Apr 3, 2009

The End: And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here?

I never went looking for 'service,' one could argue that 'service' found me. It all started with a visit from my older brother during my senior year in college. Over a piece of pizza we discussed my anxiety around the decisions I needed to make over the next month as graduation was approaching. My brother, who just returned from a vacation at a National Park, suggested that I explore a Conservation Corps as a potential path (the Utah Conservation Corps to be exact). This suggestion sparked some curiosity and I hit the web, eventually ending-up at the website “cooljobs.com” and stumbling across an AmeriCorps program in Alaska. I emailed paperwork, had a phone interview, got a flight as a graduation gift, and three weeks later I was in Alaska. Alaska was defiantly challenging, but also eye-opening. It not only gave me an opportunity for pause, but also broadened my perspective by exposing me the many ways I could 'serve' a community, ways I could stand-up for what I believed-in, and ultimately to quote Gandhi a way to “be the change [I] wanted to see in the world.” I found the challenges in Alaska to be rewarding but it left me wanting more. So...I signed up for an AmeriCorpsVISTA program in Philadelphia working with the United Way and as part of a national 'service' movement around Martin Luther King Jr. Two months on the job I decided to turn in my application for Peace Corps.

If you told me I was going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer when I graduated college I would have called you crazy. I always thought of Peace Corps Volunteers as a higher 'caliber,' a club I never felt worthy of membership. A two year commitment, the need to learn another language, the cultural adjustment, the potential of getting some exotic disease...the whole thing was always a little crazy to me.

Yet, here I am. An RPCV with an experience thats mine and mine alone. An experience that may take a lifetime to fully understand the depth and breath of its rewards.

This blog has far exceeded any expectations I had for it. When created, I thought it would just be used as an easy way to post messages about me, saving time and money in slow and overcrowded internet cafes. Yet through this selfishness something unselfish managed to blossom. This blog was not only my outlet for frustration and a why for me to process my whole experience, but also a way to bring home and share Malagasy culture with family and friends.

I wasn't a GREAT Peace Corps volunteer, but I can say with confidence that I did my job. This has become apparent this past week through many encounters, and I'm sure it will only continue to reveal itself as time passes. This past week alone it has revealed itself in the frustration in my mothers voice when she couldn't find recent news on the political crisis. It was obvious when my Sister-in-law referred to people from my village by name, people she has never met. It was also revealed in the curiosity of grandparents who asked pointed and insightful cultural questions about life, the Malagasy people, and my stories.

I'm no superman, I just decided to do something when it comes to the things I care about. Anyone can serve... Maybe that is my first lesson out of all this, you don't need to be of any particular 'caliber' to serve. I think Martin Luther King Jr. said it best.

“If you want to be important wonderful! If you want to be recognized wonderful! If you want to be GREAT wonderful! But recognize that 'he who is greatest among you shall be his servant.' That's the new definition of GREATNESS. By giving that definition of GREATNESS it means that everyone can be GREAT, because everybody can SERVE. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" to serve. You don't have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant."
Excerpted from "The Drum Major Instinct", a sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

In closing, Thank you to everyone who continued to follow-me throughout this crazy little journey. Thank you for the packages, the mail, the kind comments and warm emails. One is only as strong as their 'team,' and I had one heck of a support 'team.' I'm not only blessed, but grateful!

Thank you!

Mar 31, 2009

I [heart] JoBurg

We Flew in Tuesday Night
SURPRISE!—a transitional conference

It’s the last thing a PCV wants to experience and it only happens when a PC program gets ‘suspended’ or ‘closed.’

When we walked into the Tuesday night welcome meeting we are told that we will all be ‘closing’ our service as Peace Corps Volunteers in Madagascar and that we’ll need to be making some decisions over the next 3 days. We are given a packet of paper work (health and administrative forms) and instructed on what ‘adjustment/next step’ sessions we will need to attend. A team of Peace Corps doctors take the floor instructing us that we need to give three stool samples and give some tips on proper collection. We are told that we need get blood work and a TB test done as soon as possible. Our minds spinning, some have walked-out in tears. I still distracted by the orange juice, the carpet under my feet, and the window less carpet walled room I am sitting in.

