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 🙂

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I Smell Like- Bread?

2/7/18

I have come down with: the common cold. Not typhoid, not malaria, nothing to write home about (although here I am: writing home). I did have a brief 45 min typhoid scare where I ran around asking everyone if I smelled like bread – which is allegedly a symptom of typhoid (and I swear I actually smelled like a freaking bakery) but nobody else seemed to think so and I’m not dead yet, so we should be in the clear. It seems p ironic to me that I have yet to experience any of the ridonculous diseases I was told would kill me on this trip (Bubonic Plague anyone?) but here I am, immobilized by the common cold.

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Except I’m not really immobilized, bc I got shit to do. So, yesterday I ended up in a Madagascarian rainforest. And today, I emerged from a Madagascarian rainforest a changed woman. And by changed woman, I mean I smelled like someone who had been living in a hot, humid, mosquito-ridden rainforest for three days and had spent those three days hiking up a remarkably steep (and remarkably damp) rotting-mango-ridden incline every day wearing the same clothes for all three days (why change when only the plants and your equally smelly friends are there to smell u).

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Shockingly, that’s exactly what I’ve been up to these past few days. Right now, I should really be working on the group paper that signifies the end of our Botany unit which I have to present IN FRENCH TOMORROW woo hoo can’t freaking wait but instead I’m trying to procrastinate via: this blog (what’s new). We were also assigned even more French homework to do tomorrow bc it’s not like we woke up at 4:45am to hike our way out of the rainforest and drive three hours from Makirovina National Park back to Antalaha and then spent the rest of the day writing up our results for tomorrow’s presentations. Nope. That didn’t happen.

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AAAAnywho it was a super amazing experience so I swear I’m not complaining (ha when have I ever been known to complain). Day 1 we arrived near Makirovina and hiked about 1.5 hours to the rainforest, and with about thirty minutes left it started to – you guessed it – RAIN. Which was honestly welcome, bc we were already sweating our butts off.

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After we set up camp, we headed into the forest to start documenting some plant life. My squad was super speedy & super awesome (#BotSquad) probably due to the amazing Eduard and Amido. Eduard is the smartest dude maybe ever, I wish I could’ve said more to him than “tsara be” (very good) and “ino agnaragna kakazo iti” (what’s the name of this tree) but alas, he only speaks Malagache and I only speak: nowhere near enough Malagache. He brought a super dope machete (& for some reason wouldn’t let me try it out, rude) and would chop @ some trees, look at the inside/what oozed out and would immediately know what kind of tree it was. Essentially, he did all the work and us plebes stared at him in shock & awe and misspelled the names of trees.

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pictured: Amido, one of my favorite humans maybe ever

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and Eduard, one of the coolest/smartest

This continued into the next day, we finished up our botanizing and our research methodizing and hiked back down this rainforest-y mountain. I didn’t get any pics of the evident slash-and-burn agriculture that was taking place but that’s mostly bc I was trying my darndest not to slide down the whole slope on my ass.

I fell asleep last night to the sound of pouring rain and multiple beautiful singing voices in a literal rainforest, surrounded by mosquitos (who I did not invite into my tent tyvm although they came in anyway rude little shits) and a group of super cool dudes/dudettes/mostly dudettes our troupe is v short on dudes shoutout to both the Thomas’s.

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And today I had an amazing lunch speaking in French, English, and Malagasy all at once, and trying to explain the concept of sarcasm to a particularly sassy (although he doesn’t know the meaning of the word) Malagasy professor. I also arrived home to a very excited 5-year old who wanted to carry my gigantic backpack up the three flights of stairs to my room (which was cute, if impossible, as it is ~three times her size).

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Tonight is definitely gonna suck bc it’s not even dinner and I’m already exhausted, and tomorrow will suck even more as my French professors ROAST my pronunciation, but right now? Faly be zah (I am very happy).

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Lemur Lovin’

2/3/18

Last night I stayed out until 1am (I am: a wild child by Madagascar standards) dancing the night away with my French professors (this is especially notable as I have been waking up at 5:30am and going to bed around 8 or 9pm). It was quite a wild night that was punctuated by lots of dance lessons from Malagasy folk who were apparently less than impressed by my booty-shakin’ skills.

I managed to both order drinks in French and pay for them without making a fool of myself, which was a miracle in and of itself (Also: alcohol here – just like everything else – cheap af. I might have to stay awhile).

Us vazaha were at ~da club~ well before everyone else, partly because we had no idea when the party starts in Madagascar, and partly bc most of our host families were expecting us home before 9pm. Talk about a WILD study abroad experience. Good thing my family seems to give zero fucks what I am up to, or at least they aren’t able to overcome the language barrier well enough to inform me they are unhappy with my actions.

Overall, ‘twas a great first night out in Antalaha. Although I can’t say I’m ever going to get used to being stared at everywhere I go – you’d think this town would be used to seeing 13 white girls (and 2 white bois) wandering the streets by now?

