The Suite Life

Mbola tsara folks!

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I am writing from the third (and no question about it – best – hotel I’ve stayed in in the last week. This one has wifi (although I can’t connect to it bc my dumb self deleted wifi capabilities from my computer aka I typed this entire post on my phone that’s called dedication ur welcome mom), consistent(ish) running water and electricity, filtered water, and REAL BUTTER. At this moment I’m sitting on a bougie roof drinking bougie (read: sort of disgusting) dranks avec mes amis.

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I know what you’re thinking: “that sounds bougie af Ione basic living amenities?? who do you think u r” but listen up folks I think I deserve this atm. Here’s a list of everything that’s happened since I left Antalaha:

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1. I spent 9 days living in a rural village with a host family who only spoke Malagasy and could only speak English with one dudebro (my translator) while conducting my semi-structured interviews about food

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(side note: every single person thought I was working with a conservation NGO or some shit and I was there to take their land and I had to explain so. many. times. that I’m still a student & have no power whatsoever)

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Speaking or having to explain that I was still a student: every single person thought that I was over the age of thirty because Malagasy ppl are TINY and they think Americans grow fast idk

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2. I hiked ~18 miles over a mountain which took me + my guide eight hours bc my stubborn ass refused to hire a porter for my giant hiking backpack #noregretstho even though I also fell on the mountain bc of my heavy ass hiking backpack and scraped my knee up real bad and everyone for the next five days was SO CONCERNED about the vazaha that fell on the mountain and kept pointing at my nasty scab also it may or may not be infected but there’s no way in hell you’ll catch me @ a French-speaking doctor rn bc I can’t handle that emotionally

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3. I stayed in a surprisingly wealthy village where most things cost DOUBLE the price of the other side of the mountain bc the village is literally only accessible by foot over this mountain and porters carry cartons full of beer, planks of wood, cement, and all other things ppl might want to buy over this mountain every single day

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My host dad here even spoke a little English/French which was amazing and the whole family was so welcoming even though they didn’t really understand my vegetarianism (but what’s new) and my dad showed us around the village and introduced us to the mayor and his mom despite being crazy busy running a school and being vice-mayor and also being a vanilla farmer and all

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4. Unfortunately had zero internet or phone access whatsoever since there’s no Orange data over the mountain rip sorry for the six days of silence mom

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5. Hiked another 18 miles out of the village and made my way to Sambava, where I was finally on a comfy bed in a hotel after a great meal of mediocre Malagasy pizza and red wine

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6. Made my way from Sambava —> Vohemar on a taxi-brousse that was actually super delightful, but on the way we were harassed by every. single. police officer. for our phone numbers I love abuse of power

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7. We arrived at our second hotel and promptly: lost the key and had to break into our room for the next three days that we were stuck in Vohemar waiting for our boat to leave

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We also spent most of our time bouncing between the three hotels in the city: one that was ~quiet~ for working, one that we lived at (the cheapest), and the one that consistently had legumes and oeufs (just vegetarians living Madagascar probs) for food

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8. The day we finally made the trek to Diego Suarez was actually possibly the worst day of my life – I won’t bore you with the gory details but it included but was not limited to: a sick boy releasing a wide variety of his bodily functions on me in a cramped tiny boat for seven hours; briefly missing luggage; being overcharged for rice; sitting in a mangrove for much longer than i’ve ever wanted to sit in a mangrove; many MANY obnoxious Malagasy men, a taxi-brousse that made me finally understand how a sardine truly feels; topped off by multiple breakdowns of the aforementioned taxi-brousse on the side of the road – a full day of travel which began at 4am and finished around 9:30pm

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But no worries (tsy magnino) bc now I’m happy, clean, full of rice, a little tipsy, and a lot sleepy. I’m definitely not looking forward to actually having to start work, and there may possibly be a cyclone that may keep us from continuing our journey to Nosy Be, but that is a hurdle we will pass when we come to it.

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Peut-être I will be better about making sure I post more of these… but probablement pas. I’m home in two weeks – which is both super scary and super exciting. I’ve had some conflicting feelings about this place ever since I left for ISP.

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Not gonna lie, the last two weeks were probably the hardest part of this experience for me. As much as I felt so happy to be engaged in my own research, I was also extremely isolated by my situation and by the complete lack of French and/or English speakers around me. Being here (in general) has not been easy for me, and sometimes I’ve felt so much anger, stress, and fear at this place. I feel much better about it now as I’m surrounded by my friends and things like showers and clean drinking water, but feeling better bc of those things just makes me feel guilty about my feelings – which is very strange and unwelcome.

