Wednesday, September 21

Tuesday, September 20

Vatomandry

Our second destination was Vatomandry... an eastern coastal beach town.  i loved being here - it was absolutely gorgeous and the town was much more laid back and pleasant than what i have experienced in tana- a kind of sandy, shoeless, sunkissed place.  The second we got off the sprinter & mazda, a few of us booked it straight into the indian ocean...
morning stroll with some zebu

the bungalow i stayed in

classroom

andasibe

For our excursion last week, we stopped first for a night and a day in Andasibe, a tiny town home to one of the best and most biodiverse rainforests in madagascar... time to see some LEMURS!!!! and snakes and chameleons and lizards and frogs and all those things that i love.

Video of the sounds of the lemurs:

video
view from our room

first thing we saw walking into the rainforest!!!!

walking through the jungle...

i just thought these tree vines (?) were so cool looking

one of many many many pictures of lemurs... crazy crazy.

Monday, September 19

famadihana encore

 more pics from the famadihana that i stole from maddie:
the feast! everything covered in oil to show that they could afford it

mmmmmmmmmmm lunch.

more dancing

walking the bodies from one tomb to the other.

fooooooood

My sister decided it was a great idea to go to gastro pizza right before coming home for dinner to grab a quick pre-dinner bite that included a full ice cream cone, a full pizza, and a foot long sandwich… and she thinks I’M crazy for not indulging.  Pizza to the malgache is not real food, it’s like an appetizer or something.  It would be crazy to have JUST pizza for a meal!!!!!
Also, regular meals here ALWAYS have white rice… the average Malagasy eats something like 2 pounds of rice a day.  So I’ve been eating white rice three times a day… and surprisingly, I’m not sick of it and I don’t think I will become sick of it anytime soon.  My favorite way to prepare it is called varysoso, which means wet rice.  It’s like a soupy rice and I find myself craving it when I haven’t had it in a few days (with a little bit of salt.. mmm so good).  The problem with the Malagasy conception of food and healthy eating is that they don’t get the fact that rice is a major carb, and so is bread, and so is pasta, and so are plain spaghetti noodles, and so are French fries.  Last night, the dinner was all of those things.  No meat or veggie last night, justtttt the carbs.  And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE those things… but when you’re being convinced that french fries are vegetables and that’s why I must eat them (along with the rice and the noodles and the pasta and the bread), I’m notttt so sure they’re right...
The crabs we had one night were soooooo delicious... but nothing like maryland crabs!

some funny family tidbits

Other than that, the week went by quickly and well.  My family is super nice and accommodating, but I’m realizing just how bizarrrrrre they can be sometimes.  At the same time, though, if my actual family had a foreigner come live with us, that person would probably think we were the weirdest group of people too.  For instance, my sister likes to touch my face a lot.  It was slightly uncomfortable at first, peripherally seeing her stare at my face at dinner and then proceed to reach out and touch my neck or my cheek mid-conversation.  They’ve asked me some funny things like:
“did you see michael jackson’s body?”  Like wtf no of course not. 
“Did you see osama bin laden’s body?” are you kidding?!
“can people like elton john get married in the united states?” ummm… you mean homosexuals?
“when do people start having sex in the united states?” not until marriage.
“are you married?” yes, with 2 kids and one on the way
 “you don’t eat rice every day in the united states?!?!? Why?????” because it’s not normal
“French fries are the best vegetable, right?”  food pyramid?
“5 kilometers is the same as 5000 miles” no that’s just not true.
my host mom, lala

fairytales and malagasy skits

The week following was pretty standard… had a French presentation that I chose to give on my observations of Malagasy fashion, and also a Malagasy presentation in skit-form with Maddie and Jade: Jade was a 74 year old geezer on a date with Maddie, the 20 year old Malagasy prostitute.  I was the server, and when Maddie figured out that Jade was that old, she left him for me, the 24 year old hunk waiter who loves to dance.  Annnnnnd that is the extent of what I can say in Malagasy as of right now. 
We also had a tiny old woman come tell Malagasy fairytales to us one day… apparently she’s famous in Madagascar for her storytelling abilities.  She brought a pink old school boom box and some traditional Malagasy instruments that she played sparingly to create some suspense here and there.  It was pretty neat, and the best part was at the end when we got to dance – the poor woman was so obviously frustrated with us uncoordinated, extremely noisy, occasionally smelly (cough jade cough) americans, but it worked out and of course ben partnered up with another one of his elderly Malagasy girlfriends (I think it’s about 5 now!!). 

