Independence Day Celebrations 

June 26th, 1960: the Malagasy Independence Day. Malagasy people love a good party, and don’t need much of a reason to sit back, relax, drink a cold one, and then kill a chicken. Life is taken “mora-mora” (slowly) here; no need to rush. When there is a reason to celebrate, they jump at the chance. 

June 26th fell on a Monday this year, but parties, music, and preparations started the Friday beforehand. About two weeks beforehand, almost every building or household put out their Malagasy flag. 
A tradition for their Independence Day is to give clothes as a gift to family members. So, on Friday the 23rd, every where you went, there were clothes being sold. Most Malagasy people buy their clothes secondhand here. Clothes come in huge plastic-wrapped balls from other countries that couldn’t sell it there. They’re either brand new and out of season, or the clothes other second hand stores couldn’t sell. Clothes are sold from big piles on the street and you have to dig to find the treasured piece. So, days before the parties, everyone was shopping for new clothes as presents. 

On Saturday, the preparations continued in the same manner. It was fun to watch the town change as everyone was preparing for the parties. 

On Sunday the 25th, the real celebrations began. A concert was held at the stadium, which could be heard all over town. At night at about 7:00, the Boy Scouts sang and marched with torches, while people followed with light-up toys. Traditionally, people would follow with paper lanterns, but the kids prefer the plastic toys. I was the only one with my paper lanterns lit by a candle, and I loved every second of it. 

My hand-made paper lanterns 🏮

After the parade, there were fireworks on the beach. My house is close enough that I could watch the fireworks light up the sky from there (while the music continued from the concert at the stadium). 

Our sparklers during the fireworks

Then, totally unexpected by me, at 5:00 in the morning on the 26th, the Boy Scouts marched and sang through town again with cars and motorcycles blaring their horns in order to wake up the whole town. (I went back to sleep). 

While the bigger town events always take place on the 25th, the 26tb is saved for family. People stay at home, cook together, drink, and celebrate. The morning of the 26th, students go to the stadium and there are speeches from the Mayor and other important town figures. I spent the morning helping cook for my host family, and then relaxing in the hammock in the afternoon. 

The thought of the celebrations continue for a couple days after in that you still wish others a Happy Independence Day if you didn’t see them the day of. “Mirary ny fety!” 

“Oh, We Have a Machine for That”

Living in Madagascar has made me stop and think about all the convienences I’ve been used to in my life. Think about all the daily convienences you have in your life, and then think about if you didn’t have all of that. What would you do? (P.S. You’d still go on living, just a little differently). 

Think about all the manual labor our life is saved because of machines. Maybe you’ve never noticed how much there really is. I know I sure didn’t. For example, those freshly cleaned sheets you just woke up on, how did they get cleaned and so fluffy? -The washing machine and dryer. 

Here in Madagascar? -They are washed by hand in a large basin, with water from a pump, and some powdered or bar soap. Then they are let to dry in the sun. 

Next, how was your morning coffee made? -You put some already roasted and ground coffee in a machine and press go. Or, even easier, you put a K-cup in, and it was ready in seconds. 

Here in Madagascar? -The locals buy unroasted coffee at the market, measured out by an old condensed milk can into a sachet or a folded banana tree leaf. One can measurement is 1000 Ariary (about $.30). Then, the coffee is roasted over a charcoal fire (sometimes to the point of being burnt), and ground by hand with a large mortar and pestle. To make coffee, water has to be boiled (again over a charcoal or wood fire), and then it is poured through a sock filter a few times until you get the strength you want. After that, it is usually more sugar and condensed milk than actual coffee. (It’s strange to drink just black coffee). 

How about peanut butter? -Similar process: buy raw peanuts at the market (1 kapoka (size of a condensed milk can) for 800 Ar ($.25)), then wash the peanuts and roast them. Take off the red peel, and then by hand, ground them until it makes a thick nut butter consistency. (That gives you about 3 large tablespoons). 

Now. What about water? Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a faucet (which has to always be kept open because you don’t know when there will be water). Or, water has to be collected at the nearest tap, well, or pump. Some Volunteers have to pay people to fetch it for them because the source is too far away. 

