I’ve now been at site for 3 weeks. Here is a little bit about what’s going on in SAVA:
1: I built a test garden at my counterpart’s plantation. I’m trying to grow some vegetables that aren’t grown in Madagascar (like bell peppers, radiccio, Serrano peppers, etc.), but then I reserved some room for some vegetables that already grow here (carrots, tomatoes, cabbage). The contender beans are doing the best thus far.
2: I’ve started a garden project with the local women’s group. We are in the process of building a huge garden so they can get some extra income. It will work like a coop, where they invest in the seeds and everybody can share the fruits of our labor.
3: The garden at my house is still a work in progress. I still only have basil and bell peppers planted, but in time it will get there.
4: Finally, I’m working on getting some financing for my counterpart’s cacao coop. This includes building him a website. He has a pepinaire in my village along with six hectares of plantation land (cacao, vanilla, pepper, cloves, fruits, etc.).
Here’s a picture of the river by my site. I’ll get some more soon, but I really don’t want to pull out my DSLR yet…
I’m finally getting settled in. I have my yogurt guy who rides his bike from Sambava everyday to deliver icy cold yogurt, my shrimp lady who fishes in the Bemarivo, and the guy that makes homemade pasta. I am so happy to have electricity though. Just being able to charge my phone and computer make a huge difference. The fluorescent lights they installed, however, do no work at the moment, so I’m still living by candlelight in the evenings (in front of my glowing computer screen, of course).
As you can see from the previous pictures, my house is pretty amazing. It has two rooms: one that I use for my bedroom/lounge, and the other is a dining room/living room/kitchen where I have my gas stove. It’s all wood with the exception of cement floors. I have a kabone (think squat toilet) and a ladosy (a little outdoor house where I take bucket showers) in my backyard. My counterpart is in the process of putting a light in my ladosy so I can shower at night. Before I got here I was pretty terrified to use a kabone, but mine was just built so it’s only me that ever uses it. You can’t really use it at night or you could fall in (think slumdog millionaire). I think I may be the only person in my village with a gas stove. The kids love to watch me light it. I do, however, have a mouse problem… I bought some mouse poison at my market last week, and it definitely didn’t work. I’ve been told you can buy effective poison in Sambava, but they’ve been out of stock for two weeks.
Luckily, I have found the best taxi brusse in SAVA, where I am on a first name basis with the driver. It costs me a dollar to get to Sambava, and whenever I need to go, I just call Jeanive to see when he’s leaving. He drives a Renault station wagon from the early 80s. He always gives me the front seat (to myself, which NEVER happens in Madagascar), while 14 people ride in the back, and another shares his driver’s seat with him! Imagine driving a manual transmission while sharing your seat with a stranger…
I really hate to admit this, but I have a panampy (which translates as helper). Initially, I wanted somebody to do my laundry because I had to take my laundry to the river to get enough water to clean anything, and I also wanted somebody to fetch me water because my well is so far away, and I don’t have the neck muscles to carry anything on my head yet. So one day, my counterpart called me over to his house, and I went into his living room where a young girl was waiting for us. He pretty much said, “this is your panamy, and you will pay her 20,000 ariary a month. She will do anything you ask her to do.” I was too shocked to really say no, but nevertheless, I feel a bit guilty. She comes over everyday to make my bed and sweep my house. She’ll do laundry, dishes, fetch water, or anything else I need. I mean, she probably works less than an hour a day, and makes a decent wage for Madagascar. The average wage for a full day of manual labor here is 1,500 ariary, which is about 75 cents in USD. The buying power in Nosiarina is much better than it is in Sambava, but to give you an idea, a baguette is 400 ariary, a bunch of bananas is 200 ariary, yogurt is 400 ariary, and rice is about 250 ariary a cup. I struggle to spend more than 1,000 ariary everyday at site, but when I come to Sambava I can drop 50,000 ariary in 3 hours. And yes, it’s true, Coke costs less than water. Actually, 8oz of Pastis is cheaper than water in Sambava, and that is with import taxes and everything!
I’ve been listening to lots of James Blake (I highly recommend his self-titled album and the CMYK EP), Actress, and all of the gorilla vs. bear mixes that I was able to download before I left. If anybody would like to send me a CD or thumb drive with new gorilla vs. bear mixes, I would be extremely grateful, or if you have any Percussion Lab podcasts. The mixes are all free on the gorilla vs. bear website and Percussion Lab podcasts are free on iTunes.
I met the owner of one of the hotels in Sambava when he came to visit the plantation with a Norwegian tourist (yes, I had to translate everything from Malagasy to English for him), and he said he would be getting wireless internet in the lounge of his hotel, and that I was welcome to come and use it while drinking THB and watching, get this, the BBC! He said that his TV can get euronews in English too. Seriously, I have no idea what’s going on outside of Madagascar… I got a letter from my mom today saying that Arnold and Maria are splitting because of some love child. Not that I consider that “news”, but at least is was something. Please, please send some Atlantics when you’re done with them. Or even a Sunday New York Times. It’s ok if they are a few weeks old when I get them, I’m just that desperate.
That’s really about it here. Things move very slowly in Madagascar, which is something I’m still getting used to, but I do love it. My house is perfect, my mouse problem is manageable, and the people in my village are great. Looking forward to a successful service in SAVA.
I do, however, think about everybody back in the states all the time. I have another batch of letters going back to the US on Monday, so keep a close eye on your mail. And email me your address if you want a letter or postcard from Madagascar (firstname.lastname@example.org).
p.s. Thanks mom and dad for the pictures of the olive orchard. My counterpart will be very happy. The package isn’t here yet as of 3/30, but I’m sure it will be here next week.
p.p.s. Letters are currently taking about 12 days from California to Sambava. Keep them coming!