Saturday, May 2, 2009

ISP = Fini

I've been planning on giving updates for a while now, but it's been an entire month since I've written anything.. azafady. It has been exactly four weeks, the official time of our Independent Study Projects. Today I turned in my paper and presented to the group and I'm finally free. We half about a week and a half left, but my academic work in Madagascar is officially complete. Awesome.

So here's what happened to me in the past month. I left for Analapatsy, the location of my study, and camped in the mayor's backyard for 17 days. There was a lot of interviewing, a lot of walking, and a lot of sleeping on the ground without a sleeping pad. I did over 40 interviews with villagers, asking them about this program, called TONDA, that distributes foreign seeds and modern farming techniques. Every morning and every afternoon I would walk with my translator, Safidy, to villages around the commune or into the fields themselves. We would be invited into farmers' homes and attract dozens who would crowd the doorway to get a good look.

I was there with Safidy, Rita (another SIT student), and her guide Andreas. Rita's from Wisconsin (and Chicago) and she goes to Knox college. She's a brilliant artist and she is barely five feet tall. Thus, I imagine we made quite a couple walking around the villages. Anyways, we brought all our food (basically beans and rice) and we paid one of the women in the mayor's compound to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the four of us. Rita and I shared a tent, and Safidy and Andreas shared another. We got up everyday at 6:30 and were often in our sleeping bags before 8:00... (living the wild life). It was really an enjoyable stay, especially at the beginning. Towards the end, Rita and I were desperate to get back to Ft. Dauphin and we finally found a hill with cell phone service at the top and we sent for a car to pick us up a couple days earlier than planned.

Though it seemed like I did a million interviews, we had quite a bit of free time, waiting for meals or during after lunch nap time. Here are some things Rita and I did to pass the time:
- SO much reading. I read A Tale of Two Cities, and got well into Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.
- So many cards. There aren't that many great two person games. We probably played this one game called YANIV about 5,000 times.
- Where's Waldo. Rita and I even did the impossible: we found the mystery character in every page.
- 20 questions or the alphabet game, in which you think of a topic and come up with something that starts with every letter. A very popular theme was food: kinds of candy, ice cream flavors, things you want to eat right now, things that can be pizza toppings, etc.
- Watched the greatest baby I have ever seen scoot around the yard hitting geese with sticks. He was the mayor's son (with his second wife) and was undoubtedly the light of my Analapatsy life.
- Talking about all the people in the commune around us. There were approximately three families living in the commune. (It is never clear how people are actually related in Madagascar. There is no word for "cousin".. they use the same word for sister or brother). They spoke no French of course and we don't speak Malagasy and were never told their names so we just referred to everyone by defining physical characteristics, personality traits, or roles. For example, Tall Girl was the loudest person I may have ever experienced, and the least shy about blatantly staring and Rita and me for hours. Cook only came up to my waist, but was very friendly and gave us bracelets at the end of our stay. My favorite kid in the compound was Chuckles, who was always smiling. And sometimes Moustache, Tall Girl's husband, would play cards with Hat when Rita and I were gone...
- At night Rita and I would listen to my iPod for a little while, usually Flight of the Conchords, which we would then sing throughout the day. We did a pretty good job of conserving the battery until the end.
So... basically I'm pretty mahay at entertaining myself without any electricity. But thank god Rita brought the cards.

So a few things happened that were interesting. One of my many many blisters got severely infected and my foot swelled and it was so painful that I couldn't walk for a few days. But Safidy did some ... interesting first aid and I took some antibiotics from the local market and it was better in no time. They don't have the Easter bunny in Madagascar. Usually everyone celebrates by drinking a lot and going to the beach for a picnic on the day after Easter sunday. Well this year, I got to celebrate Easter by watchin Rambo: First Blood Part II (circa 1985) in French outside on a tiny TV that was run by the mayor's generator with about 50 children from the area (who definitely do not speak French). It was GREAT. Rambo under the stars.

So then we got back to Fort Dauphin and I had the greatest lunch I've ever had. The food situation in Analapatsy was not ideal. Rita and I were big fans of the beans: that's why we brought them. But Safidy kept buying weird things at the market and telling the cook to make it. Sometimes we had rice and pumpkin leaves for dinner... That's it. And sometimes we had fish heads, even though we told them we don't like fish. And for breakfast there was very very watery rice, which is a very standard breakfast for Madagascar. I'm down with rice for breakfast, but the rice had a weird and horrible taste of rotten meat. (I will never be able to express how much I miss cereal. Oatmeal. Waffles. Pancakes. Bagels..... oh man. Less than two weeks!) So when we got back, the taste of cold coke was... pretty fantastic.

So for the next week and a half, Rita and I and another girl stayed at a hotel/hostel in the center of town writing our papers and eating at restaurants. Now, in contrast to after Analapatsy, I am very very sick of eating in restaurants. (Pretty much every restaurant has the same menu). Gradually all the other students came back to Fort Dauphin and now we've all (essentially) finished our papers. We leave Fort Dauphin for the last time on Monday. We'll be spending a couple of nights outside Tana waiting to catch a flight to go up north to Diego, where we'll be doing a little more camping and lemur seeing and the like. Diego is supposed to be pretty great, so I'm thinking that it's going to be a good conclusion to the semester. Still, everyone here is counting down the days. We get into Washington D.C. in the early afternoon of May 14, if all goes according to plan. I can't wait for a real shower. And for cereal. And for television (that I can understand).

Ok, to whomever has made it this far through this post... I'm sorry. But thank you very much for your attention. Misaotra betsaky.
à la prochaine.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man!

    I'm glad you are safe and sound - sorry to hear about your foot, but I'm glad it got healed! It sounds like you had an amazing time there, even if it was hard sometimes, and way to go eating the fish heads (yikes!). Your hours there sound like your job last summer! I really want to hear about your research when you get back - we can talk about it over a biiiiiiiig breakfast at Watercourse!

    Things aren't terribly exciting here, today is my last day of classes, and then I'll theoretically be done with everything by next Monday, though my last due date is next Wednesday. It was really nice weather the last week or so, but now it is back to cold and rainy! Oh, I'm officially a senior here now, which is weird and I feel old.

    I can't wait to see you! No more infections before you come home, you hear me? And I'll try my best not to get swine flu.

    <3, Pipsqueak