birthday party

When I woke up on Saturday after a night “out on the town”, it was perfect timing to head to Maddie’s little brother’s birthday party.  Maddie’s Malagasy family (mostly her mom, Jenny) is the shit.  I arrive after my beloved taxi driver david drops me off and was immediately welcomed with a million kids screaming: “BONJOURRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” from the balcony above.  All of the kids at the 10 year old’s birthday party go to a private French school, so they all speak in French all the time with each other (this is pretty uncommon, and also a sign of high social class).  The big thing in Madagascar is KARAOKE … they have karaoke bars everywhere – literally, everywhere – and it’s pretty much expected that most families have a way to do karaoke in their homes.  They also play the same 5 American songs over and over and over… it’s pretty funny.  Naturally, karaoke was the big enterprise of the birthday party, but before then, the kids gathered in the living room to dance to some music.  I found this to be unbelievable – never in a million years would someone in the states be able to say to a bunch of 6-11 year olds that there entertainment for several hours was to dance to some pop songs together.  It was probably about 20 boys and girls sitting around when the music came on – and immediately everyone started going CRAZY – and I mean absolutely fucking crazy – the 6 year old girls lined up in a row and made up dances together that were the most unbelievable, most intricate, most sexual routines… their mothers smiling in delight as Maddie, Ivana, Jade, and I looked on in horror/shock.  It was like these tiny babes were dancers in a rap video or something, I kid you not.  I mean, props for being able to shake your stuff like that – it was really incredible actually – but at the same time… whhhhhhhhat the heck.  What was so amusing to me was that these kids were completely satisfied with just dancing and singing for hours on end… it seemed like they were having the time of their lives.  Then jenny brought out the confetti and shit got wiiiild – shiny confetti everywhere!!!!!!!!! A week later and im still finding confetti in my bags, pockets, etc. 

the cutest little things

time to party!!!

spectator

crazy guuuurlz

Wednesday, September 7

more tana

 western part of city and countryside:




a few more..

 An albino malagasy!!! (didn't get a great pic but it was pretty interesting - some of the men held her up above their heads yelling "vazaha" when they saw us because they thought it was funny that she looked like us... asked us to give her money too.)

On our way out...

religious day

the day that we went to ambohimanga, we also visited a sacred religious spot right beneath one of the great hills of the central highlands.  There were three separate sacred spaces devoted to different things... people from all over travel to come here to partake in the religious ceremonies.  The first was a tiny little dark hut - we witnessed the slaughtering of a duck over the back of a man's neck... the men were really drunk (this is customary) and it was meant to signify a sacrifice to soldiers or something... I don't really know.  The second was to honor midwives (this wasn't that interesting)... and the third was meant to honor the ancient king -  this one was surrounded by a large wall and there was dancing on the inside and alcohol was prohibited... a few pictures from it:

 This is a water hole ... just thought it was kind of cool picture

 The bottom of us the sacred colline (hill)

 The third ceremony

Jimmy post benediction

random note

Thiiiiiiis is a pretty plant… they seem to be everywhere here.  But I think they’re everywhere because they are spikey and deter people from climbing over the walls that they guard (maybe?)  Sort of like the shards of glass that are cemented into the tops of walls that function like barbed wire.

Tuesday, September 6

ambohimanga

ambohimanga is home to the ancient palace of the former kings and queens... the wall in the photo surrounding the queen's palace is apparently made of egg whites, dirt, and zebu shit:

#roland in the deep


Our model (and academic director) Roland Pritchett:

Sunday, September 4

wowza


today, i met these people randomly on the side of the road out in the country when members of my family wanted to take a smoking break.  the eldest woman in the photo has 17 children and they ALL live in this tiny house (like the size of a bathroom maybe).  They make bricks, which apparently are 50 ariary per brick.  That means in order to make 5 dollars they have to sell 200 bricks.

famadihana crashers in madagascar?