These past few weeks have been a test. The electric and water company have been having issues and they can only allow electricity for a few hours a day. Most Volunteers don’t even have electricity in their village, so I can’t complain. However, lack of electricity affects more than you would think. Local shopkeepers lose out on selling their homemade yogurt and juice (and anything else cold). No electricity also means the entire town doesn’t have baguettes because the breadmaker can’t use his oven. 

Lack of electricity also means lack of a reliable water source at my house. I have learned to use less and less water for everything. I’ve cut my bucket showers down: what was once ~1.5 buckets of water (if I wash my hair) is now 1 bucket (even less if I don’t wash my hair). My hair has become so used to being washed only about twice a week (and no, it is rarely greasy and no dry shampoo being used). If I want hot/warm water, that has to be heated on the stove. So, who doesn’t love a quick cold bucket bath? 

For cooking and eating, I resuse the water I washed my veggies in and I resuse the water I boiled my pasta in. I tend to eat out of the pot I cooked in to cut down on the things that need to be washed. Gotta love one-pot meals! Conserving water has been eye-opening in the amount of water I waste in a day. Take something away, and you notice how much you actually need it. 

This past week I ran out of gas for my stove, mid-cooking. At the same moment, I was cooking by candlelight, meaning no electricity. So, the electric hot plate I bought to save on gas (expensive and hard to find!) was no use to me. Luckily, I wasn’t too hungry, and I had just bought a charcoal stove. I had to take a minute to laugh. Here I was, in a small town in Madagascar, going from no electricity and candlelight, to no gas stove, to waiting for someone to light the charcoal stove for me, all so I could eat my pancakes. 

Let Girls Learn: New Classroom Constructions 

Everyone deserves the chance at an education. However, when a middle school built in 1963 runs out of space for all their students, they have to do what they can and split large rooms into smaller ones. This inhibits the education of all students. The picture above is one of the three smaller classrooms split by makeshift walls in the large room. When it rains, the classrooms flood, making it impossible to learn. 

On an average day, this large room has 153 students, 100 which are girls. Three teachers, teaching either in French, English, or Malagsay, are trying to keep the attention of about 51 students all at the same time. Creating a new, safe space, would provide the students with a better learning environment. It also will increase the attendance rate of students. 

The community is eager to get started on the project. They will provide the experienced and skilled laborers and the materials and supplies to help in the construction of three new classrooms. However, they need your help to complete the project. Building three new classrooms would allow the middle school to move the students from the old classrooms to the new ones and affect many more generations to come. Pictured below is the current situation of the learning environment :

Flooded walkway and dangerous ceiling

Flooding in the classroom

One of the three classrooms separated by makeshift walls

Once the construction of the classrooms are completed, myself, along with my community counterparts will hold a training for both male and female students to educate them about the importance of gender equity to improve their community and their school. Gender equity tends to be challenged by traditions, culture and living environment. It also an lead to a decrease in girls attendance at school. Both the classrooms and the training will improve the learning environment for the students, educate about the importance of education and gender equity, and increase the attendance rate of students, especially girls. Please go to https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/classroom-construction-increasing-girls-access-to-education/  and donate to help my community in building three new classrooms. Any amount will help! Your dollar will go a long way here, especially for these smiling faces: 

“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”

“Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love.” This statement couldn’t be any more true. Peace Corps is hard. It involves living in a developing country where almost nobody speaks your language, while you’re trying to learn theirs. I stand out even when I’m trying to blend in and live like a local. Everyone notices everything you do, even when you think no one is paying attention. When teaching, it seems like students don’t want to be there or they don’t understand. It’s hard to change their learning style of just copy and repeat. 

However difficult, frustrating, and lonely it can be, it’s all worth it. It seems sometimes that nobody understands you (especially when you tell them you don’t eat rice for every meal). However, the cultural exchanges are so important. Understanding other ways, ideas, and languages are key to creating peace in this world. Most disagreements come from lack of understanding or lack of trying to understand. While some people build walls to try and keep people out, others move to other countries to learn about and from others. One culture, country, language, gender, religion, skin color, or hair color is better than another. Rather than rejecting based on outside looks, ask questions and learn. Learning about others opens doors rather closing them. 

