Monthly Archives: March 2018

Big catch up!

As it has been a while since I have posted, here are some brief vignettes from the past few weeks:

Cap Est

While it was all the way back in February, I think it is still worth a mention! Our group got to spend a week at the easternmost point of the island, Cap Est, and study marine biology research methods. The drive to and from the site involved two river crossings in which our taxi brousse was driven onto two large metal canoes with students filing in around. We were powered by two men with long rowing poles, and floated past other boats carrying fleets of motorcycles as a couple of families of cows swam across nearby. The beauty of our campsite on the beach and days in the salt and sun after our journey made for quite the surreal week. Time was spent snorkeling, swimming, talking with local fisher people, climbing lighthouses, and drinking coconuts from the trees.

International Women’s Day 

Did you know that March 8 is international women’s day? Neither did I!

SIT and CURSA students and staff, at CURSA after our performance and debate

To celebrate, our 13 female students collaborated with 13 female students from CURSA, the local university. Malagasy women studying French, English, and the sciences mingled with our American liberal arts and sciences students as we all learned a dance to perform on the holiday. March 8th is a huge celebration in Madagascar, and often involves women dancing and men clapping. The word feminism never really comes up, and the day is more similar to a large party just for women. Our group performed a choreographed ‘rock n roll’ style partner dance, set to the theme song of CURSA. We also participated in a debate between the groups of women on the topic of agriculture in the United States versus Madagascar. The holiday concluded with snacks and soda for everyone, and the connections made between our female students I hope will continue into the future.

Andapa and rural village stay (+ cyclone)

Last week we travelled by bus to what some call the “rice bowl” of Madagascar: the Andapa basin. The shape of the area is often referred to as a cuvette in French, meaning bucket or basin. The students and I were in awe as we drove to the top of our winding road and saw the dramatic (and indeed bucket-shaped) valley of Andapa. Full on the bottom with rice paddies, the city of Andapa, and small villages and surrounded by the green forested mountains of Marojejy and Comatsa, Andapa is truly breath-taking. We staying in a house in the hills, overlooking the whole valley, at avocados, and felt truly charmed.

Juliette carrying a bag of freshly harvested taro through rice paddies (tanimbary) in the Andapa basin


After a few days of visits to protected areas and meetings with the WWF, the students split off into groups with translators, and were adopted for 4 days into the homes of various rural families. With the goal of integrating with rural life as well as conducting participatory social science research on specific themes, we set off into the basin. My theme for the stay was traditional medicinal plants, which I studied with my partner, Samantha. Our family was made up of a father, mother, son and daughter, who warmly welcomed us into their home decorated with hundreds of fake flowers and beautiful fabrics covering the walls. Although rural, many members of the communities we stayed with enjoy the profits from the vanilla industry: the second most widespread crop in the Andapa basin. I felt lucky to enjoy breakfasts of cooked bananas, rice, and condensed milk and dinners of beans, romazava (hot broth of greens), and rice in our host family’s welcoming kitchen. One day, we even got to help grind peanut butter in the large mortar-and-pestel common to the Malagasy countryside (the best peanut butter I have had).

Our final day with rural homestay families, at our farewell party (my host dad in the shiny pants surprisingly whipped out some amazing dance moves)

Unfortunately, our stay in the village was cut short due to the potential threat of a cyclone blowing through the area. Our director made the call to pull us out of our villages one day early and wait out the storm at a hotel in Andapa. The mountains surrounding Andapa protected us from the brunt of the rain and wind, but the southeastern coast suffered damage and mortality. After the storm passed, we returned to a somewhat flooded Antalaha, and reflected on the week’s events.

This week we prepare for our upcoming independent studies. Spoiler: I’m headed north!

Goorthngshappen when mego be it

The morning of my 21st birthday, a kid (maybe 12 or 13 years old) almost hit me with a vespa he clearly had little control over.

The evening of my 21st birthday, it started to rain (pour), so I huddled in a restaurant getting soaked with my friends, then took a taxi ride with 4 unknown men back to my house. Waiting for me was dinner with my family and the live chicken that had been a gift for me earlier in the day.

So not bad!

In spite of the risk of this post seeming self-centered by me focusing on my birthday, I am going to go for it. I think there are some fun cultural moments/insights to be seen (and it only comes once a year right?).

Anywho, it was a weekend of cake. Starting with my fellow student, Jamie’s, birthday on Friday, my host mother baked and decorated three full sheet cakes. As he job is being pastry chef/culinary teacher, it is not out of the ordinary for baking to take a large part of her time. One was chocolate (for Jamie), and the other two vanilla (one for my family party and one for the actual date of birth). She makes the cake out of eggs, flour and sugar, then lines the inside with frosting and fruit filling, covers the outside with buttercream in pink and white, then writes a message in script and places special sprinkles carefully around edges. I got to help with some, and watching the ease and speed with which she assembles ingredients into artful dessert is impressive and hypnotizing.

I am convinced my host mother is a culinary goddess

On Saturday, my family went all-out and threw me and all of the students a party. I helped my mom cook appetizers during the morning which included tiny cucumber sandwiches, mini pizzas, and fried bread fruit (a Malagasy classic). Surprisingly, there was no rice. All of the students came, and some brought their host siblings, it was a jolly time. My host dad had set up microphones and hooked up our casio keyboard to speakers, so songs were one of the main events. My host family took the lead on some Christian hymns in Malagasy and an adorable young host sister jumped in with a heartfelt rendition of Celene Dione’s iconic My Heart Will Go On, in nearly correct English. After blowing out the candle, I opened a few presents. My friend’s host sister brought me a present despite never having met me (which I think says something about the gifting culture here), and it was a lovely framed Psalm in Malagasy with which she included a handwritten English translation. It now hangs on my wall. Also received were many candy bars and a champion hat. Much love to friends and family.

Translation: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye” Thanks Anisi!


My host sister, brother, and me enjoying cake at my birthday party



A group of students from the program, host siblings, my host mother and brother, enjoying the roof level of our house

This brings me to the title of this post. As a brief background, this city (and so far Madagascar in general) is filled with shirts, hats and dresses printed with English phrases that often don’t make sense and worn by people who most likely do not speak English. Some of my favorites have been: “Sorry I’m Bad”, “Lucifer 666”, “My life is a dark room” and “Queens make the money” (worn by a man). My friend Sarah from the program was lovely enough to get me a true keeper for my birthday: a black tshirt with a rabbit coming out of the pocket that says “Goorthngshappen when mego be it”. We spent a while puzzling over its meaning and my host dad could not even tell that it was the English language. I have taken it to mean that good things happen when you make them happen. I have tried to take it to heart, and I think the shirt has brought me good tidings, as this week has been pretty amazing. But, it is all up to the interpretation of the reader. Maybe just goorthngshappen when mego be it. And that’s all.

(PS: ‘scooo dubs!!! I just found out that my Malagasy friend Parker is a Warriors fan and that Steph Curry is his favorite player… love for my home team is worldwide! it was quite the trip seeing the Oakland symbol all the way out here)