Famadihana is a very important traditional ceremony in Malagasy culture.  It’s practiced differently in every ‘clan’, but generally it is a huge celebration held for ancestors.  The dead are brought out from their tombs (usually after five years or so I think?) and transferred to another.  It is not typically a mournful event – in fact, it is full of dancing, drinking, eating, and singing – so basically it’s a huge party.  One of our professors invited us to attend his family’s famadihana, which is something that is really special because no other SIT group in Madagascar has gotten to do that – so it is not like this was set up for us, it was just by coincidence. 
It was pretty amazing.  Hard to describe because of how different and unbelievable it was to be there experiencing such a sacred event first hand.  I think it’s safe to say that all of us genuinely appreciated being there- and we felt appreciated… so many people told us (in Malagasy…Roland translated) how happy they were to have us there, eating their food, and enjoying their family’s famadihana.  We were even invited to dance in front of 500 people with the heuragasy dance group… crazy crazy crazy.  It was also the first time I’d ever seen a dead person.  The one thing that was pretty creepy about it was the full head of hair on their heads. 
Apparently someone from my group told me they met a 'famadihana crasher'... someone who drove hours out of the city to arrive at some remote family reunion just for the party.  He didn't know anyone (like us) and simply wanted to get shwastey and have a good time.  Found this pretty funny...

first of many unexpected adventures

Today we had some free time in the afternoon to go out and get lunch and kind of see the city a bit.  Thanks to jimmy, we walked down rape alley and got totallllllllllllllllllllyyyy lost.  Once we finally got our bearings, we found a cute little Malagasy place to eat.  After that, a few of us ventured over to the vazaha part of town where we hadn’t been before.  Finally, more foreigners!!!! There, we sat for a while and had a drink (jade ordered absinthe on accident haha).  At around 4:00 we decided to make our way back to the SIT center … so we took out our maps and tried to pick the best route towards a place of reference: CafĂ© de la gare.  When we made it there about 30 min later, we were incredibly proud of ourselves – “we’re practically natives, right guys?!?!?!” Immediately after that, we turned left when we were supposed to turn right, saw what looked like the same peak of a familiar cathedral where SIT is located, and booked it.  So when we arrived at the cathedral, of course it wasn’t the right one and we had just gone so far out of our way.  Since we had to make it back before dark, I decided to lead the pack by running back through the streets… which is insane because A) vehicles WILL hit you B) there are about 20 gazillion people and cars crowding every inch of the streets downtown at rush hour and C) no one runs through the streets, especially not vazaha. But it was necessary because the traffic was so bad that taxis would have taken too long and it is way too unsafe to be walking around after dark.  So there we were, four white chicks sprinting through cars and people like it was nothing, a spectacle for everyone around – I can’t imagine what people must have been saying.  I can’t really give the scene much justice through my explanation because it was just that absurd, but it was clearly one of the most dangerous activities we could do here… also it was literally so much fun.  Roland was right, lifesize game of frogger.  Good news is that we made it safely back to the center before nightfall (thank god) and we got to see basically all of Tana (whether that’s a good or bad thing I’m not sure?) AND we had a blast. 

the taxi be

I feel it is necessary to make a comment about the taxi-bes (taxi bays) here, simply because it is the most ridiculous means of transportation I have ever experienced (and also the most fun).  In Tana, there are a few ways to get around: private taxis, private cars, vespas, bikes, and the taxi-be.  The private taxis are a little bit more expensive than the taxi-be but they seem pretty damn questionable to me.  In my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of Malagasy, you have to be insane to drive here because it is complete mayhem in every sense of the word.  That’s why they have a “bus system” called the taxi-be.  These are vans marked by a color-coded number on the front that corresponds to neighborhoods… often holding around 34 people (I counted today).  There is a money collector who literally holds onto the van at the back when the door is unable to close due to over capacity.  But don’t worry, sometimes he has a strap in case he needs to pull himself up from the ground while the van is in transit.  Also, there really is no conception of roads here – or road names – one simply has to get his bearings from landmarks like the cathedral or the driving school called ‘speed’ or the shell gas station. So if you’re on the taxi be and you see your designated landmark and therefore need to get off you have to yell “misy mihali” (don’t know spelling), and then proceed to climb over 33 other Malagasy.  The people are so small here that this can actually happen… in the united states, I can’t imagine trying to fit even 20 people in a van. To say the least, it is quite an experience.

homestay in tana

Lala, Nathalie, et Valerie are now my new Malagasy family.  They live in an apartment in Tana… not the safest part of town by any means but the apartment itself is very quaint and welcoming – I learned you can determine the status of a Malagasy family by the existence of a bidet in the home… little bit of french culture right there.  Cold water showers and a toilet that kind of flushes – these are luxuries that I have quickly learned to wholeheartedly cherish.  As far as laundry goes, it is not culturally acceptable to allow others to wash your underwear… which is something that my host mother made clear to me righhhhht away.  Can’t wait to hang my exceptionally bright, lacy underwear next to my family’s white granny panties……………… whoops!!

