for that very special surprise (I definitely needed that in the middle of my summer and I hope Kristen enjoyed the chance to get to talk to me too).


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