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Basically, atm I’m very conflicted about a lot of things (including how the HECK I’m going to structure this GIANT PAPER I HAVE TO WRITE) but it’s FINE bc i have good food, freedom, friends, and bougie drinks.

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See y’all soon!! (super freaking soon!!)

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Veloma Antalaha

3/30/18

I’m skipping ahead to this post because emotionally I feel like I need to. Internet is rough here so most of the time y’all get a post that actually happened weeks or months before… but tomorrow is my last full day in Antalaha with my host family. In reality, it may be the last time I ever see them (or Antalaha) ever again.

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That statement is really final, and I don’t like that. So we’re gonna rest on the assumption that I could come back someday (I love confronting reality WOO).

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Today was really emotional but also sort of not as emotional as I felt like it was going to be. It was our last day of school, our last day riding in the van all together to and from Manambato, and it was our last day at the program center. Nobody cried tho, so that seems like a win!

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It was also my little sister’s 6th birthday, and she kept asking me where I was going, and telling me she was going to miss me, and that she would visit me in San Diego and would get off the plane, hail a bajaj, and tell them to take her to “Chez Ione!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her there were no bajajs in San Diego.. (but tbh I think we should bring them to America I LOVE BAJAJS). She’s currently wearing the necklace I bought her for her birthday to bed, which makes me also wanna cry a little.

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Gina, our housekeeper/chef/nanny/general helper lady came into my room with a woven bag and told me it was for my mom – which was honestly the nicest gesture ever. Again, I almost cried – but I haven’t cried yet. I feel like it probably won’t happen until I’m back in America, because most of the time I don’t really feel like I’m in Madagascar. It won’t really hit me for like at least 3 months, guaranteed.

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Today we all got envelopes filled with 1.54 million Ariary (which is only 513 dollars in American money, so don’t get too excited) which we’re expected to live on (and carry around) (and not lose) for the next month. (We calculated that it would be exactly the right amount to buy a motorcycle – so cash me ridin’ round the streets of Madagascar on my brand new moto!!) I have one month to be completely entirely free and to do my own research and to be my own boss and that is honestly? Terrifying. But I also feel surprisingly calm about the whole thing.

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That’s my life update! I’ll let you know how things go from now on (and also hit you with some backdated posts probably bc there’s like maybe ten of them I haven’t posted yet rip sorry I suck at blogging).

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Special shoutout to Patty Pipernos, my newest follower! Here’s a photo of your wonderful daughter (don’t worry, she’s still very much alive and thriving, the thumbs down r bc she misses u).

My Second (Malagasy) Family

A few people (aka my mother and… my mother) have been bugging me for info about my host fam, so here goes:

1. My host mom: she’s super sweet and incredible and makes the best tomato sauce (to go with my rice) and fried bananas for breakfast

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2. My host dad: of whom I have no photos bc he’s hardly ever around, he’s too busy being a vanilla mogul! but apparently he’s super well-liked in the community. he loves to try and speak Malagasy with me and even though he’s very intimidating i think he’s secretly a big softie

3. My 10-year-old host sis: she knows more French than me, speaks very quickly, and loves to watch Friends and Spanish telenovelas (dubbed in French obvs) while brushing her dolls’ hair. She also likes to show me the selfies she’s taken on her smartphone (ppl love selfies here it’s wild)

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4. My 5-year-old host sis: her favorite word is “regardé” which translates roughly to “look at me bc I’m super cute and interesting and I love attention even though you just told me you have homework to do you should stop reading and instead watch me throw my dolls off the table or dance to Nicki Minaj”

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5. My chauffeur, Riche: who drives me to school every morning. He only knows two words in French (Bonjour and ça va) as far as I can tell, so our convos are fairly lacking BUT he’s a constant in my life.

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6. Gina: she seems to be the housekeeper? Nanny? Cook? All of the above? She’s the sweetest thing (I told her I liked her hat and then the next day she gave it to me? And was very insistent that I keep it which may be bc every day I show up a little more sunburnt and she’s concerned about the state of my nose) she also cooks for me almost every day and is super excited to see me when i come home so i love her

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7. Eddie:  he seems to sweep, carry water, clean the pool, and watch tv with my lil sis’s. He’s a major goon as far as I can tell, and also loves to test my Malagasy. 10/10 sweetheart

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There’s a wide variety of other ppl who hang around the house, but they all seem to rotate and I can’t really remember who I’ve met before and who’s new. These are the consistent members of my life and they’re all pretty great even though I can’t really communicate with them at all.