We are told one more time for clarity. “Everyone is closing their service with Peace Corps Madagascar. You will need to make decisions over the next few days; you will need to have a plan.”

I put my orange juice down as a chill cuts through me

------Welcome to Johannesburg, South Africa-----
(A place with a much different feel 14 months ago)

The King-Kong of Culture Shock
I imagine it’s natural to experience a little culture shock going from Madagascar to South Africa. On my flight in I was blown away by the boxed lunch of individually wrapped food items—85% of which was sugar (either whipped, baked, or jelled). On the flight we flew over homes with swimming pools, high-ways, a golf course, and a water park. But this was nothing compared to where I went after our Tuesday night ‘welcome meeting.’

It was St. Patrick’s Day and our Hotel had an Irish Pub. The pub was packed with people—Peace Corps Volunteers, tourists, locals. It was ten seconds before a friend handed me a green beer. I was greeted and being wished a ‘Happy St. Patick’s Day’ by Peace Corps friends I haven’t seen in nine months, all while standing in a bar that could have been in any small American college town. ….It quickly sunk in that I wasn’t in Madagascar anymore….

Decision Time
Peace Corps provided us with options. Re-instate, re-enroll or direct transfer. Re-instate does not happen until the program in Madagascar re-opens. At which point PC will contact you and ask if you are interested in serving in Madagascar again. It doesn’t mean it will happen and it doesn’t mean that you will go back to your site (in fact it’s rare), you also don’t know when it will happen (2 months, 6 months, a year). Re-enrollment is like starting all over—a new country, new training, new site, another two year commitment. Direct transfer was the ability to transfer your service to another country and finish out your term there. Direct Transfer was my only real option and I was eager to put my name in for it—mainly to see what was being offered. Direct Transfer is difficult to get (‘the stars need to align’). Medical requirements are different for each country, spots are limited, and many have language requirements (Malagasy not being one of them). After reading over my options I put my name down for two programs (the only two that didn’t require a language). After a sleepless night and hours and continual self-questioning, that next morning I told the conference facilitator that I wanted my name removed, I was pursuing direct transfer for the wrong reasons—I was looking for closure and I wasn’t going to find it.

When I was serving with AmeriCorps in Alaska (before Peace Corps) I had the opportunity to site-in on a Native American tribal discussion on land ownership and oil exploration. When the meeting finished, the audience could ask questions to the panel of elders. I don’t remember any of the questions asked, but I vividly remember a response that was given. Old, frail, and eyes shaded by his long thinning gray hair, an elder stood up to respond. “My father never understood why the white man asks so many questions.” He said in a raspy voice. “The white man is always seeking answers to the questions that he already has answers for. You know the answer, it’s just not an answer you like, so you continually search for a new one.’’

My God…Is She Crazy?
We loved to joke about the women who facilitated our staging (two days spent in D.C. before flying to Madagascar). She was informative but very opinionated, pushy, and a bit over zealous. Staging was our first bonding experience and as an outcome she would become a person we would refer to throughout our pre-service training. It was a way to bring a laugh and a smile during stressful times.

Our last day at Staging she read us a story about sunglasses. I don’t remember the details, but the point was simple. You see the world through a certain shade of sunglasses, but through your Peace Corps experience you learn to see the world through an entirely different shade. When your experience is finally finished and you return home, both shades (the pre-existing and the newly acquired) blend together to form a shade that is new and unique.

“What!” a friend said to me during a break around the Holiday Inn water cooler during staging.
“Did that even make sense?” Another friend joined in on the conversation
“Red and yellow don’t make green,” a buddy added “It’s not possible.”
We all had a good laugh!

