Sunday, December 4


As our time here in madagascar is coming quickly to a close, we have been spending the last of our days on the west coast in a beautiful little beach town called morondava. White sand beaches, clear blue water, giant baobabs, lush greenery, rainbow lizards, fruit galore… life could not be better. So much has happened in the course of the past month of our independent study projects, don’t know where to begin.  A few “highlights” :
-an old man tried to sell us lemurs on the beach
-witnessed a woman literally shitting on the street (sorry don’t know how else to put it- and this was not a good highlight obviously)
-hung out with jaojoby at his pub in tana (famous Malagasy musician)
-oasis the rasta bar… attempting the Malagasy rhythm – tapiki dancing
-racing in pousse-pousses (human taxis) to the restaurant the pousse-pousse –thank you m. bernard!!
-rats eating my soap bars
-maty rats (dead)
-surprise cockroaches !!! and snake-like bugs.
-sophia became a lawyer… and a wife
-jade found a botanist cure for cancer; starting an ‘export-import’ “business” with her Malagasy bf
-contracted a parasite… it was bound to happen
-really improved my Malagasy bartering skills
-have not yet surpassed maddie in the bongolava rice eating competition, but usually come in as a close 3rd or 4th.
-helped kill and gut some chickens
-have successfully stayed awake through 3 consecutive hours of Malagasy church most Sundays of homestays
-dancing with the gasy… probably my favorite highlight
-homemade rums (easily mistaken with toka gasy.. the illegal but widely consumed alcohol that is sometimes made with formaldehyde.. can make you blind and even kill you... often fermented in such places as hollowed pieces of logs)
-becoming locals at our pink hotely!! they really know how to make a kickass bol renverse
-mofoball extremes
-getting momentarily caught in a brush fire while on the taxibrousse back to tana…
-laughing so hard with jade that we actually fell to the floor


our 'view' at our first hotel in tamatave before going to foulpointe... this is what 2 dollars a night will get you!!!
mmmm fresh coconuts
replacement for turkey and mashed potatoes

tamatave/foulpointe adventure

A few of us designated a week to writing our research papers and decided it would be a good idea to change scenery… we decided to go to tamatave and then further to foulpointe, a beachy destination on the east coast.  It took roughly 8 hours to get to tamatave, and another 2 hours after that to get to foulpointe… all by taxi brousse.  Taxi brousses are essentially vans used for traveling throughout Madagascar – sounds perfectly normal and innocent, but oh my goodness it is not.  First of all, they pack more people into the vans than what seems humanly possible… talk about serious violation of personal space.  We’ve all had Malagasy smelly old men drool on us, fall asleep on us, try to hit on us while squished way too close together… it’s a pretty hilarious set up and makes for some funny stories. Sometimes chickens are involved, other times fish or cats… anything goes. Apart from the space component of the taxi brousses, the actual driving is very scary in my opinion… probably one of the most dangerous things we’ve done here. The roads are extremely windy, very often unpaved in many areas, and normally only allow room for one car width.  No speed limits, no traffic laws or rules of any kind are involved, so huge trucks (usually full of either beer or omby) whip around bends way too fast and it makes for some sticky situations.  Not to mention driving at night … not my favorite thing in the world!
Our week in foulpointe is defined by: beach, seafood, fruit, and research paper.  People selling coconuts would walk up to you on the beach and chop it up right there for you… so refreshing. Also, mangos are in season right now and let me tell you ive never eaten anything so delicious.  Litchis, as well… they are sooooo tasty. In lieu of a thanksgiving feast, we had a local fisherman catch us camarons (giant shrimp), a big fish, and lobster to grill for us (with of course rice and veggies)... which we ate on the beach.  took a pirogue out to snorkel near the coral reef... the pirogues are hollowed out trees.