Here’s a pic of my massive house also, in case you wanted to see where a rich Madagascar vanilla businessman lives when he’s not out making vast quantities of moolah.

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I’m getting très triste lately because I know I only have a week left with them… but also I’m currently drowning in work and I have no time to spend with them this weekend. I love spending my last days in Antalaha stressing about ISP!!

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P.S. somebody plz remind me to stop drinking coffee when I’m stressed out ALL IT DOES IS RAISE MY HEART RATE and my body is not accustomed to over-caffeination anymore

P.P.S. as i was writing this there was a little bb gecko staring at me and sticking it’s tongue in and out of its mouth and now we’re making eye contact it’s so damn cute just thought i’d share with the class kk buh-bye now

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Cap (B)Est

2/23/28

(This post is now a month behind WHOOPS plz forgive me I blame my lack of wifi connection and also my laziness it’s fine)

Today, I ended my week by crying in a Catholic Church in Madagascar. Why did I cry in a church you ask? Let me explain in the best way I know how: list format.

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  1. I had an amazingly fantastic-ly wonderful week in Cap Est, at a bee-yoo-tee-full secluded beach in northeastern MAD. Highlights of the excursion (what?? A list within a list?? What can I say: I’m a wild child):
    1. Snorkeling for the first time in my life and not drowning or getting eaten by sharks
    2. Getting to swim in the warm & temperate Indian Ocean every single day
    3. Teaching my Malagasy prof that “bum bum thing” is not actually what Americans call their butts no matter how many times he swears he heard it in a song somewhere
    4. Lots of adorable land crabs
    5. Using tablets that let you write UNDERWATER so frckn cool
    6. Some of the food – aka the doughnuts – was amazing

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  1. Lowlights of the excursion:
    1. My extremely sunburnt butt cheeks
    2. Sand: everywhere. All the time.
    3. Fuck mangroves. (they’re actually pretty important to like conservation & the world & stuff but I have one word 4 u: PUTRIFICATION)
    4. Lost my phone charger so now I can’t talk to anyone or use the internet or purchase any more data :))))))
    5. The one time they fed us fries and rice for dinner bc they don’t understand vegetarians here
    6. The terrible, painful, bumpy dirt road (and by bumpy, I mean picture the worst road you’ve ever driven on in MA: but it’s not paved and someone dropped cannonballs all over it so no part of it is unscathed) at the end of which most of us had almost vomited and all of us were covered in a thick film of dust

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  1. Was super excited to return to Antalaha and see my host fam and the terrible caravan ride we had to take out and back was way better on the return trip – it was also made slightly more entertaining by the presence of intoxicated Malagasy men (who were supposed to be working) serenading us instead
  2. The goat SIT bought one of the students for her bday (it’s actually for her family, so RIP goat bc they’ll probs eat it)
  3. Apparently learned enough Malagasy this week that I was able to have entire conversation with my host family where everyone understood exactly what was going on which was incredible!!
    1. My favorite part is when I say something wrong/funny and then they bring it up later at the dinner table and I just sit there giggling while they laugh at how dumb the vazaha is but hey they ain’t wrong
  4. Also apparently learned enough French (or gained enough confidence with my French) to be able to have a real in-depth conversation with my ten-year old host sis about her future goals and her favorite school subject (in church) (thus why I was crying in church)
  5. Finished off the day with my favorite meal (aka rice, beans, and tomato sauce) which my host fam gives me every day bc they don’t know how to feed a vegetarian (not that I’m complaining bc it’s honestly delish idk how they do it)

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I honestly can’t believe that I’ve come this far. I feel like I’ve been running and running for hours and I haven’t been able to breathe but just now I broke through the wall and now I’m just soaring. It took me a whole month, but I finally feel comfortable and like I might actually belong here. I really can’t believe I have to leave so soon (even though it still feels like I have forever to go I can already feel it going by so quickly).

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RIP Harold

2/15/18

Just once, it’d be nice to emerge from the wilderness without any bug bites on my butt. But alas, today is not that day. I counted: and there’s 25 – per cheek. That is not an exaggeration. If only I could remember to reapply mosquito repellent – or even apply mosquito repellent in the first place – often enough to actually repel some mosquitos. Good thing I’m so good about taking my malaria meds – oh wait I don’t do that either.

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Right now I am: you guessed it! Procrastinating from the work I should be doing (which is done except it’s supposed to be in French and I. hate. French.

