Hello to all! Mbola tsara! It’s been nearly three weeks now since touchdown in Madagascar and there is much too much to cover in one concise post, so I am going to do some brief paragraphs and photos covering some general categories!
Translated to English, Antananarivo means city of thousands. The city is bustling with over one million people in orange and red houses on rolling hills, topped with the queen’s palace and mansion of the prime minister. Colors here are vivid. The sun is sharp. People and cars and small taxis fill every small space of the street. Imagine a city as large as San Francisco with no traffic lights and vendors on every corner. We spent our first five days and nights at a hotel on the Avenue de L’Independence and ate our meals inthe hotel club/lounge called the Point d’Exclamation, serenaded by music that was easily 50% songs from High School Musical. Me and 14 other students from the US, one academic director from Ireland and two program staff from Madagascar spent the week learning basic Malagasy, seeing the sights of the city, and figuring out how to exist in a new group in a new place.
After orientation in the highland plateau of Antananarivo, the group flew to the humid tropical eastern coast of the island where we will be staying for the next two months in a town named Antalaha. Although we will not be exploring the dry spiny thickets and baobabs of the west and south, we are at the center of the vanilla trade and the tropical rainforest is at our doorstep. After a lesson in the snake dance with the Malagasy program staff, we threw a party and met our host families. Shaky introductions in newly-learned Malagasy, partial conversations in French, and an impromptu request for the group of students to perform for the families comprised one of the strangest parties I have ever been a part of (the group ended up singing Wagon Wheel and Don’t Stop Believing to acoustic guitar while Malagasy families filmed us in excitement and maybe confusion). I was gratiously accepted into the Tsirihanitra family by Hanitra, Zoe, Aaron, Olivia and Luca. My host mother teaches culinary arts my host brother is seven and reads my wildlife book with me, so home life has been pretty sweet so far.
There have been many an adjustment being in a completely new country and culture. As a foreigner and a white person, I am a vahasa in Malagasy. Being a vahasa is very amusing to many Malagasy people. Sometimes, my bajaj (small taxi) driver will laugh at me when I speak Malagasy, sometimes a car full of school children will scream “vahasa!” in unison as they drive past: I stand out. Madagascar is a country rich in natural resources but most of its people live on pennies to the dollar compared with the US, the wealth gap between a vahasa and locals is usually stark. I am working to improve both my French and Malagasy, with the wonderful help of my patient host family, in order to be able to actually have conversations with people; it is a constant process of cultural adjustment. Check back in with me in three months and see how I am doing! This semester is already challenging beyond anything I have ever done, and I am experiencing so many amazing things that I would have never imagined. (Off campus studies office, you can quote me on that)
As you may know, Madagascar is home to some of the highest percentages of biodiversity and species endemism in the world. As a general fan of plants and animals, I have been pretty ecstatic in spotting certain species (perhaps overly excited if you ask the other students…). With over 11000 species of plants on the island, there is constant curiosity. My various plant-related jobs have given me some knowledge, but there is much more here than can fit in a school greenhouse or garden center (shoutout to any ACE folks reading out there!). Just having seen the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more to come in this department, but here are some highlights…
That’s all for now! A bientot!