Friday, August 20, 2010
20 August 2010 SITE VISIT: some good, some bad, lots of Vazaha
Pics: 1 of the CSB where I will be working for the next 2 years. The other two pics are of the bike ride to Ambatomainty, on the west side of Lac Aloatra, with Hoby and lots of rice
Disclaimer: Reader(s) ((do I have plural?)), This is a marathon of a blog, be like the tortoise.
Remember last week that joke I had told about the trip to my site being 5-8 hours? No, you probably don’t. Don’t sweat it, if I was in America I would probably have better things to do than read a marginal blog. Anyways, to keep you informed, last week I was giving the deets about my week-long trip to Ambatomainty, the place I will live for 2 years after I finish training a month from now, and I had said that I was under the impression it would take 5-8 hours to get there. Well, that statement furthers the fact that I really know nothing about Madagascar, BUT I’M NOT ALONE!!! One of my language teachers, Eddy, A Malagasy man, had told me this guesstimate on the travel time. Although Eddy had never traveled to this region, he thought that travel was relatively fast because a new paved road had gone in a few years ago. Sounded great, I bought it, and I prepared myself for a 5-8 hour journey. Remember this fact, it comes back into play. Now let’s fast forward to August 14th, the day of my travel. I would be hopping on a Taxi-Brousse with a different language teacher who grew up in the region, Hoby, and another PCT. We begin our voyage, and the taxi-brousse is as contemptible as possible. It’s a Mazda “Ocean Dream” van loaded with 14 people, luggage, 200kg bags of rice, 4 bikes, and wait for it….1 rooster. So were cruising in the Mazda after leaving an hour late due to the Malagasy’s lax perception of time, and 45 minutes outside of Tana the “Ocean Dream” became a smoky nightmare. We pull off the road, let the engine cool down, and come to the realization that the engine has no coolant. So you do the obvious solution here, have one of the kids riding in the car go fetch some water from the rice paddy in the distance. So that worked, and 20 minutes later we were on our way. However, 45 minutes later, it happened again, and again, and again. In four hours we had gotten where we should of in two. So we took a detour to go to a bigger town where we could jump into a different Taxi-brousse. We get to this town, and there’s a Renault MEGAVAN half full waiting to go, so the 14 people in the Ocean Dream abandon ship for the Renault, putting it at about 5 people over capacity. Then the luggage, rice, bikes and rooster got on top of the Renault and we were ready to depart. In hindsight it was a decision like giving up listening to Rod Stewart for Michael Bolton, just varying degrees of bad. The MEGAVAN was doing well for a few hours, despite numb legs and pierced kneecaps from lack of seat leisure, no real problems. Then, the road stopped. Asphalt to barren dusty roads in an instant. As this continued for some time, I then leaned over to my language teacher Hoby and asked him how long we wouldn’t have a road. Hoby, being the nonchalant man he is, coolly replies:
“eh, I think about 4-5 hours”.
At this point in time I then respond “I thought this whole trip was supposed to take 5 hours?”.
Hoby in his infinite poise simply laughed at me and said in his British trained accent “Nope, it usually takes 8, but because of our breakdown its probably going to take 11.”
My next concern became the road, as I was told by Eddy that there was a new road there. Hoby once again laughs at me….
I’ll paraphrase Hoby’s reply (Imagine this all coming from a short Malagasy man in a sophisticated British accent as he stops reading The Economist magazine in a crazy bumpy van [is this possible to imagine?]) “Oh ignorant American, Eddy doesn’t know the severity of corrupt government as well as the complexities and intricacies found in this region like I do .” “Three years ago Madagascar was given money by the E.U. to pave their roads, but the government did not regulate it, and instead told each region to pave the roads by themselves with the divided money.” “But the politicians in this region fancied the idea of personal helicopters more than roads for everyone, so never made the road.” “However, there is no federal regulation in Madagascar, so the politicians just told both national government as well as the E.U. that the money was put to use for new roads, meaning all maps say there is a beautiful new road here, but in reality it’s just dust and sand”
Yep. He’s right, I pulled out my map of Madagascar and it shows a road, but there’s no road there for 5 hours, just dust. Apparently that’s why infrastructure isn’t a selling point in Madagascar; Corruption.
