The first week in Madagascar has been great, and busy–“lourde,” as my host dad (Papa) said last night–and I have barely had time to process all these new things for myself, let alone find an internet connection and the peace of mind to write about them. But I’m here in a vaza (foreigner) hotel drinking beer and tea with some friends and I’ve got a laptop for a few minutes so here goes.
My flight arrived in Tana at 5am. I made a friend in the Charles de Gaulle airport, a Malagasy guy who lives in Paris because he joined the French foreign legion ten years ago. While waiting in the airport and later during the flight (because we ended up sitting together), he told me about the work he does (and that Israeli soldiers are the best in the world, and Italians are the worst because all they do is talk, and Americans are too big to be the best soldiers but they have great gadgets) and let me listen to Malagasy music. Didier was also very helpful in getting through the Madagascar customs in less than 10 minutes. I met Jim Hansen, the academic director, at the airport, and four of the six other students (Ben, Michelle, Sophie, and Emily) at the hotel later. Two of the other students (Kate and Rachel) missed a flight and didn’t arrive until a few days later. We went to a zoological park the first day before catching another flight to Ft. Dauphin, but it was a blur because I was so tired. I slept on the flight to Ft. Dauphin but woke up in time to see how amazing it is that the mountains come right up to the sea just before we landed. We loaded our luggage and drove (and the roads are incredibly bad–it is necessary to have extreme skill to operate a car, and a willingness to drive the car around massive potholes) to Monantontely, where we lived for four days during orientation.
Orientation was cool, we went on hikes into forests and listened to a guide speak (all the classes are in French–I hope my language skills will improve out of necessity) about protected areas (and saw brown lemurs!!), and learned enough Malagasy to buy things in markets, &c. Emily and I got sick on Aug 31 because we ate these little “gateaux” that we bought in the market, and spent the night and morning feeling really unwell. On Sept 1 we went to Ft Dauphin, had beers (THB (Three Horses Beer) is great) at lunch with our professors, and that night we met our host families.
There was a big “fete” on Sept 1 for us to meet out host families, with lots of dancing and singing and cake-eating. Maman (host mama) runs a cake shop (Tsiky (“Smile”) Shop) and made me a birthday cake, and when each person got their piece of cake (one at a time), they came to give me three cheek-kisses. I kissed so many people! And Maman and Papa gave me a hat with a lemur on it for a birthday present–I was really touched. Papa speaks English for work, and Maman wants to learn English because she has a cookbook in English–so I will be able to teach them some lanuage as they help me practice Frence and learn Malagasy.
After the fete we went back to the hotel in Ft. Dauphin (because we didn’t move into our host family’s houses until the next day) and made Malagasy friends while eating diner. They sang to me and bought us beers and we had a good time singing and talking until the late, late house of 10:30pm. Madagascar goes to bed early and wakes up early–the roosters crow and day has begun–and it took me no time at all to get used to it.
My host family lives in a big house with a living/dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom (with a flush toilet!!! SO EXCITING–all the other toilets are really just a hole in the ground w/o t.p.), and kitchen. I have two soeurs but they are on vacation for two weeks, so for now it’s just Maman, Papa, and me. Also, all the showers are “bucket showers”–at Manatantely, with river water–but it’s not that bad because Maman is in the habit of heating the water, so I do get hot showers. We eat dinner and talk for a while over the food (which is good–and so much rice!), and then I read for class and go to bed. Monday will be the first day of real school, and I’ll have to take a taxi into town (because my house is far from school) and then walk from there to Libanona, where school is (Centre Ecologique de Libanona). This past week, Maman has been driving me and picking me up when I’ve finished classes and whatever I have to do after school (or, on Friday, having beers with my classmates right on the beach–life is so good).
Libanona is right on the water–and it is so beautiful. The walk there from town passes by the water for 1/2 mile and the wind is strong but the sun shines stronger and it’s hard to walk by and be unhappy. Clouds sometimes hang over the mountains, but even so it’s been great. Gets cold at night, but stays hot during the day. Ft Dauphin is just a mass of sand/rock streets and huts/houses, and it’s great to go exploring with friends.
OK I’ll write more later, when I have more time. Love to everyone–hope all is well in the States.