Monday, May 31, 2010

Leeches suck

Hopefully pictures are worth a thousand words, because I used most of my internet time uploading pics and this will have to be brief!

My exciting news of the previous few weeks is that I was able to join some Malagasy researchers on some camping trips in the forest complex--the hikes were rainy and difficult (and I lost count of the number of leeches I pulled off), but great to see how they were doing collections and tree counts to identify endangered species. And yes, did see some lemurs (crowned lemurs) but no pictures because they were skittish little guys. I was thinking while I was at camp that the whole experience should feel much more surreal and exotic than it did, but at the time, catching crab in a jungle stream by flashlight with Malagasy reseachers seemed pretty normal.

I've been cooking a lot the last week or so--food variety is a bit limited in my area, so I've been compensating by planning way ahead for meals so I can buy veggies and such in town. It's pleasant to cook in the evenings while listening to my shortwave (last night, Chinese opera and Radio France; the night before, a sithar concert from India and Radio Iran).

Have I told you about ranampango yet? Malagasies cook a lot of rice, and after they've served themselves and have some burned rice left over in the pot, they'll boil water in the pot and serve it with dinner--a sort of tea that tastes like, well, burned rice. Always safe to drink though, and free, so I've acquired a taste for it.


Don't care how long I'm here, these little guys will still be awesome!

I climbed that!

At camp with some of the Malagasy researchers.

Trying to help in the kitchen while visiting one of the commune towns...those are moringa leaves, the government has been encouraging people to grow them because they have great nutrition and grow fast.

Me on the mountain above the hospital, about 1k from my's the only place I get cell reception! The mountain in the background is Makirovana, a protected area that my community partner, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, works in.

Dear Blogger, your formatting still sucks. Rowan

My House

Hard to get the whole room at once, but here's part of my bedroom; you can see the outhouse out the window. :)

Part of the kitchen, with gas stove, water filter, and floor mat.

The my side of the storage facility, with neighbors beyond.

The entrance to my house is on the right; the rest of the building is storage for community farmers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

At site

Hello all,

Have been at site a little over a week; oh where to start? First, I guess, I updated my address and phone number, and added a short wish list as requested-- see sidebar. I should be checking email about every 2 weeks but would also love to hear from people by snail mail! And, long shot BUT--if any of you folks I know happen to be in Northern Madagascar, or really anywhere in the country, let me know! You can crash at my place or we can travel around if my schedule permits. There you go/ the official invitation.

OK, so site: I was able to help install the other two new volunteers in my region, nice because I got to see their sites and travel around the area a little. My site, properly called Anjangoveratra, is hot and beautiful. Lots of crazy vegetation growing off the side of the road like papaya, vanilla, oranges, mangoes, and bananas. Plus of course lots of rice fields.

The day I got here my installer (French influence--someone official from the Peace Corps has to introduce us to the community) had me give two speeches. In Malagasy. The first to 20 community VIPs and the second to 200 schoolkids. Yipes. But I guess they went OK because the installer jokingly offered the equivalent of 5 bucks, a lot here, to anyone who could speak English as well as I could speak 'Gasy, and no one stepped forward.

My house consists of two big concrete rooms at the community storage building, which might sound weird, but it means my house is about double the size of the average bamboo and palm house in the village and vastly more secure from cyclones and robbery. No electricity, or course, and I haul water from a well about 50 meters away.

So far my time has consisted mainly of

1) trying to figure out how to run a household here, and that's not easy, let me tell you! With the number of little chores I have to do, it's no wonder so few people here live alone

2) Walking around my community, trying to get people to call me Rowan (or 'Roy-Anne') instead of vazaha, which means white foreigner

and 3) Trying to convince people that I'm American, not French, and that no, America is not in Europe. For all our self-aggrandizing on the world stage, people here know surprisingly little about the States.

My community has been really kind so far, sometimes overly so--I barely have a moment to myself and they have and overly flattering idea of what I can accomplish in the next 2 years. In the interests of fairness; I should probably list a few annoyances, because of course there are some--

1)Ants and cockroaches; the bad part of me (the part that's not an Environment volunteer) wants to douse the evil little buggars with poison--but if I can defend my reaction, I had a 3 inch cockroach fly into my face last night. That's one species I'm OK not conserving!

2) Kids--an expected annoyance, but it's hard to stay composed with 30 kids whispering and staring as you go about your chores. I bear them as long as I can and then shoo them away--still trying to feel out where to set boundaries.

3) It's late autumn, and it's still hot. Hmm. Summer should be interesting.

OK, gotta go, hope to hear from you all eventually, email or otherwise!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Officially a Volunteer

After 10 weeks of language, rice, host families, and getting muddy with hands-on learning, I'm happy to say that 24 trainees were sworn in as Volunteers at the Ambassador's house in Tana today. We (me and two other volunteers, plus a staff member) fly north tomorrow to buy house supplies and move in. I just checked the weather--a relatively cool 89 degrees in Sambava, but it feels like 104(!). Keeping in mind that it's fall going into winter here south of the equator!

In response to an email question, some of the projects we've been working on in the past two months in addition to language and cultural training and the obligatory bureaucracy: building fuel-efficient cookstoves, building "hotboxes" to conserve firewood, intensive rice planting (aka SRI), the reforestation process, building compost piles and other soil improvement, some animal husbandry, and some erosion control. We have In-Service Training in 3 months, where we can work on more site-specific project information.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another random smattering of pics

Building a garden

Rough life: visiting a beach north of Tamatave.

Indri! The largest lemur.

Chameleon and Tad

Oxcart passing outside my window. (Yes, I know those are cows. They still call them oxcarts.)

Also: Dear Blogger, your automatic formatting sucks. But I never have time to mess with it, so readers will have to dear with aesthetic imperfection, alas. :)