Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nature's Music

In case you didn't already know, I have been secretly and subconsciously obsessed with storms and inclement weather ever since I can remember.  Tornadoes make their appearance in at least half my dreams.  There is just something about storms that is exciting to me.  I can almost feel the adrenaline entering my system every time I see a big front coming in.

Madagascar has offered me something different.  It hasn't rained much at all in Mahajanga since I've been here.  I have hardly seen a cloud, but now with the rainy season creeping in, I have been awoken by storms the past couple of nights.  These storms are different though.  They aren't as exciting, like the storms in the midwest, but more soothing than anything.  Rather than a sharp cracking, the rolling thunder always seems like a distant rumbling even if I can hear it only a split second after I see the lightning.  The rain itself has been heavy at times, but it's chorus against the mud is always accompanied by tinkling on the metal roof just outside my window.  This natural symphony is great to wake up to, even at 3 in morning, but let's be real, I only hesitate a moment before going right back to sleep.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dinner Time


So finally, after over a month of hearing this at least twice a day, I understand the words that have been calling me to meals.  For this entire month I thought what my sister was calling was “Manambady” which is the verb to be married.  I was confused by this because I knew it could not be true.  For a month I wondered about this.  Admittedly for only about 5 minutes after it was said, because then I lost my thought in the meal.  Finally, last night it was just something I couldn’t let go.  So I asked what Emma was calling.  Again, it sounds like Manambady.  So I ask again, because I assume my mother doesn’t understand what my question is.  After a brief, painful, re-explanation of my question, I am explained that what she is calling is not in fact a simple single 4 syllable word, but actually 8 syllable “Hihinana ny vary aho” which means “I will eat the rice.”  It’s going to be a long learning process..

Friday, November 15, 2013

Laundry Duty


So it all starts when I wake up this fine Saturday morning that I have off at… 6:30, yea, 6:30.  It feels like nails on a chalkboard saying that, even worse when it’s in reference to me.  I GOT UP AT 6:30 A.M. ON A SATURDAY BECAUSE I COULD.  Let the record show that I did go to bed at 9:30 on a Friday so it’s not like I set myself up well for that one.

Anyhoo, I woke up super early for no good reason at all other than to eat breakfast, which might be a good reason in and of itself.  I put on the clothes that I wore all around yesterday biking and exploring through town, not to mention sweating, no reason getting anything else dirty before my shower, and got a feel for my state of being.  Not only am I dirty, I haven’t shaved for a week, so the neard (neck beard) is coming on hard, my hair is super greasy from not taking a shower yesterday, so I decide to sport a ball cap, and I make my presence known in the living room whilst my three host sisters are watching some weird American cartoon on Cartoon Network dubbed in French voices.  Don’t ask me what it was about, I only caught a pourquoi and a dix-huit through 5 minutes of watching.

We sit down to our standard breakfast consisting of a ramen noodle like pasta (I’m pretty sure it was ramen noodles, but the American version needs this flavor) and part of a bagette.  I return to my room after breakfast and decide something needs to change.  I re-evaluate my life and decide that the best place to start is the beginning, so I grab my shower gear and go for a shower.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned my bathroom situation yet.  They have a really small hallway off of the dining room that acts as their bathroom.  They have a shower and a toilet.  Separated by a wall, each with their own little alcove.  They have no hot water, which really isn’t that big of a problem considering its pretty warm here, it just comes as a bit of a surprise in the morning, but it turns into a comfortable cool temperature.

My next step is to clear off this dreadful neard.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna go hard for No-Shave November/Movember/Time to prove my facial hair growing skills to my YAGM group with a second runner up medal to Tom and Ian in November, but right now, an extra reason to sweat, is a reason to get rid of.  Only problem is that I don’t have a mirror, I forgot to get one at the store yesterday, so I just go for it.  Of course I came out on the other side with red marks all over my face with a few missed patches, that is just something that I am gonna have to get better at.

Lastly, I look at my clothes stockpile (I don’t have a dresser or anything, so my clothes are slowly becoming a pile in my suitcase).  **COMMERCIAL BREAK my sister just gave me a mango** Well that was delicious.  Ok, my clothes.  Yea, so I decide, it’s time for a wash.  So I gather up a small pile grab my bucket and soap and get to it.  I gather some water and start scrubbing on my front porch.  Before you know it, a couple people stop and look at me.  I can only guess what their impression is… A. What is this American doing, they don’t wash clothes, why is he doing that.  B. What is this American doing?  Is he trying to wash clothes?  Haha, he is doing it completely wrong, look at that stain! He’s not even coming close to getting it out..  C.  Why is he taking a shower outside with his clothes on?  Regardless of what they thought, one of the ladies, I think the actual mother of one of my host sisters (I’m pretty sure all my host sisters are cousins) sits down next to me and shows me how its done.  Don’t take notes from me, but I would venture to guess what I was doing, which was just taking the clothes in my fists and washing them between my knuckles, which is what I had been doing for about 10-15 minutes was wrong.  My host aunt sat down next to me and actually began helping me.  You take a fistful of a garmet in one hand and then your other hand takes the other end of the garmet about 6 inches down and run it along from the top of the inside of your wrist down to the end of your fist.  I mimicked them and was still doing it wrong apparently, so again, don’t take your notes from me, but it must have been a site to see, and actually made a chore, a heck of a lot of fun.

