I sensed the uncomfortableness and newness  in my classes as I had people interacting and performing skits with each other that normally wouldn’t on a daily basis because of the difference in social class. I served as a bridge between the two. The thought of primarily teaching adults intimidated me. I had no idea what to expect. The students in my class range from hotel owners to housekeepers and cooks. I teach in the afternoons because it is the only time they are free. Sometimes the power goes out completely in my town. The last half hour of my second class is always filled with hope that the power doesn’t go out. One night, as we were going over how to order at a restaurant, lights went out. I was frustrated because it had also gone out the previous day. I was deeply touched when one of my students disappeared and returned with candles. I resumed to teaching under candle light and everyone illuminated their  notes with their cellphones. I was just starting to feel like I was having no real impact. And having that student quietly return with candles made me realize that it all matters. It always does. The Thursday that the United States was celebrating Thanksgiving, I decided to share what this day meant and introduced gratitude and gratefulness. I tried so hard not to tear up while I explained about the importance of being with your family and loved ones on this day. I  said that for some Americans, being with family on Thanksgiving  is more important than Christmas. We ended class by sharing one thing that everyone was grateful for.

 

Giving thanks. Thanksgiving in Madagascar

Giving thanks. Thanksgiving in Madagascar

All of the volunteers in the SAVA region got together to celebrate Thanksgiving. We rented a cab and brought my entire kitchen over to my site mate, Kristen’s house. The previous night we had created a super ambitious and extensive menu over pizza. To name a few, turkey, chicken, steak,  fish, mashed potatoes, veggies, fresh fruit, and a pumpkin pie. We shopped at the market the entire morning. Half way through our shopping, we decided to substitute chicken for turkey since we were unsure if we would be able to find one. Also because no one felt comfortable dealing with a LIVE turkey.  I was proud of us, all seven of us had managed to find everything we needed at all the different shops and markets. As we made our way to the last market on the other side of town, I saw a turkey! After some serious consideration, we decided not to buy it because we had already bought so much fresh fish, meat and two chickens. Besides, Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey. We cooked the entire day. I was dubbed head chef. We invited over twenty friends and they started appearing early. They were excited to be participating in our American tradition. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed. Not only was it stressful to prepare a meal with limited resources, it was stressful to people manage and to make sure every dish was being prepared. Some of our guests were even put to work, which was fun for them. At 9pm, we  had a spread of fifteen different dishes on the table. Kristen lead our “ceremonial” evening with prayer, which is a Malagasy custom before eating. Another volunteer prayed in Hebrew, and then I lead the gratitude sharing. We had guests from South America, Estonia, and Madagascar. The South Americans spoke in Spanish and I translated. Most of our Malagasy friends spoke in Malagasy or French. One of the highlights of the evening was seeing the satisfaction in people’s faces as they tried my homemade pumpkin pie that I made completely from scratch. I’ve made pumpkin pies before, but they were raw and vegan. This was a more traditional pie, made with a real pumpkin and in Madagascar!  My site mate said she was dreaming if that gasy pumpkin pie the next day. Success!

After spending two weeks at the training center for IST (in-service training) and reuniting with the people I first came to the country with, some of us went on vacation for Christmas. My friend Charlotte and I headed to Nosy Be, an island on the northwest coast. Getting there was a long adventure.

Our way to Nosy be via Taxi Brousse

Our way to Nosy be via Taxi Brousse

We taxi broussed and  it rained for hours and were stuck in the middle of the road overnight. Twenty four hours later, we arrived at the port. From there, we took a small motor boat over to the island. Up until then, it was the scariest trip ever. Even though I felt snug the entire way on the ride, I closed my eyes through most of it. the roads were narrow and our driver seemed like he was training for Nascar. Oh and the boat ride, lets just say that I held my breath and hoped I wouldn’t have to swim the rest of the way. *breathe* Everything about Nosy be and its surrounding islands was beautiful. The people were too. The day we landed in Nosy Komba (Lemur Island), Charlotte and I wanted to walk around the village.  I was hungry and bought bananas at a fruit stand. A persistent guide followed us around. We wanted to explore on our own, we were Peace Corps volunteers and we could communicate in Malagasy enough to be social. We didn’t want him joining us. He never left. He even told me to stop eating my bananas because I would need them for the lemurs. “Yea, ok dude,” sarcastically was my response.

 

Getting loved by lemurs on Nosy Komba

Getting loved by lemurs on Nosy Komba

We continued our walk and the guide placed a banana in my hand and a lemur jumped right on me! It was the coolest thing ever! Charlotte and I took turns feeding them. They were so fun! Definitely a highlight from the trip. We met other locals on our way back who were about our age. They were impressed by our language abilities. I even had moment of being deep in Malagasy, when I said that people shared a silent language that everyone can  understand. I was on a high the entire day. A new island, lemurs, and feeling good about communicating in a language that is only spoken here. The day we went snorkeling at Nosy Tanikely (little island place) was amazing! I felt like I was in an underwater magical place. I could have stayed in the water all day. I wished I still owned an underwater camera.  Different colors of coral, huge colorful tropical fish and sea turtles were all in sight. I was in complete awe. They were the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. I noticed a sea turtle eating and decided to wait for it to be done. Then I swam with it for a few minutes.   We relaxed and enjoyed everything that is included in a vacation. The things that people don’t normally think about, like the certainty of there being a toilet,  warm shower, crisp clean sheets, ice, and running water were nice to have. And it was incredible to spend time with my friend. It was an added bonus to be able to communicate with people.  In the two days that we spent at Nosy Komba, we had met a a lot of the people who live at the village. On a walk around, we greeted women hanging out in front of their home. We were invited to join them. Some of them had their face decorated with traditional face painting known to beautify your skin. When the moments that remind me of home come, I’m amazed by them. As Charlotte had her face painted, a shy toddler starred at me. Later, she spent the rest of the time on my lap. Her name is Katalia, similar to my niece, Kataleya.

Traditional face painting in Nosy Komba

Traditional face painting in Nosy Komba

One night after dinner,  we decided to go swimming. The sky was lit by the moon. Thirty minutes later of swimming in the Mozambique Channel, we were surprised to find all our stuff missing. Everything grew legs and walked away! At the moment, it wasn’t funny at all. The following forty eight hours were the most stressful and frustrating consecutive two days. They consisted of us waking up the chief of the village, (the highest form of authority), waking up the lady from our hotel for the key, and taking a boat back to file a report with the local Gendarmerie on Nosy Be.  Our Cellphones, wallets, purses, money, identification forms, dresses,  and my precious camera was taken. We tried hard to not let this very bad event ruin  what otherwise was an incredible time. And that was hard to do. I realized that although I’ve in a sense made a home at my site where people know me, in my town; that I was viewed as a tourist in other parts of Madagascar. We got too comfortable on our little island. Just like there is always  space in a taxi brousse in Madagascar, and always time to celebrate moments that are important in your life, as well as still time to learn a new language, we decided to open space in our minds and hearts to enjoy our last days on the island. It was time to shake it off and welcome the next adventure. We visited one of Charlotte’s relatives who lives in an isolated part of the island. We took a pirogue to the village where he lives and were welcomed with an exquisite Christmas lunch and homemade yogurt and fruit the following morning.

Tafondro, Nosy Be Charlotte Emilie Photography

Tafondro, Nosy Be
Charlotte Emilie Photography

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