Hello again from Sambava, the town where a gal can walk into a bank with a machete and no one bats an eye...speaking of machetes, I was walking the 1.5k to cell reception the other day and heard a quiet hello from the side of the road...from a girl, about 7 years old, cleaning off a bloody machete on the grass as she squatted next to a bucket of chicken guts that she had just carved up. One of those "oh yeah, I'm not in North America" moments.
I got mail! I went into the post office to get stamps and a postal worker who had never seen me before wandered out of the back with some letters they hadn't "sent up the road" yet. She just guessed that they were mine...(I think) I'm the only American AND only white female who gets mail there. They took between 3.5 and 7 weeks to get here and I'll send you an email if I got a letter from you to let you know!
The big event recently was independence day on the 26th. A big one--50 years since Madagascar became independent from France! Several people decided that I should give a speech at the flag raising ceremony with the other "community leaders and VIPs" (in quotations because I really don't think I've earned the term yet, I'm just locally famous). Well, OK, I said, but tell me when it is and someone has to help me write the speech. Naturally the day rolls around and I still have no clue what's up, so I wander around town until someone (the mayor) tells me where to sit and we watch the parade of chanting schoolchildren file toward the school. We follow them, and are ushered into a well-ordered square of 300 clapping people and the shy person in me cringes bashfully. We listen to some speeches (Malagasies LOVE speeches), and some poems (which I'm happy to say I almost understood!) , stand at attention while the flag is raised to the national anthem, and watched some dancers (who spent most of the time scowling at the keyboardist for being off rhythm). And somewhere in there I gave a little self-prepared speech about what I was doing in the community and how I was happy to be there. Later that afternoon I got hassled by a drunk lady at the celebratory soccer game and a nearby stranger told her to back off because I lived here. (I've mentioned my community is really nice, right?)
Workwise, I'm surveying people and writing a report on the community--for community knowledge, my own knowledge, and to be able to get funding from American orgs who require a report. I'm also attempting to get two small projects going (i.e., haven't been able to do anything yet): making a demo biointensive garden with a local health NGO to show families how to reduce food shortages in the winter (caused by lack of money, not lack of food, don't worry Mom), and painting a world map at the school. I used to wonder why PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) spent their time on such a 'random' project, but after having many children spend hours staring at the world map in my kitchen and explaining several times that the US is not next to Brazil, I get it!
I'm in town for a natural resources management conference--sounds impressive, but mostly I've been sitting in a conference room with no idea what people are saying! Anyway, I thought I'd amuse you with an example of my language and cultural progress--
Sample conversation, translated from Malagasy, Week 1
Rowan: I'm not a foreigner, I live here! My name is Rowan.
Malagasy: Ehhh! You're already good at Malagasy!
Rowan: A little, I'm still learning.
Malagasy: (something incomprehensible)
Rowan: Um...can you speak slower, please?
Malagasy: Aren't you good at Malagasy?
Rowan: I'm still learning, and this is the fourth dialect I've learned in three months!
Malagasy: OK, you are French?
Rowan: No, I'm American
Malagasy: You're African?
Rowan: No, American, I'm from the United States.
Malagasy: Oh, South America.
Rowan: No, North America, near Canada.
Malagasy: Oh, they speak French in Quebec.
Malagasy: Obama is from the U.S. He looks like me. You don't, you're the opposite, so white! See the difference between our skin color? Crazy!
Rowan: Very true.
Malagasy: What are you doing?
Rowan: I'm going on a walk and then I will cook lunch.
Malagasy: Will you cook rice?
Malagasy: Good, enjoy!
Rowan: Thank you!
Sample conversation, translated from Malagasy, Week 4
Malagasy: Roy-Anne! Hey!
Rowan: Hey, what's new?
Malagasy: Nothing new. Where were you yesterday, I didn't see you!
Rowan: I went to the market, I needed vegetables.
Malagasy: Very nice, you're getting water now? (Malagasies have a (usually) endearing habit of constantly stating the obvious to have something to say)
Rowan: Yes, I'm getting water.
Malagasy: Why do you carry it like a man? You should carry it on your head!
Rowan: I can carry one bucket on my head, but I'd not good with two!
Malagasy: Ahh! OK, question, what does this mean in Malagasy--"Can you hold my bear?"
Rowan: Wait, what?
Malagasy: Can you hold my bear?
Rowan: Where did you hear that?
Malagasy: A movie. They were in a restaurant.
Rowan: Ohhh, "Can you hold my beer"! In Malagasy, afaka mangala biereko, I guess.
Malagasy: That makes no sense.
Rowan: No not really, but more sense than bear--Afaka mangala bibibeko!
Malagasy: Haha, OK!
Rowan: See you later!
The people in my town are really nice, and I'm glad that my language is finally getting to the point where I can have conversations with them--or at least have conversations with sympathetic speakers who will enunciate for me! Last night, I was experimenting with pancake recipes (cinnamon, chocolate, banana, raisin--half for me and half divided among the five fascinated children crowded around the stove). After the kids left, two middle schoolers came up to the window and one completely floored me by striking up a conversation about what he had been learning in school, namely the importance of the Marshall Plan in the development of the economy in post-WW2 Europe. I was totally amazed and gratified that, with occasional rephrasing on both our parts, we were able to have a good conversation!
In other news, the World Cup is starting in South Africa, and it sounds like some of the people in my town are going to pay for a generator and reception for the games so everyone can watch the matches in the big empty building near my well--Brazil is the favorite team!