Saturday, November 19


Soooo, maddie and i met this guy herimamy one night while we were eating in a hotely in our neighborhood. in exchange for an interview, he had us come to the graduate class he teaches on public administration to give a presentation about american culture in front of 216 students: everything from pop culture to sharing our ideas of what we consider to be good governance, three branches of government, etc.  he specifically asked us in advance to touch on the subject of traffic laws............ because madagascar doesn't have them.  he was under the impression that americans were sent to jail if they didnt use crosswalks to cross the street, which he thought was "too strict" of a law.  even when we told him that the penalty for jaywalking (if caught) is only a fine, he was in disbelief.  well yes, obviously he wouldn't be able to understand the concept of traffic laws because, as i said, madagascar has NONE. or if they do, no one enforces them.  i've literally almost been killed on several occasions just from walking around here, and ive witnessed some really terrible accidents as well (some of which involved omby). 

we also discussed american ideas of 'common courtesy'... like how it is impolite to use cell phones or even have cell phones visible in certain circumstances and how being late is rude.  Here, cell phones are acceptable whenever - in any situation it is not considered rude to pick up a call or text, etc.  this was weird for us at first, because we would be meeting government officials, professors, and other individuals who would be in the middle of giving us a lecture and then would pick up their phone to talk to someone for sometimes several minutes on end in front of all of us.

the weirdest was when we met the prince of the boeny region in western madagascar... it was a serious affair.. i mean like our hair had to be taken out of braids and pony tails, we had to have a certain type of lamba (sarong type things) to cover our shoulders and legs, we couldnt sit on the floor with the soles of our feet facing outward, etc.  it was also forbidden for people of a certain ethnic group called the merina to enter into the prince's sacred 'area'.  annnnnnyways, while we were sitting in this little sunlight hut with the prince and members of his royal clan, i was shocked when one of the clan dudes picked up his phone while we were having our q&a with the prince and just sat there still and talked. none of the malagasy even took the slightest notice of it - but for us americans, we were (or at least i was) extremely distracted by it.  my description is definitely not giving the situation much justice, but yeah it was just a weird situation.

we also talked about tardiness in the presentation because the malagasy really do not pay attention to it.  it's part of the "moramora" lifestyle - the slow, laid back pace of life here.  for scheduled interview times, for instance, it's almost certain that the malagasy will not show up on time.  i've waited for every one of my interviewees - sometimes for up to 2 hours. i kind of love it though, it's so much less stressful that way. 

the presentation was definitely interesting........ great experience and i got closer to getting over my stage fright!!!!!! (the microphones certainly helped with that...)


lecture hall

mofo gasy

this is breakfast every morning at our favorite local mofogasy shack. mofo gasy means just "malagasy bread" and it's those little round guys right there.  SO good... it's bread made out of rice.

box of mofo

Wednesday, November 9

the time i ate some heart on the side of the road...

Upon starting our independent research projects, we had been advised by roro that is rather easy to unintentionally exclude oneself from malagasy culture by only staying in vazaha areas and only eating at vazaha restaurants... and that it is important to make a conscious effort to surround yourself with the people and the culture.  So, scared that we were being too 'foreign', ivana and i decided it would be a good idea to get brochettes for dinner one night......................................

brochettes are delicioussss.  every day in mahajanga when ben and i would walk home from school (and occasionally soph would indulge as well), we would stop on the street near our neighborhood to have brochettes from our favorite lady.  the scene looks like this: a tiny bench with a little "charcoal hotplate" (in the words of ben) in front of us with a malagasy person cooking little pieces of meat on a stick.  they give you also a cold, watery, pickled salad of carrots, tomatoes, etc. (which we technically aren't really supposed to eat bc of contamination) and loads of sakai (hot sauce).  each stick is usually 100 ariary - 'ariary zato' - or in us dollars probably around 5 cents. 

but the thing about brochettes is that it is safer for some reason to eat them in mahajanga than it is to eat them in tana.  but this man that has a little stand right near where we are staying in tana has been asking us every day to come eat his brochettes because they are "clean and really really good"........... so, why not? "let's do it malagasy style", is my new motto. 