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We just finished our lemur excursion, which was another 4 days in the woods with no showering. I made sure to learn how to say “I really need to take a shower” in Malagasy so my family would be sure to understand just how badly I needed to shower (zah tainga mily mitsieky, in case you were wondering). I either got some intense tan lines this week or I was just covered in multiple layers of grime – you decide.

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Y’all this week was freakin’ WILD. Our second day of researching wild endangered lemurs was quite similar to the previous. We hiked another mountain, we found some more lemurs, we stared at some more lemurs for a while, and then we saw one of the most fantastic views I’ve ever seen in my life. ‘Twas incredible.

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Here’s some pics of a super blurry lemur running away from me:

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And here’s some pics of a slightly less blurry lemur right before it started running away from me:

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After we finished being all science-y and shit, we hosted a massive fête with the entire local village at our campsite, which involved a goat murder (his name was Harold and I loved him and I watched him die to honor his memory), lots and lots of dancing, clapping, and singing, and talking to a lot of Malagasy children (because they were much less likely to make fun of us for only knowing how to say “what’s your name” and “how old are you.” Since they were still very much in shock about our existence/presence (?), they spent the first hour of the shindig just staring at us while we sang extremely loudly to some TBT soundtracks including the Jonas Bros and Hannah Montana.

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I’m definitely still not fluent (HA), but I think the kiddos were impressed with literally any small amount of language skills we had. Trying to communicate with them was extremely difficult using the ~100 words we know (most of which are not particularly useful i.e. “forest” or “leaf” or “what is the name of this tree”), but we sorta made it work?

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Which was great, because one of the small children (her name was Brenda) adopted me for the night and protected me from the many young men who are obsessed with acquiring a vazaha (and by acquiring, I mean they want to carry us away and marry us for our many American riches). Picture a tiny 7-year-old slapping hands away from my butt while I dance in a whirling circle of clapping chanting humans, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of my night. Thank god for our Malagasy friends and guides who weren’t from the village, who served as translators and buffers for the whole night.

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As overwhelming as that sounds (and it was), it was fantastic and wonderful and super fucking weird and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I learned how to dance like a traditional Malagasy woman (from a lady who told me I had to teach all my American friends how to “tsendriky,” hmu if you’re interested), and made some friends whom I will probably never see again. Bittersweet, but a pretty fantastic experience regardless. I love this country, no matter how strange it is to be here and how much I wish I could communicate better.

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I would like to dedicate this post to Harold, my friend and companion for one day. I think he wanted to eat my notebook (and maybe my face), but I loved him nonetheless. He was a good goat – in life and also in death (or so I heard) (I did not partake in the consumption of his flesh).

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Why am I so Behind on These Posts

2/13/18

Happy almost (except now belated) V-day folks!! Not sure about you, but I’ll be spending this special day with my true love: the Golden Crowned Sifaka.

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Disclaimer: I did not take the above photo (I WISH I DID THO) but I googled the GCS and this pic made me lol ur welc

Yesterday was a very special day because, on our second excursion/wilderness adventure, I set up my very own tent (borrowed from my grandfather) all by my lonesome (aka with the help of Claire thnx Claire) (but only bc she’s so nice) (not bc I failed miserably & asked for help). It’s definitely not set up “correctly” but guess what? It did not fall on me in the middle of the night (but now that i think about it i did have 7 mil mosquito bites ON MY BUM so maybe that’s why ha ha hindsight’s 20/20).

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Plz enjoy this photo of the weird clouds here, my friend is v obsessed w them and made me lean out of a super bumpy 4×4 to prend cette photo ur welc Sage

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After a super long super hellish day riding in a) our van/school bus and b) a 4×4 through some truly majestic (and bumpy) landscapes, dodging zebus and crossing muddy ravines, we finally arrived in Daraina, home of the Golden Crowned Sifaka. The GCS is an elusive breed of lemur that is not only endemic to MD, but is also locally endemic to this small region of MD.

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Not to mention the ride was minorly sidetracked by the presence of many many zebus blocking the road… we had to get out and shoo them out of the way. Gotta love MAD roads!

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When we arrived, the entire freaking camp was already occupied… by approx. 50-60 small children and random peeps from the nearby village who we were told may or may not have ever seen a vazaha before. We felt super duper uncomfortable and tried to play it cool (hoping they would get bored and leave?) but after about 3 hours of them watching us sit in a circle and speak English, we realized that they probably would never get tired of watching vazaha TV. Lo and behold, there has been a steady stream of villagers hanging around our camp ever since.