Now back to the Renault MEGAVAN, it was really dogging it on the nonexistent road, so the MEGAVAN broke down a few more times and all of a sudden my 5 hour journey (which really is an 8 hour journey) became a 13 hour journey. The MEGAVAN didn’t live up to its name, and routinely died. However, the frequent death allowed for chances to get out of the car and stretch the legs. Not kidding, me and about 5 other guys got out of the MEGAVAN multiple times to push-start it. But when you do this after dark in boonie Madagascar, its pretty amazing. Light pollution is a foreign concept here, never in my life have I seen so many stars as rural Madagascar. After one last push-start we made it to our destination, Ambatondrazaka, only 6 hours after we should have arrived. Well, not all of us made it. When unloading the roof of the van, the driver pulled down the wicker basket/cage, but the rooster was no longer to be found. Anyways, I was promised by Hoby that the trip has never lasted so long, so lets hope the horror story is now out of the way.
At Ambatondrazaka we did some small things like check out where my bank is, visit the Meva for Peace Corps Volunteers in the region (it’s a flop house where we can crash when we need to go to town for banking, Peace Corps stuff, or just escape Madagascar-ness and see some Americans.) The following day Me, Hoby, and Teena (the other PCT) went first to visit Teena’s site which is only 15 kilometers from mine, there Hoby introduced her to the people at the crude hospital as well as mayor, police, ect. Then it was my turn, as Hoby and I left Teena to fend for herself, then we jumped on our bikes and began our 15 km bicycle boonie excursion. It was a great ride, as it was great to be on a bike once again. However, the high carb diet of rice with a side of rice doesn’t make bike rides easy, as both Hoby and I were beat from the short trip. Once there we needed to get some energy, so we went to a Hotely (essentially the Malagasy restaurant), and went big with a meal of rice, chicken, pork, eggs, and a side of yogurt and a salad. And this cost us 2500 Ariary/person, or $1.14. Broke the bank on that one. We stayed at a hotel that was 12,000 Ariary/night, or $5.48. We were really racking up the national deficit over site visit.
So I visited my site with the man Hoby via bikes for a 15k ride each way, checked out my digs, met some midwives, realized that I really don’t know much Malagasy, walked around the market, things of that nature. My dwellings are part of the CSB complex, which is sorta a tiny clinic/hospital where they give immunizations, occasionally deliver babies, talk about condoms, washing hands, it’s really your one-stop shop for marginal healthcare. So the CSB will be my major outlet of singlehandedly saving Madagascar with health announcements and such, but if there are other things in the community that need attention, I’m there. I’ll be talking about my region quite a bit in the next few years, and I really don’t have a ton to say about it now. But I’m excited to be in the town and area as there seems to be a good peace corps network amidst the Lac Aloatra region. So for now, I’ll keep it mysterious…
Moving on, lets talk about the word Vazaha. Wow I hate that word. If you don’t know, it’s the derogatory term for a white rich person in Madagascar. Where we have training I would hear it pretty frequently, but typically by little kids whispering to their friends “Vazaha lavo be” or “super tall white guy”. There in Mantasoa it doesn’t bother me too much, as I am in fact a tall white guy. But those kids just do it to be funny and show their friends that they are bold enough to talk about the whities, there’s no real malicious intent in it. There they are used to whities all the time as Peace Corps does training, and we essentially are their source of American entertainment media, but as the whities spread themselves thinner throughout the country, they stop being in on the joke, and BECOME the joke. I think I tend to get it more than the average whitey as I am four feet taller than the typical Malagasy man, but it hardly justifies the intensity. Throughout the site visit trip I would guess I hear “Vazaha” at least 20 times a day. That can get exhausting. I guess it’s completely socially acceptable to call out the white guy, but let’s not hold grudges when doing so. Here’s the story: I did my bike ride to my site for 2 days because I couldn’t sleep there, one day with my language teacher Hoby, and one day without. But this ride is seriously boonie Madagascar, just rice paddies for miles. On the second day, sans teacher, I had passed some men working in the rice paddies about 100 feet from the road, and while the whole group stops to gawk at the vazaha, there was one shrewd and progressive scholar in the fields who was having nothing to do with me. With all the rage this man had towards me, I must have unknowingly murdered his family. My Bad, Azafady. “VAZAA! VAZAA! ALLEZ VAZAA!” he screamed as throwing down his rice paddy spade to get a closer look at the evil soul I am. Apparently my whiteness had ruined his otherwise great day working at a rice plantation. If that doesn’t get you excited to volunteer in a 3rd world country, I don’t know what would. I understand I am a pretty strange site here, but subtlety isn’t a strong point for Malagasy hicks. Another trainee was expressing their frustration at the title, and asked a language teacher if it would be fine just to respond “Mainty! Mainty!” or blackie after being called a whitie, but apparently its very offensive to call a Malagasy person black, while fully acceptable on the other hand to call an American as white. It shouldn’t get to me, and my main focus here is to bring health education, but educating ignorant farmers on class and respect sounds pretty tempting too.