As I wait in Heathrow airport for my connecting flight. I’m sitting in an airport terminal that resembles more of a shopping mall. The man in the business suite on my right is pounding away on a keyboard. On my left is a women filing her nails and her perfume aroma is starting to make me a bit nauseous. On the bench in-front of me is a man in a kilt who has now passed-out after too many drinks from the pub directly behind me.

Boy…I don’t know what color I am seeing, but it is defiantly different.

The Cheetah Inn
Before heading home to the U.S. of A. I did get to go on a South African excursion through Krugar National Park. It was a good trip minus the fever on day four. We did get to see four out the BIG five (water buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant). Unfortunately, we never spotted the (apparently rather elusive) rhino.

I would like to share this memory from the charming Cheetah Inn

We arrive late at night, jumping out of the back of the safari trucks. It was a long ride from JoBurg to Krugar and although we just went on a sixty minute ‘sunset’ drive and spotted zebra, impala, and giraffe. Many of us can only think about food and a warm bed. A woman greets us with the keys to our rooms and tells us to hurry back because dinner is waiting.

The charming Cheetah Inn, although in the middle of ‘nowhere’ is well maintained—it has a swimming pool, nine hole mini golf course, a large Cheetah fountain (think high school papier-mâché project) and well trimmed gardens. All surrounded by an electric fence for our protection, which keeps out large dangerous predators. Even with all this ‘charm’ the hotel does feel a bit eerie—the buildings are all painted the same tacky light pink and the lobby floors are carpeted with green astrocarpet. It also doesn’t help that we are the only guests staying at the Cheetah Inn (that night).

We gathered by the fire outside, where dinner was waiting. A soft spoken woman of short stature wearing a very flashy cheetah print blouse greeted us all and began to review our itinerary for the next day.
When she finishes a friend asks “what is your name?”
“Pearl” she says softly, “Pearl, like diamonds and pearls.”

Pearl served me some soup and after a few spoonfuls I immediately begin to feel better.
“This place feels surreal.” I say to Chris who is seated next to me. “I feel like I’m at grandma’s house.”

Pearl sits across from me and begins sipping her soup from a spoon. Feeling a need to break the awkward silence, I start to think of a question to ask her, but she beats me to it.
“I had a very sad day today” she says in a soft single monotone voice while staring down at her spoon and bowl.
Startled, awkward, and feeling a bit obligated, I follow her socially awkward comment with a question.
“Oh… Why is that?” I ask.
“I went to a funeral today, my closest friend died” she says, finally breaking eye contact with her spoon to briefly glance up at me.
“It was a wonderful little funeral, they spread the ashes at a beautiful little park near by” she puts her spoon down and begins to slowly fold the napkin placed in-front of her.
“God” I respond “I’m really sorry to hear that Pearl, I’m sorry for your loss.” I try to show some sympathy.
To be spared from any more awkwardness, I excuse myself, grab my plate and walk to the women serving food.
Chase is already waiting in line.
“Wow, this looks great!” he tells the kitchen staff as they serve him some meat.
“Yea, it sure does” I say with a smile
As I wait in line I can hear Pearl’s voice from the other side of the room. “I was in-love once,” she says to a group of people at the table “he was the man of my dreams..”
Over my shoulder Pearl is still seated, but now slowly unfolding the napkin she just folded moments ago. As the women dishes me out some salad. Chase turns to return back to the table.
He stops in transit and whispers in my ear. “Dude, I have seen a lot of horror movies that start this way. No lie, half of us will be dead by morning.”

It was enough to make me think about the electric fence—is it really for our protection?

Mar 12, 2009

…and for all that Sainte Luce, I am sorry!

‘Decision made to suspend PC Madagascar. Very sad. Process of leaving will be lengthy. Prepare tonight for consolidation and onward as flights are confirmed. STAY IN SITE. For now we must be able to find you!’

