Written on 01 December 2009
I finally made it to my site this past Saturday so my second attempt at Peace Corps service has officially begun. This came after three days traveling up and down the east coast making courtesy visits to virtually every authority figure in the area. Now anyone who is anyone knows that there are two volunteers in the Tamatave region and how to contact us and Peace Corps if there’s ever a problem. Personally, I think this was a little overkill. If the last crisis is any indication of Peace Corp’s handling of security issues I expect to be receiving hourly text messages directly from the Peace Corps office so there’s really no need to involve every gendarme in the surrounding area – they will probably have bigger problems to deal with.
Regardless, I eventually made it through all the meetings and reached my site. Morarano is beautiful and everything about it is completely different from my old site. First of all, there are trees! I’m actually surrounded by them – a huge change from Andina, where every square inch of land was being cultivated. And 4k away from my house is Analalava Forest, a small but largely endemic patch of forest that the community (in partnership with NGOs) is working to conserve. I’m not a biologist so I don’t really know what all makes this forest special but my neighbor has pointed out a couple of the trees that are unique to here and she seemed to take a pride in the fact that they only grow here so that was cool to see.
Another big difference is resources. As in, there are none. I didn’t buy any candles in Foulpointe because I assumed that if nothing else, a local epicerie would have them. They are pretty essential, after all, when living without electricity. I was wrong. And I was getting a little worried about having to cook in the dark when someone who had heard about my issue dropped a candle off at my house. There also are no vegetables and no beans, although I’m told there’s an epicerie that sells them from time to time. My water source was described by Leif as “that swamp” and it’s where people fetch water, bath and wash clothes and dishes so you can imagine how clean the water is. Litchis and charcoal are the only sources of income and thankfully there’s a lot of moringa and fruit around because it looks like the only thing people actually plant is rice. I hate to say it, but after being told by a couple of people around town that the soil is good but nobody plants anything, I started to think there might be something to this laziness stigma attached to the people on the coast. Andina, on the other hand was producing anything you could think of and whatever you couldn’t find at the epiceries would certainly be available on the major market days.
My arrival was also drastically different this time around. When I got to Andina before there weren’t really that many people around and we had to go track down someone official to let them know I had arrived and get the keys to my house. A group of people helped me move in but they seemed to only be in it for the day’s salary I would have to pay them and it took forever to clean up the house and make it livable.
This time, the car was surrounded almost as soon as it stopped and everyone pitched in to bring my stuff down the hill to my house. The house had been built specifically for a volunteer so it was new and clean and a couple of women immediately grabbed my hand and showed me everything: both rooms, the yard, the path to my kabone and even the windows to show how well they locked. When they noticed I didn’t have any furniture someone showed up with a table and a little later someone dropped off a chair (I found out later these are on loan from the director of the elementary school. He told me I can feel free to keep them until I get my own, which is good since I’m still trying to find someone to order furniture from). Once I got settled they killed a chicken and we had lunch with the President of the Fokontany. That was followed by an official ceremony with lots of speeches and of course, plently of Bonbon Anglais – the beverage of choice for any special occasion in Madagascar. The whole time, people kept coming over to greet me and the one thing that everyone said was “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time!”
Overall, it was quite the welcoming party. Now, to be fair to Andina, the people who were mostly involved with requesting a volunteer lived pretty far from my house, so maybe if they had been around when I arrived there I would have been greeted with more enthusiasm. But still, it was nice to feel like people were excited for my arrival. Nice, and a little overwhelming. Morarano was supposed to get a volunteer from the group that should have arrived last February. So they have indeed been waiting for a long time. And now that I’m finally here everyone keeps coming up to me to ask when I’ll start my work – when I’ll start teaching about SRI, or how to plant vegetables, or work at the tree nursery or teach at the school. It’s been a little crazy. Not to mention the fact that I’m still just trying to figure out how to get from my house to my kabone without having to walk through the enormous flooded area that is supposed to be a path. Fortunately, we’re in the middle of litchi season so the majority of the town is too preoccupied trying to get all the litchis off to Tamatave to be serious about wanting to start working with me. Unfortunately, my neighbor told me litchi season is over on Monday, and she expects me to start working then.
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