Je suis ici! I've been in Madagascar for a week now, and it seems like a lot longer than that, though I have a feeling time is going to start going by much faster soon. My flights were long, and we had an extended layover in Paris (11 hours), but they were mostly empty so I had room to sleep. I met most of the people on my program and the bonding started right away.
We got the Tana airport and met the program director - soft spoken and super friendly guy named Jim - and then we flew to Fort Dauphin. The first thing we did was go to a marché and it was definitely the hottest I have ever been in my life. The first few days were SO HOT, and I was pretty unprepared. Once you get used to the constant sweating, it's not so bad. We spent the first few days in a little town outside of Ft. Dauphin where lots of little kids stared and laughed at us and played with our cameras. We did a lot of boring orientation stuff and started our Malagasy classes, which are ridiculous because it is a completely new language and our three (awesome) language classes move pretty fast. I guess it's starting to get easier. We visited an orchard and went on a hike to a waterfall and ate delicous food. And one night, we were taught traditional Malagasy dance by our language teachers in a room with about 50 unsmiling Malgache observing. It was also a bajillion degrees and went on for hours. So hilarious.
Then we went to Fort Dauphin and I got to see the fish and meat market which were both quite traumatizing. We stayed in a nice hotel/hostel for three nights, while we got acquainted with our campus which is high above the ocean and very very shady and beautiful. The scenery is completely ridiculous. The beaches are so beautiful and empty. The water is very warm.
And last night, I had my first night at my home stay. It was the first time when I was completely on my own, and it was pretty hard. I only pretended to eat the meat they gave me. There's a mom, a 12-year-old boy, a 3-year-old girl who only stares at me with suspicion and a babysitter/housekeeper, with whom I share a bed. My family is comparatively pretty wealthy and the house is nice. We spent most of the time watching Bollywood. The mom is the only one who speaks French really, and the language barrier is more of a problem than I had anticipated. But the first night went well overall, even though I don't know how to work the toilet. There's very little running water here. And only electricity at night, if any at all. So, the alternative is bucket showers. Which are slow, but not so bad. Anyway, they're very nice but we're all pretty shy at this point.
So, I'm having a pretty great time. I'm loving the people on my program, my teachers, and the food. I'm getting better at doing my own laundry in a bucket and at speaking Malagasy. We haven't had too many classes so far, but they've been okay. If I'm as busy for the rest of the semester as I've been this past week, it will be ridiculous. But I think things will calm down, at least for a while. And by the way, the political conflicts going on right now have not affected me directly in any way and I don't anticipate any problems. All of the action is in Tana, which is days away by car (because of the bad roads). We actually saw president Ravolamanana who was trying to raise support around the country, which was ... cool.
I hope this wasn't too boring. I've only managed to convey a tiny bit of what it's been like, but I tried. I hope everyone's enjoying February in the states. (I miss snow).