I read the text message last night as I was eating one my favorite loaka (side dishes) in Madagascar. As you can imagine my food quickly became tasteless.

As I tossed and turned all night, I continually had to reread the message on my phone…check that I didn’t dream it, make sure I understood it, the ‘reality’ of the situation was slowly creeping in.

I can’t say I have many regrets in my shortly lived life. Maybe I wish I played a particular sport, had the courage to ask out a particular girl, or wish that at times I pursued a particular path. But the decision that was made for me only a few hours ago will haunt me for the unforeseeable future. Here’s why…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Peace Corps Experience

The Good—I think I do a good job summing up all the ‘good’ under my last post and throughout this blog. The ‘good’ is found in the lives you touch, the smiles you bring, and the relationships you build. It’s an indescribable experience, a bond that is shared with only other PC volunteers who are serving or have served, an experience that could never be captured in just a few words.

The Bad—I have also touched on throughout this blog. It’s the homesickness, the heat, the rain, the mold, the food (or lack of), the rats, the infections and persistent infections, and the leaky roofs. It’s the ‘labels’ you are given, the stereotypes you try desperately to break, and the harassment you endure.

We all know that we need the ‘bad.’ It compliments the ‘good.’ Without the ‘Bad,’ the ‘Good’ would never be as sweet, beautiful, or nearly as rewarding.

The Ugly—the ‘Ugly’ I hate. One joins Peace Corps naively overlooking it. I joined Peace Corps knowing I was in for a marathon. I endured training—pushing my comfort level beyond its limits. I knew this course was going to be hard, uncomfortable, and at times brutally unbearable. But nothing is worse than falling short of an overarching goal—crossing the finish line. To stop in the middle of a race and forced to walk off the course…it’s the feelings of defeat, humiliation, and failure all entwined.

The Bitterness of this Experience
Thoughts of my experience here in Madagascar will forever be sweet—this was a life enriching experience. But that sweetness will also be associated with a sharp bitterness. My community took me in as a ‘student,’ they shared their culture, beliefs, hopes, and fears. We laughed together, grieved together. We experienced the cold and the heat, times of plenty and moments of scarcity. They provided me with so much and in the end I feel I have done little to return the favor. This is a common feeling, so I have been told. Returned PC volunteers would agree— all volunteers get more out of their experience than they could ever have given in return. But my sharp bitterness isn’t just that. It’s rooted in the ‘if only…’ and the ‘what if…’ Because I have been forced off the course prematurely, I will never know my full potential as a Peace Corps Volunteer—it’s been taken. I will never know what obstacles I might have faced or what challenges I may have needed to be overcome. Ultimately, I will also never know the potential of my impact. What I could have built on—the relationships I worked so hard build and the trust I managed to create. All those lives I could have touched.

…and for all that Sainte Luce, I am sorry!

Mar 9, 2009

Welcome to Town with a Smile

It’s nice to leave site and return to town armed with a list of things to do (sounds crazy…but its as it should be). Usually when I go to town it’s an orchestrated event, but you still feel like you only accomplish half of the planned ‘to do’ list you bring with you.

I got a call last week asking if I wanted to have dinner with the US Ambassador who was coming to the Ft. Dauphin area and was hoping to dine with some PCVs on Tuesday night. The sad part is (although expected / we are still experience some political ‘turbulence’) the ambassador had to cancel, but a group of representatives from the US Embassy are still coming down and they will still be taking us out to eat as planned, which is great! We are going to dined and (maybe) wined at the nicest restaurant in town!

…So I got that going for me…

As for the current political ‘turbulence.’ Marc R. (the President) has called for an end on all anti-‘his’government rallies and has started enforcing police blockades around Tana. I’ve also heard some talk about a Military commander who has stayed ‘neutral’ thus far (not excepting bribes and not picking a side) was ‘forcefully’ replaced by the President. Whether it is true and what it would mean remains unknown.