so ivana and i enter into the tiny little enclosed hut on the side of the busy, dirty, dark, dankkkky tana alleyway.  the hut had three tables in a space that should have only allowed for one, and was lit by a dangling bulb hanging from makeshift wooden rafters.  "pretty legit", was my first impression, as compared to many other gasy eateries i've seen thus far in my time here.  the man starts describing what options he had, and stupidly i interject: "deux de chaque type" (two of each type)... obviously feeling adventurous at the time.  so a few moments later, we are presented with a beautiful display of brochettes.. there was shrimp, zebu, and some other things........ i thought i heard the man say "coeur" (heart), but i brushed it off, thinking it was an impossible possibility. 

we started eating the brochettes with full confidence.. until i bit down on the weirdly tasting, chewy meat that was so obviously not shrimp or zebu beef.  definitely heart.  but heart of what???? there were five types of brochette, and so the heart was the third one i tried.  the fourth was definitely soemthign i don't want to even know what it was... then we were given a metal plate of grilled chicken that looked appetizing until we figured out it was the anus of the animal.

this is what the brochettes look like

it wasn't a terrible experience at all, just really interesting. soooo, i guess you could say we're doing it malagasy style for sure.

Tuesday, November 8


the fam minus my host mom on the morning that we left mahajanga

our crazy boat man

so cool

Friday, November 4

more mahajanga photos

"Junior, age 10, will open his own company.  We believe in the future!"

ben and my sister, aka les amoureux



Right now, I've come back to Tana to do my independent field study research project.  we have the choice of pretty much going anywhere we want in the country for a month to do field research on a topic of our choosing... so i decided to come back to tana and live in a cute little hotel in the middle of town.  im studying ethnicity in the context of malagasy culture by going around and interviewing random people... i'll be looking at internal racism and ethnic identity in politics.  im suuuuper excited for the next few weeks!!!


yesterday, i got in a cab that had a wrench holding up the top of the car.

Friday, October 28

face mask

unbraiding my host mom's hair.  the stuff on my face is this special mask that many of the sakalava women here wear everyday... it appears bright yellow on their faces and its a protection agains tthe sun.  you make it by rubbing this special kind of wood on cement with a little bit of water.

Thursday, October 27

mahajanga encore

our ride to church... picture me squeezed in there and a malagasy man pulling us up hills in this tiny posiposy... although im glad i can say that i have taken a posiposy in mahajanga, this was not the most enjoyable ride of my life!!! i felt so terrible for the poor man... but it's a huge part of the culture here and no one really thinks much of the incredible physical labor that these men bear in the intense heat. 

boarding the ferry in the mozambique channel on our way to kantsepy... if there was anyway we were going to die in madagascar it would have been on this boat!!!!!
annnnnd we have arrived safely!
beautiful sand bar right next to school

walking on water!
she cray cray

Tuesday, October 25


my baby - christian.  he thinks im his mom - no joke. talk about being color blind!!!!
munchin on a mango pit while i do my homework


outside my house - host mom and sister (crazy crazy crazy child...)

Saturday, October 22


in swahili : MJI ANGAIA, which means cite de fleurs.  i have found paradise!!!! this place has been my favorite thus far in madagascar.  the best way to describe it is an african key west... tropical, extremely hot, brightly colored buildings, bananas and mangos everywhere you look, the beach!!!... life is good here. and mahajanga is definitely known for its way of life: moramora, or slow-paced & laid back. it is different from tana in almost every sense, and although i love love love living there, our two weeks in mahajanga is definitely appreciated.  whereas in tana where we were all told by our host families to be scared for our lives if we were out on the streets past five oclock, and where we couldnt pull out our phones on the street - and god forbid pull out our cash!!!, we can breathe in mahajanga a bit better (and not just literally, although thats been really nice too the lack of pollution here!).  Walking back from school to our homestays at night is possible here!! in fact, ben and i have been walking back at night every day and stopping for brochettes on the street from our fave gasy gal... sooo liberating!

fresh mangos and bananas mmmmm... this is our classroom.
my neighborhood in mahajanga

jadebabe... dressing the mahajanga part. outside our classroom.


on our way to mahajanga, we made a two night pitstop to camp in ankarafantaska, a national park home to some crazy exotic animals.  lemurs were everywhere and always hanging out in the trees right next to our tents and the dining area, and we even got to see some of the little tiny mousy lemurs sticking their cute little heads out of the trees when we passed by on the trail. we also got to do a night walk through the woods which was really really cool - i have NO idea how these guides can pick out chameleons the size of a lima bean in the pitch dark and covered by trees and brush, but they can! its some type of bizarre gasy talent...