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I slept most of today away bc I was trés trés exhausted by my very full day of visiting coconut and vanilla plantations for school.

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We drank and ate SO MUCH coconut (which makes sense at the coconut plantation… but not so much at the vanilla plantation? I def could’ve gone for some vanilla ice cream but: I’m not complaining.

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This is how real badasses open coconuts: with a giant machete. I asked him if I could chop mine open myself, and he laughed in my face. I guess they don’t trust the vazaha with the machetes?IMG_3680.JPG

Speaking of badass, they use these giant spikes to pull the outer shell away from the coconut – I think I heard them say that each worker does about 1000 coconuts per day? But also it was in French so who tf knows.

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This hecka sketchy contraption is where they extract the coconut oil from the dried fruits (? Is coconut a fruit? Lmk). I could’ve gotten closer to see inside it but I was lowkey afraid of being sucked into it.

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This area of the plantation smelled so much like fresh-baked cookies it was TORTURE

After the coconut plantation we had lunch at a cute little park with a lake, a cute little gazebo thing, and: LEMURS finally I guess you could call them wild lemurs but they also were not afraid of humans at all and stole food straight out of people’s hands.

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Look at this lil fucker eating a mango

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One of them jumped onto my back bc I am apparently the lemur whisperer (whom knew) but I didn’t get a pic of that so instead here’s a pic of a lemur on my friend.

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Shoutout to Thomas for being a great lemur stand

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Post-lemur lunch (punctuated by lemur poo falling on our lunch apparently they just poop wherever including IN THE AIR OVER OUR SANDWICHES) we hit up a vanilla plantation

This is what the beans look like before they’re all dried and shit

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I personally think these plants look fake af

They grow on other plants like little parasites #relatable

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Then today my new father took me to see his ~super successful~ vanilla store where he has like 50 people working to dry and cure the picked vanilla?? I’ve literally never seen so much vanilla in my life I didn’t take any pics cuz I was tryna play it ~trés cool~ like I had seen that much vanilla but just take my word for it: it was wild.

Au revoir dudes & dudettes

Falma-fanta-cha

1/31/18

Hiya kiddos

This title was my attempt to make a joke about my new obsession with pineapple flavored Fanta – or “anana Fanta” as it’s known here. Unfortunately, it’s currently only funny to me, which means i’ll have to explain the joke & it will inevitably only become less funny. Here goes.

Falmafantcha means “nice to meet you” in Malagasy. I recently tried pineapple Fanta and I love it a lot, so one might say it was very nice to “meet” it. Thus, Falma-Fanta-cha.

ANywho.

Today I took my first bajaj ride alone (and at night) which was terrifying af I was so sure the driver (and the two men who got on after me and kept muttering the word ‘vazaha’) were going to mug me and steal the 100,000 Ariary I had in my money belt. The good news? They did not, in fact, mug me (one of them was a policeman so I was probably pretty safe). The bad news? I think the guy ripped me off bc he charged me like 3 times what I was told I would have to pay to get home. But it’s fine.

Today we visited a pretty dope forest and got a tour from our Malagasy professor (who apparently doubles as a tour guide? He’s a man of many talents) and I heard many many terms for many many plants that I promptly: forgot. I also had one of our four French professors following me around giving me personal explanations for all the plants and insects (apparently they’ve decided that I am the worst French speaker in the group and thus need my own personal tutor. But hey, I made a joke about a tree that’s allegedly a ‘natural viagra’ and she laughed for approx. the rest of the hike so: I guess you could say I’m fluent now). Unfortunately, Sage convinced me not to bring my camera into the rainforest (how dare she look out for the safety of my expensive electronics), so you only get this sorta shitty iPhone photo today.

After a very long, very sweaty day of listening to a woman with a very soothing (too soothing) voice talk about vanilla, we all decided to call our host families and ask them if we could stay out later than 5pm, which was an ordeal (I texted mine, since I’m afraid both of phones and of speaking French – speaking French on the phone?? Definitely a no-go). I think they may have been a little worried by around 7pm bc they had their chauffeur call me. But hey, drinking that pineapple Fanta on the beach speaking English with my new besties was worth the stress sweat on the way home.

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Also, today I ate dinner with the entire family!! Usually it’s just me and the girls, but today their dad and two other strange people ate with us (nobody introduced me, as per usual), and I spent the whole meal trying to pick out the three words of Malagasy I know. I would say ‘twas a very successful day overall.

 

Le Jours de Nos Vies

1/30/18

YO okay so today had many ups and downs lemme outline this shit for you.

+1 it rained this morning which means that it felt like 20 degrees cooler and 30% less humid

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-1 highkey failed my French placement exam meaning I am the lowest of the low one of my professors kept putting his head in his hands whenever I couldn’t understand him which was like every. single. time. It’s fine.