Anyway, negations looked promising for a while, but fell apart two weeks ago. The opposition looked like they were loosing steam, but periodically regain momentum. It’s a complicated struggle for power—and when I think I get a handle on what is going on, I get thrown a loop. So, I’ve partly given up.

Life in Sainte Luce is NORMAL. You wouldn’t even know anything is going on—apart from the slight increase on some commodity goods. Overall people in Sainte Luce, for the most part, don’t care.
Remember that Madagascar is a large island (the width of the state of Pennsylvania and the length of New York City to Miami) Everything that’s going on is taking place in and around Tana (i.e. North Carolina) and Ft. Dauphin (i.e. Florida) remains calm. We are all still on ‘Standfast,’ which means daily communication with Peace Corps Staff.

From a still VERY safe part of the island

It’s nice to be missed…

I think it was clear to a lot of people that I almost left. ‘‘You don’t know what you got till its gone’’ and it is applicable on both ends here. To be almost robbed of this experience has forever changed my outlook of it and I think has also rekindled community interest in what I’m doing here and who I am. I have been approached about seeds, tress, gardening advice all over the last day or two. I’ve replanted 15 Moringa trees near the Elementary school with a friend who was eager to help, all while spending the majority of my time away from St. Luce and working with the community north of me helping to plant 24,000 trees.

I’m writing this because I have hit a transition point in my service. Finished and through is the ‘cultural’ adjustment and awkwardness. I can finally turn the page on ‘survival’ mode and focus on the ‘improval’ part of my stay. This is my opportunity to make small fundamental changes in individual lives. I have been in country about a year now. That’s one year spent out of my comfort zone and a whole year away from family and friends. I’m not sure what this next year will bring. I do know its not going to be an easy ride, but committed and determined I am. I have started something here and I intend to finish it. The second leg of this journey beings today and I’ll start by going to church (its Sunday) and greet people with my usual smile and cheer. I am a firm believer that bringing a smile to a face is development!

Not bad.

‘‘Not a bad way to start your day..huh..Brendan?’’
‘What’s that?’’ I ask as I take off my bike helmet.
‘Biking on a dirt road in the middle of Madagascar’’
‘Hah..Yea, I cant complain.’’ I reply with a grin.

It’s easy to get lost out here. To forget about where you are and what you are doing at any given moment. We all do it…and I find myself slowly slipping back into the old habit I tried to leave behind in the States.
Every night as I cook dinner I have the luxury of watching the sun fall behind the mountains that hug the south-eastern cost of Madagascar. Sometimes as the sun sets the sky becomes illuminated with every shade of pink, red, and orange imaginable. It’s an amazing way to close out a day.
Recently I have had the pleasure of waking up before the sun and hoping on my bike and riding 8k to the area my NGO and the local community are planting trees. I get to watch as the sun creeps above the horizon and burns off the morning dew. It’s also an amazing way to start the day.

That’s right my friend…this shit is hard, no doubt, but honestly I am in no position to complain.

Happy ‘I have been in Madagascar for a whole year’ day!
One word… ‘‘crazy’’
Come and knock on my door…

I heard the knock on the door while cutting up the squash I picked form my garden (squash and a watermelon are all I’ve been able to grow in the last few hot dry months). The knock was followed by a question and I immediately knew the voice. It was Ben Ombie (chief of the village) and he wanted me to follow him with by camera, while pointing in the direction of ‘downtown’ Ambaondrika. I say sure, grab my things and briskly walk with him down the road and into a crowd of gathering people. At first I thought he wanted me to take his picture, but the site of the crowd made me a bit confused. ‘Maybe he wants me to take a picture of everyone’ I thought to myself. As we approached the crowd parted and it all suddenly became clear.

At the feet of the awaiting crowd laying on some banana leaves was the carcass of tow conjoined baby calves—two heads, two sets of front legs all sharing a single torso and two hind legs.