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Today was also a very special day bc we spotted three GCS individuals in the wild! And they are: gorgeous. Unfortunately, we spent about 3 hrs waiting for our guides to find the GCS, and then hiked into the forest to meet them (bc if they had to drag our noisy asses around while looking for lemurs they would probably never find them) aka: I got another rlly weird/awkward tan (read: burn) line. I also definitely stepped in hella zebu poo and got my pants caught on some super spiny ferns.

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Good news is: I made friends with this chicken while we waited!! And by made friends, I mean he squawked at me for three hours while I took his photo.

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K fine… I took lots of photos

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We observed the GCS for all of 30 minutes bc that was approx. the amount of time they put up with us staring at them before they swung away through the treetops, which was honestly incredible (although I could’ve done without the 7 million mosquitos attacking my face, three of whom I murdered with my own blood still in their bodies).

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Post-GCS observation, we got the opportunity to interview some women from the village about how the laws of the protected area have affected them/their families/their communities which was; you guessed it: SO COOL and has me really hype for the social science portion of this trip.

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And finally, my group finished early and stripped down to take a dip in the river (it’s free-flowing, so no parasites! I know u were worried) which was mildly uncomfortable given the amount of small children and village inhabitants that were STILL watching our every move.

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I think the hardest part about these excursions may be having to smell myself after multiple days of no bathing coupled with strenuous hikes and zebu poo (not to mention my sweat smells super different here?? And not in a positive way. Lmk if I should be worried)

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But hey, tomorrow we get to do more cool lemur things and I will undoubtedly get more burnt and more sweaty and more bug-bitten, so stay tuned for more lemur pics (hopefully) and more words I use to fill space between the lemur pics!!!

The Good, the Bad-jaj, and the Ugly

2/12/18

I am currently crammed into the very small van that takes us to school every morning, on my way to study some lemur behaviors. We’ve noticed that Malagasy people tend to be fairly shorter than average, so the leg room in this vehicle is not expansive. But apparently this 6-hour van ride is the only way to get to the Golden Crowned Sifaka site, which will definitely be super fascinating. I have been informed that we just missed their mating season (thnx alessia), so how interesting could it really be?

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Ha Ha jokes I’m actually so so excited to get into this lemur portion of our studies. I’m starting to form some hesitant ideas about the independent study part that will take up the last month of this semester that may or may not involve an underground lemur market, so stay tuned for more info on that craziness.

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This weekend I spent some time with my host sister who is allegedly ten years old. We went to the market, where I took a few photos bc it was really cool, but not too many bc I didn’t want them to make fun of me for being such a vazaha. Then we cooked lunch together which was: who’s surprised? Rice. And pasta. That’s right folks, she put pasta on her rice.

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We had eggs and veggies too, but it really is shocking how much rice they eat here. I probably won’t ever stop talking about it bc no matter how many times it happens, I’ll always be surprised when they offer me rice while I’m already eating pasta, or potatoes. Never thought I would actually be tired of carbs.

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At night, I went out avec mes amis to an interesting bar (that turned out to be a karaoke bar – surprise!) that really only got #lit right as we left. Too bad us vazaha have curfews! (I actually don’t have a curfew, but I was tired lol). Right before we left, we blew the ROOF off the place with some Ed Sheeran/Adele jams, and my friend’s Adele remix wowed a particular Malagasy man so much that he followed us out of the bar and down the street. We highkey had to pretend to not speak any French or English or Malagasy and also run away from him and into a bajaj, but it’s fine.

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That was not the first time I thought I was gonna die, because I was the last person in the bajaj to be dropped off (as per usual) and at one point the driver and his two buds pulled over on the side of a dark ass alley and turned off the vehicle’s lights (a moment in which I was absolutely sure that bajaj would be the last thing I saw before I died). But turns out, they had just spotted a rat(?) mouse(?) tenrec(?) and wanted to catch it. I acted like this was: super normal bc I didn’t want to be the weird vazaha that didn’t stop by the side of the road to catch small rodents. So then we continued on to my house with one of the men holding the aforementioned small rodent in his hand. And then they asked for my number STILL HOLDING THE RODENT, which I politely declined and just as politely ran into my home.

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Sunday was equally great because:

  1. I did not have to go to three hours of church with my fam (bc I slept through it after my wild night getting back at 11:30)
  2. I got to leave my house and speak English for a few hours
  3. I got mediocre pizza and incredible mango juice (that may or may not have been riddled with typhoid) for lunch again
  4. I had sufficient wifi to submit one internship application

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That’s all folks, talk to u when I’m out of the rainforest 🙂