this guy has a cool looking black ring around its neck

soooo close!!

a few highlights: malagasy smores (delicious but extremely weird), nary's guitar requests: emmy lou harris & shania twain, pig screeching lemurs at night, bear in boots chez jade, louis' rations, playing gasy dominos

Wednesday, October 12

fam pic

i love this picture- this is my immediate family in the rural village... they asked me to take this of them but they all look incredibly pissed! herizo (13), nathalie (11), anita (8), liantsoa (6), tina (3 or 4), and my parents with their religious certificates (not sure for what...)

Mihinana ankizy i Dave

 = Dave eats children.  
This was the rumor going around the villages (or at least made its way to Jimmy’s homestay parents who then got a french speaker to relay this urgent piece of information to him) about the vazaha Dave in the next town over who was unfortunately hunting down and eating all of the children in the village - or whichever ones he could sneakily get his hands on!!!  This was absolutely not a joke, and jimmy's parents were really concerned that our academic director Roland should know asap about Dave's misbehavior. Apparently, Dave's daily walks by himself indicated to the villagers that he was on the prowl for scrumptious malagasy children... so weird, right?
Other rumors got passed around between villages as well: Laura was really sick in the hospital (not true at all), maddie was terrified of a mouse, dave was really sick until he saw charlotte (although this was definitely 100% true... the lovebirds), emma was calm....?! i mean yeah i guess i was calm but what the heck kind of anecdote is that to pass along? talk about lost in translation?

Tuesday, October 11


"time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana" -Roland Beaumont Pritchett

Sunday, October 9

back to tana to lala

My host mother in tana was so excited to cook me omby tail on Sunday (cow tail)… it was pretty funny/sweet.  “Emma!!!!! Guess what I got today to cook for you?!?!?!” I was immediately wary… ummm “poisson sec?” was my response, preparing myself for the worst.  She laughed… “no, don’t be silly. Omby tail!!!” Tail? I just hoped it didn’t still have hair on it.  I responded with a smile, “Merci beaucoup…! Je suis impatiente d’essayer…”  It turned out to be pretty delicious, pretty much the same as every other piece of omby meat I’ve eaten… who knew!?!
Another funny thing my host mother in tana said the other day was about the Asian members of our SIT group.  Cassie is chinese, ivana is from the Philippines, and chie is half Japanese, but all three are American.  We were talking about going back to the United States or something, and she asked me if the Japanese girl missed Japan.  I was like… what??  I said that Chie has never been to Japan.  My host mother was so so so so confused, and so was i. I realized during our moment of confusion that she didn’t understand how any Asian could be an American.  I tried to explain this to her, but was not successful.  She just kept asking, “but have you seen her do karate? Because all Asians do karate, no matter where in asia they are from.”  I tried not to laugh, she was dead serious.  First of all, what?!?! Second of all, why do you care about whether the Asians in my group do karate???
I’m really going to miss Lala’s ridiculous commentary.  The other day, I had a stomach bug and she said: “ohhhh, I know.  It must be the cold wind.”  I was like, “yeah, must be… that makes sense.”