The crowd was continually scanning my face trying to read my reaction. I was continually scanning the faces of the crowd trying to read their reaction. Not knowing what to say, I paused and let the situation soak in. No one seemed frightened or scared, which I can only assume is good—this isn’t viewed as some kind of horrible omen.

‘‘Wow!’’ I said in gasy, ‘‘that’s a surprise.’’

I examine it for a few minutes.
After which I snapping two pictures (one with Ben Ombie), I turned to the guy next to me and asked (jokingly) if he was gonna eat it. He smiled and took a few steps backwards with his hands in the air saying ‘‘No, No, No.’’ We both smiled and everyone laughed.

I thought for a brief moment about picking up a stick and drawling pictures in the sand to explain how this type of thing happens. But, I quickly remembered the last time I tried to explain something through illustration (on the topic of ‘what my dad does for a living,’ which quickly morphed into the topic of ‘specialization.’) it did more harm than good—causing mass confusion. So, I let this opportunity for a lesson in human reproduction and anatomy pass me by.

As for the picture…as word got out that I took it people have been asking to buy a copy. That’s right! BUY a copy…slowly we are working away from a mentality of ‘give me,’ to one of ‘show me, teach me, and sell me.’

Two Moments…

I hear the cry from outside my house. I recognized the sound of the voice immediately.
‘E!’ I yelled. I dropped my notebook on the floor and peeked out the doorway of my house.
‘I haven’t seen you in a long time!’ I shout from the door.
‘Where have you been!’ he replies with a smile.
I walk outside and shake his hand with a smile that had to rival his. He puts his hand on my shoulder.
‘Salama!’ another voice cries out form the road.
Oh..What’s new!’ I yell back with equal excitement as we both walk towards the road.
All three of us chatted a few minutes; I explained where I have been and gave both men some water, all while sporting a big smile the whole time.

I don’t need to write anymore…I think I captured it…
This is what Peace Corps is all about… Bridging two very different worlds.

I spot Seringoty as he walks home from work. (he’s a guard for the Rio Tinto research camp).
‘Going home?’ I ask.
‘How are you?’ he replies ‘I haven’t seen you in awhile.’
‘All is good!’ I reply. ‘Its going to rain!’ I point to the dark clouds in the horizon. ‘We need it, its hasn’t rained in awhile, its good for the cassava, the garden, and all the trees.’
‘But your house leaks’ he replies with a smirk as he points to my roof and continues to walk by.
Damn…he’s right!

I wrote this awhile ago and never posted it:
I think its appropriate keeping with the ‘smile’ theme
‘‘Yes, We Can’’

‘‘What do you do in St. Luce?’’ I was recently asked by a tourist.
‘‘I live here,’’ I replied.
‘‘and do..?’’

I once heard a story of a PCV who worked as an environment volunteer in southern Madagascar and was asked a similar question. The volunteer didn’t respond. He simply smiled, turned to the Malagasy boy next to him and slowly extended his clenched fist out in front of him. The boy responded by doing the same and as their fists met; it brought a smile on his face that stretched from ear to ear. The volunteer didn’t say a word; he didn’t need to, because the smile he created said it all.
A lot of volunteers are self-conscious about their work, and I am defiantly among them. As a volunteer you are continually frustrated, you often feel like you are doing nothing, or working hard and producing little if any tangible result. Personally, I am not sure if I will ever be completely comfortable answering the above question. But over the past few weeks it has been made clear what a big part of my job here is and I’d like to share it.

I am providing the people of my community with what I have had throughout my brief life. Whenever I thought I couldn’t, I always had someone telling me that I could. It’s called encouragement!