Here are a few pics from the apartment: c’est belle, non?

relais du rova

Because it was the last night of our stay in the Relais du Rova for our orientation, the staff of the hotel decided to throw a little party for us! It was kind of like a cook out type deal – there were several courses including zebu on a stick, deep fried cauliflower, two huge ocean fish cooked by the French equivalent of clint eastwood who was also vacationing at the same place (Raymond), a starchy, white vegetable that I can’t remember the name of, cooked tomatoes, vegetable soup, and lots of vanilla rum!!!!!! C’est beaucoup, non? It was really unbelievable.  The flavors of the food here, especially the meat, are unlike anything I’ve tasted before [thus far] – I guess I would describe them as incredibly savory?
After the party, we resituated at the bar with the owners and their friends.  And the dancing began!  It was a mix of American dance (jerk, bernie, cat daddy, swing, LIMBO) and Malagasy traditional dance called heuragasy– obviously I had a ball. It was so much fun.

au marche

The visit au marche today left me with kind of my first taste of culture shock since I’ve been here, and by that I mean I can still smell the foul stench of dried fish heads on my skin and on all of the food I’ve eaten  since the encounter.  Right now all I can really think about are those nasty ass fish that smelled worse than anything my nose has ever come across – this is not an exaggeration. It was so pungent and distinct… you take literally one wrong step in the market and BOOM the fish stench is allllll up in yo grill.  I’d rather stare at an infinite number of slaughtered zebu faces than have to stand in the presence of those fish again. 
With that said, the trip today was super super interesting and for the most part we all had a lot of fun.  Let me paint the picture here…. Today is the day of the week that this particular rural community hosts an open air market.  Vendors sell everything from raw zebu (omby) meat to dead (and live) chickens and ducks (much to the chagrin of my dear friend maddie!!!), tv antennas, car bumpers (sometimes with license plates attached), eminem tshirts, this mysterious delicacy called kobaha (?!? Aka the malagasy version of pb&j that resembles raw tuna wrapped in banana leaves – no joke, I asked the man if it was fish and even motioned with my hands like a fish), dried fruits, bananas, fresh coconut (personal fave) peppers, candy, etc etc… the market was very crowded with both vendors and consumers, so I found myself repeating under my breath “aza fady, aza fady” (which can be translated to “pardon”) because there was no way around bumping into people every couple of steps .  In Malagasy culture, it is generally practiced that when passing by a person who is sitting, on dit toujours “aza fady” to show respect. 
To say that we – aka white people, aka “vazaha” [foreigner] – stood out is an incredible understatement.   In fact, I’m pretty sure I made a child cry today … it’s like alien status over here.  The poor kid had never seen anything like me before in his life!  It is culturally acceptable and also rather common to stare here – so a walk down any street in Madagascar is a bizarre experience as a foreigner (and I’ve only been here a week!!) because everyone just kind of stops what they’re doing and gives you a long, blank stare.  I’ve learned that people will either be totally confused, amused, or scared to see a white girl walking around… this is not to say that there aren’t any other vazaha in Madagascar – just that it is not so common… to the point where one is inclined to yell “VAZAHA!!!” if another foreigner has been spotted. 

moramora

Madagascar est un pays de moramora … ca veut dire “la lenteur”… i looove this expression. 

some intro notes

Roland(our academic director) introduced one of today’s sessions with a slide that read: BYOTP.  This acronym stands for “Bring Your Own Toilet Paper”. ‘nuff said.  If a pickpocketer gets me, he/she will have an extra supply of tp for the next time they need to use the toilette.
Roland also informed us that navigating through the streets on foot is comparable to playing a life size game of frogger… to watch out for the potholes that you can literally fall into and the taxi be’s that don’t give a shit about pedestrians(or bikers or other cars or anything, for that matter). It’s ruthless out there!!!

Finally got internet

My host sister gave me her internet 3g stick to use so i can finally post something (the cyber cafes are really stupid because it takes 45 minutes to load a single page).  So a lot has happened since I've been here.. and I've been keeping a web document of blog posts so i guess I'll just post them here now all at once?