Eliminating cultural programs and aid only closes doors and creates ignorance, segregation, conflict and war because of a lack of understanding. However aid programs, cultural classes and programs allow for acceptance, understanding, friendship, improvement, and peace. While one might not be or want to travel to work in hardship, there are ambassadors out there who create these relationships, understandings and world growth. 


#protectpeacecorps 

Top 5 Must-Sees in Mahanoro 

Take a tour of my town and the top places to see! 

1. One of my favorite local things to do is to go to the beach in the morning and buy fish from the fishermen as they come in from the ocean. It’s fresh fish and seafood, and very cheap!

Local fisherman coming in from the ocean

Showing the daily catch

Sorting the fish to sell

Taking the canoe from the ocean to the freshwater canal


2. Next, at this same place where the fishermen come in from the ocean, is the bridge. The rano mamy (literally: sweet water) is the Canal des Pangalanes which meets the rano masina (salty water), the Indian Ocean. When the fishermen come in from the ocean they wash off in the Canal. I was also told that the canal is “Mahanoro’s swimming pool,” where people learn how to swim. One can also see women washing clothes (usually the fishermen’s families). This bridge area is also seen in Malagasy music videos, so people like to come and take pictures at the spot seen in music videos. 

Canal des Pangalanes (bridge to the left)

Canal des Pangalanes and the Indian Ocean in the back

Fishermen washing off the salty water in freshwater

Fishermen’s homes

Washing in the Canal des Pangalanes

3. Mahanoro has two markets: bazary be (pronounced [be] bé), the large market, and bazary kely, the small market. As seen in my last post, bazary be is where I go almost every day to do my food shopping. There you can find fruits (bananas and the seasonal fruit), vegetables such as greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, ginger, beets, potatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, etc., live chickens, ducks, butchers selling beef, pork, ground beef, and sausage, and fish and seafood. Depending on the day, if you didn’t go to the beach to buy the daily catch, the fish and seafood vary on quality and quantity. You can find shrimp, jumbo shrimp, fish from the ocean and from the canal, shark, and rock lobster. 

Bazary kely is where you go if you need things for the household, clothes, shoes, and fabrics. Household items include things such as kitchenware (plates, bowls, cups, glasses, silverware), buckets, tools, and electronics like speakers, solar panels, etc. What’s impressive is that the sellers put up and take down every item each morning and night. The following pictures are all from bazary kely: 

Need flip-flops or underwear?

Shoes and t-shirts

Fabrics

Market pathway: fabrics, buckets, clothes, etc.

Shovels and more shovels

Tools and kitchenware


4. The fourth must-see is the stade (the stadium). They hold concerts, sports and school events, and weekly physical education for Mahanoro’s schools. There is a center field with a surrounding track, a stage, and basketball courts. 

School events include celebrations at the beginning and throughout the school year. This year the new school year celebration was held in Mahanoro. Schools from Mahanoro and its surrounding communities participated. The students, teachers, and administration paraded through town to the stade. They had speeches, traditional dances and one last parade around the track to introduce all the schools. 

The center field and track

Basketball courts

Parading at the New School Year celebration

Parading past the stage at the New School Year Celebration

Students waiting to dance traditional dances


5. The last must-see of Mahanoro is the CEG (middle school) where I work. The school is so big that it has two compounds. The bigger compound with the main office and small library, has about 16 classrooms for the equivalent grades of 8th and 9th. The 16 classrooms aren’t enough for all the students; there’s one large room split into 3 classrooms by makeshift walls and chalkboards. 

The smaller compound has an office and 15 classrooms for the equivalent of 6th and 7th grades. The larger compound is called Madagascar and the smaller one is called St. Marie. St. Marie is the small island east of Madagascar. 

At the school entrance: the main office

On the larger compound: students going home after a day of studies

Walkway on the larger compound

Entrance to St. Marie

At St. Marie

My students lining up before entering


I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my town here in Madagascar! 

Eating with the Seasons 

Avocados. I’ve been desperately awaiting avocado season. My neighbor has an avocado tree in their backyard, and every time I see it, it’s a tease because there’s still a month or two before they can be eaten. 