My aunt (who really does speak zero English) and I exchanged a few words that we could.  While my sisters actually got involved in showing me how to wash also.  Even some of the ladies from the neighboring houses joined the group to talk and socialize and it turned into an experience that I could really learn from, and of course, the (what I am guessing will be the) recurring theme of laughing at myself happened to be a majority of my time.  By the time we got done washing, one of the ladies offered me her clothes pins and my host brother actually helped me hang them up, which I think the ladies were even making fun of him at one point for actually helping me with my laundry.

That is how my Malagasy experience has been thus far.  A combination of mutuality and accompaniment.  These ladies, who very well could have been on their way to do their own chores, went out of their way to help me in a feat that I was apparently failing miserably at.  It is that kind of community that I enjoy.  Even the kids along the street, or the people at work, everyone is so eager to help, and to show, and to be shown, or to learn something new.  The community is unlike any other that I have experienced.  With open hearts they accept me and my shortcomings (communication and clothes washing to name a few) and get out of their way to make me feel accepted and help me in this new environment.  I will admit, I am still a vasa (which the children on the street don’t let me forget) but slowly, there is a change that I can feel.  Even after only one week, I can start to feel the familiar comforts of home in a strange new place.

Personal Space


The bus.

Let me explain something to you that I have learned about Malagasy culture.  There is no such thing as personal space.  Usually in the states you can enjoy some degree of space that you can call your own.  Society knows that it just gets a little awkward or uncomfortable the moment that you start rubbing up on someone else’s shoulder.

Call me na├»ve, but that view may be different for someone like my brother, who has now lived in New York City, traveling via mass transit, for some 6 odd years now, so this may be nothing knew for him.  Me on the other hand, I grew up in southern Indiana.  Nothing gets crowded, whether you’re talking about the big rivalry football game, the movie theater (given that its not the midnight premier of Harry Potter), or hanging out on the sidewalk during the 4th of July parade.  Nothing really gets uncomfortably crowded.  It took 10 minutes to get across town, given that you don’t run into a train, which odds being what they are, probably did happen, but I never once had to deal with anything close to rush hour traffic.

I move to springfield ohio for school.  Again, nothing to worry about.  I then move on to Columbus, Ohio.  Holy cow!  I actually have to wait in line for the interstate, what the heck is this?  It takes me 45 minutes to get to work?  I could be halfway across the state of Indiana in that same amount of time while traveling!

So that’s what I grew up with.  Now, that isn’t to say that I have never been in a crowded car (I was the youngest of 6 kids, ever heard of the shotgun double-buckle?) and a metro car during rush hour.  I just haven’t experienced it to this degree.  Now, I’m not saying its necessarily something that I’m complaining about nor anything that I dislike, it’s just something that I never really noticed all that much in the states.

Now look at me.  Anytime I get on a bus I expect that not only will I be sitting next to someone, but that I will practically be in someone’s lap.  They can fit 25-30 people in these large vans.   Well, I say fit, but I guess I should say that they can transport 25-30 people, given that there are most likely two or three people hanging off the back of it.

Even my 12 hour ride to my placement site, Mahajanga, from the capital, Tana (Tana is short for Antananarivo).  There was not an empty seat.  Even though we paid a little extra for me to ride shotgun, there was still the driver’s wife in between us, and that was a 12 hour ride!  But that’s the norm, and it really isn’t all that unbearable.

Not only that, but I have even noticed it waiting in lines.  I am not a pushy person.  I consider myself fairly laid back when it comes to most things.  I don’t really bother worrying about something, because I know it will all work out eventually.  In Madagascar?  Eh eh.  Nada.  That does NOT fly in lines here.  If you just stand by and wait for something to come to you, good luck.  You are never going to get that ticket you want.  EVEN IN CHURCH.  Just trying to get out of the darn thing, you have to practically flat tire the person in front of you in order to keep up with your host mother!  I may just have to start asking for a piggy back through the line just to make sure my mom doesn’t have to wait for me.

Even FOOD doesn’t have a thing called personal space.  Imagine yourself shopping at the market.  You need some meat to go with your rice.  You waltz up to the meat area, probably 6 or so different vendors that all have racks of meat sitting out in the open air.  Flies are everywhere, but they’re the black ones.  I am told those are the ones your want, the green ones mean something’s wrong apparently.  So you’re checking out this hogs head that has literally been cut in half, and youre thinking to yourself, man this looks delicious, I want to buy this, but BEFORE you do any buying, you pick it up.  You poke it with your fingers.  You toss it to your friend.  You lick the eyeball to test the freshness, ok everything but the first part may be untrue.  Any sausage links?  You pick it up.  Turn it over.  Then you may even decide you don’t want it, so you go on to the next one.  That’s how it is with everything at the market.  Fruit, fish, veggies, all of it.  Ever heard anyone tell you not to eat mixed nuts at the bar?  Well that’s why.  (Please note that most all food that I buy at the market I soak in water/bleach so it’s safe to eat!)

It’s good though that none of this really bothers me.  Growing up in the family that I have has definitely helped me cope with something that may seem as menial as this.  Crowded smelly spaces?  No problem.  Touching all your food before you eat it, bring it on.  Things are supposed to be kept past their due date, its only when it starts smelling bad that you should start thinking about maybe throwing it away.

Malagasy has been interesting getting used to, and I’m sure I am going to continue learning new things the entire year that I am here.