Rice Overload & Questionable Hygiene

This was one of the most worthwhile experiences ever. I had the best time, and didn’t want to leave my family when it came time to head back to tsiroanomandidy… I could have stayed there for who knows how long.  There were definitely some bizarre/funny moments that kind of made my time there exciting… like the time I ate pretty much every part of a chicken except for the meat… I had no idea what I was eating, but my dad kept placing vague looking parts onto my plate and I just smiled and hoped for the best.  It was actually really good… is that weird? 
On that note, food was definitely different in the village than what I was used to with my family in tana.  It’s clearly no lie that the Malagasy are the largest consumers of rice per capita in the world… for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I was presented with a full plate of rice piled half a foot high… literally.  It was overwhelming at first: during the first meal I remember feeling like I was going to explode after eating half of the rice… but I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t want to be impolite refusing the rest, especially since the 3 year old had eaten more than twice what I had.  All the kids, in fact, were scarfing down just the most obscene amounts of rice with these huge spoons… and the whole week I couldn’t get over it… where does all that food go? Do they ever get full??? And when we would have katsaka (corn – it’s cooked like a stew, very different than what I’ve had in the states.. it’s not sweet so they often cook it with grounded up peanuts or sugar if its available), I was asked the funniest question.  I ate half of my HUGE serving (I wish I had taken a picture of it) and while the rest of my family was on their second and third ginormous plates of corn, my host father looked at me kind of puzzled and said “tsy zatra?” which means “you’re not accustomed to it?”  Like all this time it was totally understandable that I couldn’t wolf down pounds and pounds of rice at each meal, but why couldn’t I do that with corn? 
Also, the loaka (accompaniment to rice) at every meal was very small compared to back in tana, meaning that the majority of what I ate all week was plain rice… which I was totally cool with since I love rice.  I’m pretty open to eating really anything… I like to try different foods and figured that I would definitely be eating ‘out of the ordinary’ things during this homestay especially.  But the ONE thing that I was worried about… the dried fish.  I’ve mentioned this one other time in my blog, but the dried fish stench here is the worst smell I’ve ever experienced.  Like dead carcasses covered in manure.   And dried fish is EVERYWHERE, in every market, pasty white/grey, stale little fish piled high everywhere you look.  I don’t understand why people eat it, considering its horrible smell and the fact that it’s literally just like eating bones, not to mention the fact that the fish are usually caught in the most polluted bodies of water imaginable.  And of course, my rural homestay family prepared dried fish every day while I was staying with them… at first I was like, okay this is fine, I’ll just take only the small tail pieces so I don’t have to eat the heads too.  But this didn’t end up being an option, because my host dad would go out of his way to take out the biggest, full fish every time and place it on my plate.  Obviously I really appreciated his generosity every meal with food, he always wanted me to get the most food and the best of what was offered.  But the fish… oh my goodness, it was a challenge.  The taste actually was not unbearable; it was the smell that I had to get over… and the bones.  But every day I did it!!
I found that privacy was not a real thing in the village.  Not that I was dying for some alone time – I definitely wasn’t – but when it came time to bathe… hmmmm, questionable.  There was one “shower” located in the village… it was a three-sided structure made out of sticks and straw, etc.  The open side looked out onto the beautiful fields and mountain… but it was a three-sided shower.  And it came up to my shoulders!  Every time I tried to wash off, it was just a hilarious experience.  I had to keep my ears and eyes peeled for anyone that might walk by while holding a towel in front of myself while pouring water from a bucket on me.  My little brother and all the little girls and boys in the village would stand around it and try to peek through the straw, and often would come into the shower and just stare at me.  One time, there were literally 10 kids just looking up at me in the 4x4 space.  I had no idea what to do!!! I was just laughing so hard… like here I am, naked except for a tiny cloth, soap covering my hair, and unable to move do to all these kids staring silently up at me. I don’t have the gasy language skills to tell them nicely to please leave me alone for at least 5 minutes.  I just kind of stood there for a bit laughing, until one of the elders caught on to what was going on and immediately yelled something in Malagasy to shoo the little guys away… and they all ran out of the shower laughing and screaming, and of course returned a few minutes later.
kids in my village

nearly peed my pants i was laughing so hard... this is a game where there is a boys team and girls team and they sing songs at each other and banter back and forth and then pick one person from each side to battle like this... the little guy in the hat of course won.

this game was basically weaving through people to make a giant hug...

tanala be!!!!!! chameleons everywhere

Saturday, October 8

prettiest baby

tina with face paint


nathalie and tina


One of my favorite parts of the week was when we went down to the basin of the mountain (ambohobihi) to do laundry in the creek/river. it was unreaaaaal, so gorgeous… tall golden grass on either side of the red dirt path with the huge mountain in the near distance, kids racing in front of me to get there first. 
sister (julio) chasing after her omby

sister (anita) and other village kid

sister (julia) on top of the hill we climbed