I was recently listening to a podcast called “The Food We Eat” by the NPR TED Radio Hour. They talk to Mark Bitman, who discusses the food situation in America. He explains, “part of the problem is…the way we think about food right now is we expect to have any food we want within minutes.” He continues to say how, “if you want a mango, you can have it; if you want a tomato, you can have it.” Food is shipped all over that food is not eaten seasonally. Americans have an expectation to eat what they want, when they want it. 

In the U.S., the standard of convienence and ability to eat anything within minutes, has been something I have struggled with here in Madagascar. There is so much convienence due to packaged, frozen, canned, and processed foods. This convienence is not the same here in Madagascar. Meals cannot just be made within minutes, and I don’t have a fridge, so nothing can be sorted for longer than a day or two. The majority of Malagasy people cook on charcoal, which takes a lot longer than cooking on gas. Secondly, unless you want to live off packaged ramen, cookies, or chips, you have to cook. 

Living in a big market town does add a lot of convienence to my cooking. I don’t have to travel to another village to go to a market, and there is a market everyday (small, rural towns only have a limited market on certain days, if they have one at all). I can find onions, garlic, ginger, potatoes, greens, and bananas everyday. 

Piles of garlic and onions at the market

A classic scale is how produce is bought

Tomatoes, ginger, green beans, and onions


There are also carrots, green beans, cabbage, and tomatoes, but if they’ve been there a few, they aren’t always looking the freshest. Bananas, depending on the quantity available that day, are usually very cheap and abundant. Beets, which are one of my favorite finds, are a little on the expensive side for a Malagasy budget, but I love to buy them. 

Then there are the seasonal fruits. Lychee season sadly just ended. (I ate them buy the kilo, so good). Right now there are passion fruits, pineapples, and mangoes. I bought a pineapple the other day that cost the equivalent of 50 cents. Even though I’m still desperately dreaming of avocados, it’s eye opening to eat locally, but also seasonally. Everything may take longer to cook, but the ingredients are better. 

Mangoes are in season!

While I continue to struggle with the lack of convienence and access to certain foods, I find myself adapting to it. I don’t look towards eating packaged foods as much because it’s not there. While I was listening to the podcast, I was so amazed on how used to I was having the access to any foods at anytime I wanted, without even realizing it. I’ve began to accept this change in access and convienence, which has allowed me to take time and pride in everything I cook. The access to the same foods at the market forces me to amp up my creativity with my meals, but allows me to eat with the seasons, and eat only real foods. Here are some photos of my market: 

Hot Peppers

Jackfruits and greens

Plantains and greens

The meat market (chickens are bought live)

Busy day at the market

Measuring the weight

Bananas (like most of the produce) brought in from the countryside

Tamana in Mahanoro 

My house (on the left) and the kitchen/shower (on the right)

The gate to my house

Tamana in Mahanoro, Madagascar. At home in Mahanoro, Madagascar. Welcome to my house here in Mahanoro. It is a one room ravinala house, which is a typical house in this region. So step inside and take a look at my simple living here: 

Entrance to my house

The inside of my house


I was gifted with the furniture in my house from previous volunteers here (all locally hand-made by carpenters here). In the picture above starting from the left is a comfy chair where I sit and relax, taking in the beautiful breeze from the door. In the back left corner is where I get dressed. I keep my clothes on the shelf and look at pictures of friends and family everyday! (Feel free to send me more) 

My bed always has the bed net tucked in so that I never find any critters in it. To the right of my desk in the corner there are handmade mats that open if I want to sit on the floor. My hats, bags and calendar hang above that. The green bin is used to hand wash my clothes. 

My map of the world surrounded my cards from friends and family. Send me more cards so I can cover my wall!

My kitchen

Sink on the right, shower on the left

View of the elementary school from my kitchen. The kids like to come to the fence and call my name and talk to me

My kabone


Some big items in my kitchen: 

  1. My water filter (tall and silver on the table) 
  2. My two burner gas stove 
  3. Gas tank
  4. The round thing on the far wall is used to sort rice, peanuts, or beans
  5. I have yet to use my bike because it’s easier just to walk 
  6. The bag hanging on the right is where I keep my fruits and veggies (I have to close it with clothes pins or cockroaches eat them) 
  7. The shelf on the bottom holds my drying rack for dishes 
  8. The water in the shower is hit or miss so if not, bucket shower it is! 

My hammock hanging in my yard