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+1 we finally got to go to the SIT Program Center which supposedly has wifi even though it doesn’t work very well (update: rlly doesn’t work at all; heretofore this post is backdated af)

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-1 cried for the first time since I’ve been here (I think we all knew it was coming) but I was not expecting to cry in front of my academic director immediately following the aforementioned placement exam it’s FINE

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+1 actually had a wonderful dinner with my host family (only the girls, bc the parents seem to give zero fucks about me) and I actually felt like I could communicate with them for once

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-1 I feel super super weird calling my host family’s chauffeur(?) to come pick me up so I wanted to take a taxi home but I wasn’t sure if that was rude?? So I texted him and he called me back IMMEDIATELY and asked me to “attends” aka wait for him I love being awkward af

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+1 we had a presentation about the SAVA region of Madagascar today en français and I kinda sorta understood what the dude was saying (although his ppt helped)

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-1 I really miss my bff and yesterday was her bday and I wasn’t there to celebrate with her and I am SAD (again: note the backdating plz don’t embarrass urself by wishing her a hap bday now)

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+1 to end this on a positive note I LOVE everyone in my program and also all the SIT employees and my professors they have made this last week more than bearable they’ve made it incredible and I know it can only go up from here so blegghhh I love this place and these people I guess I’ll stay a while

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In Which Things Were Better than They Were Before

1/29/18

Hey y’all it’s ya girl coming to you live from my mosquito-net covered bed at 8:37pm, because when the world gets up at 4:30am, you get up with it! New year new me amirite folks.

Today was decidedly better than yesterday, so let’s start with some pessimism and end with some optimism.

  1. I got a freaking ridiculous sunburn idek how it got this bad but I am: dying and idk if they have aloe here so I will continue: dying
  2. It’s way too freaking hot
  3. I don’t feel like eating bc it’s way too freaking hot
  4. Even if I did feel like eating, all they eat here is rice I am so sick of rice
  5. Today is my best friend’s birthday, and I’m not there to spend it with her (I don’t even have wifi to post a cute-ass pic of us a real modern-day tragedy)

Awesome! Glad we got that out of the way. Now for the good stuff.

  1. Today I conquered my fear of Madagascar money (Ariary) and purchased: cell phone calling credit, toilet paper (which we all quickly discovered is NOT a staple in Malagasy culture it’s fine we’re fine), carrots, pasta, a hair clip, and a traditional Malagasy item of clothing called a “lamba,” all for less than 29,000 Ar (approx. 10 dollars).
  2. I got hecka swindled by the carrot lady and the lamba lady (idk if this is good but I found it pretty funny)
  3. Helped my new little sister learn a little English
  4. Learned a little Malagasy (and promptly forgot it, I’m very very bad at oral learning it’s FINE)
  5. Rode a bijaj (small three-wheeled taxi) for the first time
  6. Got out of our first day of class early and had time to hang out on the beautiful Antalaha beach with my new friends and actually speak English for a couple hours before getting picked up by my host family’s chauffeur to go back to their house

What to Expect When You’re… in Antalaha?

1/28/18

Let’s have a talk about: expectations.

When I decided to study abroad in a foreign country, I did not expect to be staying in a house bigger than both my parent’s houses combined (by far. Like no contest. This house wins). I did not expect my host family to have a cook, a cleaning lady, and a chauffeur/photographer?

I did not expect to be sleeping in a bed that looks like it belongs to a princess (it’s a FOUR-POSTER FOLKS).

I did expect to stand out. I knew I would be a vahaza (foreigner). But I did not realize that being a vahaza in Madagascar means that people openly stare as you walk by, and cat-call as you walk down the street (it’s okay I know they only like me for my money) and take selfies with you in the background as you eat dinner with your host family without even trying to hide it. I know it’s not malicious, but I can’t say it’s not unsettling.

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I met three different men that I believed were my host father before I actually met him. He is apparently a wealthy vanilla trader (@my real father you gotta step it up) and has nothing but “Tu connait le français?” to me. I’m assuming he not only knows more words than that and also understands me when I reply “Un peu” every. Single. Time. Alas, he was much too drunk to be speaking to anyone, so that probably explains a lot of his behavior.

My host family is: trés riche. They have their own car (four of them actually, and three motorcycles, and a fucking pool), so they’ll be driving me to my first day of class tomorrow. Actually, their chauffeur will be driving me and my new little sisters to class tomorrow. Yeah, you read that right. They have a fucking chauffeur. Please excuse my French (ha) but I am #shook by this. No pics, bc I’m trying to pretend like this house doesn’t phase me (the dad seems to think he’s a little too big for his britches).

I am definitely having some interesting feelings about my living arrangements but I am really trying to make the most of it and ~immerse myself~ in as much Malagasy culture as possible. Yay for optimism!

Definitely not the best night of my life but: I guess that means it can only go up from here?

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get dropped off at a market to buy something cheap, and then we’ll reconvene to figure out how many of us dumb white people got swindled by a local. Can’t wait!! I guess my vacation is officially over.

As thanks for getting through this boring post, plz enjoy this pic of two boys walking a pig down the beach.

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Samitrana ee (Bye)