I am a motivator, a cheerleader, a generator of laughter and smiles (a clown? Is there a better word?). You could say I am the Barrak Obama of my community. I tell people that they ‘can.’ ‘‘Yes, you can’’ and ‘‘yes, we can’’ are words I find myself continually saying. I might teach someone about how to make a cook stove, how to plant a tree, how to grow a new variety of vegetable, or about the nutritional value found in Moringa leaves, but it is never without instilling a little bit of ‘hope’ through encouragement in people. This is done by continually reminding them that they are the ones building the stove, planting the tree, and growing the vegetable. Maybe that’s why I have trouble answering the question above, I never see myself as part of the equation. My advice to other volunteers…get your pom-poms out! I don’t leave home without mine.

Feb 15, 2009


Thank you Jake for turning these photos into Jpegs.

Vacation! A little coffee or beer (depends on the time of day this was taken)

Being a good PCV and learning about rice farming during IST (I live in a fishing village down by the sea, unfortunatly rice doesnt grow all that well)

Look at the good looking guy! Sosony and his wife Delna showing off the new TV and sound system (I think I posted about this early on)

Center is my good friend Kolasy and on his left is Fabrees (both took me fishing)

The day I became a volunteer and blue was the 'in' color

My Banking Family

Friends and village workers of the World Food Progam. They cook for kids every day of the week. Nice Hat!

Bruce Lee...oh boy..Watch out!

Roller Coaster Ride

‘Be packed and ready to go, you should be out of here by Saturday.’ This was what we were all told this time last week, but as the week unfolded and the violence that everyone expected to happen never did (with the exception of a Police shooting in Tulear over food aid) we could all get to go back to our sites.

We have all been told that if today is ‘uneventful’ we can be released from ‘consolidation’ and return to our sites under ‘stand fast’ (or alert) which means we would need to be in contact with a PCO daily. Regions that have experienced violence will have individual sites assessed by Peace Corps to determine safety and security.

This has been one crazy roller coaster ride; it’s hard to be mentally ready for any eventual outcome. Stress levels are high; the mind is continually turning working out possible outcomes. We arrived two weeks ago—at first we dismissed our gathering as Peace Corps being overly cautious (life was normal down here and continues to be). Then we saw the damage from the riots. Buildings looted, burned, and the charred bodies of looters from a store that caught fire. We saw pictures of the demonstrations that were taking place and knew this was not going to be resolved quickly. We were told that Peace Corps couldn’t keep us consolidated forever—we thought we would go home. But the first week seemed to be calm and the gatherings by the opposition became smaller—we thought we would be back at site by the end of the h Saturday took a tragic turn, demonstrators marched to the Presidential Palace and the Presidential Guard opened fire on the crowd killing many (number killed changes depending the source and many are still missing, Amnesty International is calling for an investigation)—we all thought we would be out by Tuesday. Tuesday was suppose to be the installation of the ‘traditional’ government, the opposition leader and his appointed Ministers were going to take power from the President. But Tuesday came and went, with peaceful demonstrations. We waited for two days with little news. Finally Peace Corps told us that Saturday was the day. Depending how Saturday would unfold would determine our future here in Madagascar. But Saturday also was uneventful—two rival demonstrations only a half mile apart, both peaceful. The twists, the turns, and the continual stress of ‘unknowing’ has caused some volunteers to leave or finish service early. Many of us had to say ‘goodbye’ to PCV friends over the past two weeks.

Today is Monday—some say today will be ‘the day’ the opposition installs self-appointed Ministers in offices around Tana (the capitol), others think the opposition has lost its ‘power’ and the movement is slowly fizzling out.
As always we don’t know what the future will bring….

What is known….the damage has already been done! Foreign investment will suffer; the degree of which is still unknown. Goods are slowly rising in price, sugar is becoming scarce in Ft. Dauphin, and the price of oil and rice has gone up as well. Tourism is likely to suffer—travel warnings have been posted by the English and the French (Americans as well, but the American tourism market here is small). This is also happening at a ‘bad’ time of year—not that there is ever a ‘good’ time for a political crisis. But southern Madagascar is currently suffering from a drought and Madagascar has been continually getting hit by Cyclones, 3 in the last 2 months, which destroy homes and ruin crops. Here is an excerpt from the UN’s most recent Situation Report which highlighted serious future concerns.
From that report:

"The continuing political crisis is likely to compound the fight for daily survival of the two thirds of the Malagasy population living in poverty, risking pushing many even further over the edge. As the crisis spreads into other major cities and towns of the country, it is expected to generate equal humanitarian challenges.
The UN Country Team is not only concerned about the immediate humanitarian impact, but also that Madagascar is likely to find itself with weakened capacity to respond to a number of humanitarian challenges, either current or lying ahead, including the cyclones, floods and drought, to which the country is excessively prone"

It is apparent we are all needed here more than ever…

What is also apparent— this is far from being over…if we do return to sites I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself in this situation again before the end of my service (I have a year left)—People here seem to be fed-up or at least the people I speak with.

That’s all for now and I hope my next post will be a month from now reporting on my struggles and triumphs with Malagasy culture, the world of development, my Moringa campaign and the Cook Stoves project.

I continue to be VERY safe (if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here), thank you for all the thoughts and prayers!


Feb 12, 2009


Our situation here is very ‘fluid.’ If you talked to me on Tuesday, I would have put money down on the fact that we would be leaving. But Tuesday (the day Andry was going to march around Tana and put his self-appointed ministers in office came and went). Yesterday (Wednesday) came and went with no issues. 25,000 people (or more depending on the source) gathered at a stadium peacefully in Tana to show support for the President (…or democracy).

For the most part, people here are sick of the President—but they also don’t want any more violence. As a ‘cryptic’ message stated from Peace Corps a week ago ‘Things continue to be fluid.’ Steve the Peace Corps Director of Madagascar summed up the situation here well when speaking with my NGO. Each day is like placing every good and bad scenario on a wheel and giving it a good spin, we don’t know what will happen or what each day will bring. We can only be prepared for the worst.

With that said, we have been told that we cannot be ‘consolidated’ forever, which means Saturday is our ‘trigger’ day. If things remain calm, we could realistically go back to site and stay ‘on alert,’ but if things get remotely ‘ugly,’ we would be pulled out and the program here in Madagascar would become suspended.

Of course I wouldn’t say it’s definite that I will still be here next week (things after all are ‘fluid’), but the only reason why I am still writing this post in Madagascar is because it’s still very much a possibility.

Just a little information on my state of mind:

Manahira walked down the street and greeted me with a smile. I’ve been held up in the hotel now for two weeks. My interaction with him brings mixed feelings. He tells me about his Moringa Tree—explaining how fast it’s been growing. We chat about how he hasn’t been able to teach the last week because of the ‘crisis’ (he’s the elementary school Teacher in Amboandrika and schools have been suspended). I ask about the condition of the sea in St. Luce, he reports that it’s been rough—no fish (we just had a cyclone) and the price of rice and cassava (the two food stables) have gone up dramatically. I tell him a little about my situation and encourage him to start adding the leaves of his Moringa tree to his side dishes (for nutrional value). I hope for the best by saying that I’ll see him again on Saturday in St. Luce, we shake hands and part-ways.

The question that keeps rolling through my mind…Is that the last time I will ever see that person (or in the case of Manahira, someone from my village)? It’s a joy to see people, but it is also a bit awkward and painful because you both don’t know what the future holds.

Here is what a friend told me two days ago. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer here and extended twice (serving a total of four years). He is now teaching english for a local NGO.

‘’Brendan, I got lucky man.’’ He tells me over a Coke.

‘’We all want a nice experience, but mine was almost too nice. This is Africa man, it’s full of instability, your experiencing the ‘real deal.’ Me…I just got lucky man…that’s all.’’

I’m not sure why, but I do find some comfort in his words…

We wait, wait until Saturday…