Bam!

( Here comes another pack of my emotional baggage that I want to get rid of, while pretending to be informing you guys what I’m doing here. This one-way-communication is so weird in a way. I have no idea, who’s reading this. As much as I know, I might be talking to myself all the time. As I’m writing this I didn’t open my email-account yet, so I don’t know if I’ll have news from the outside world. I really, really hope so. It’s soooo comforting to have your news. At the same time, it might also be an advantage to make this experience without anyone who knows me from home comment about it. You know how you always play a role, even if you really try to “just be yourself”? Everyone’s different towards their parents than towards their peers and different again towards their boss or colleagues. I can’t keep that up writing my blog. It would be sooo tiring to keep in mind the possible reactions of each and every person that might end up reading this. But I’m also not an anonymous journalist, addressing a crowd of people, who’ll never meet him. And I’m writing about my life, so the topic’s kind of personal, too. What you get is pretty much pure Sarah. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’m still scared shitless that you might not like it. Is it okay for an author to be so openly self-conscious? I guess not. But then I’m not a real author, so I’m sure it’s okay. Thanks for reading! )

9.2.2011               Helping and Heat

Monday morning at 5:00am Celia and I got up to leave for Manakaralahy, a village 1,5h by bike from where we live. When we got there, all the men of the village where already assembled under the central Tamarind tree and the women were sitting nearby in the shade of a house. We introduced ourselves to the chief and then basically just sat there listening to a conversation in Malagasy. Our guide Hery told us afterwards in three short sentences what took the guys about an hour to find consensus about. Democracy is tiring all over the world. (if you can call it democracy as long as women are excluded…)

Apparantly people where fighting over a new way of planting cactus. When we heard that, we asked if we could come along and see how they cultivate those. So they took us with them. About three kilometers from the village they started chopping down trees all of the sudden. Celia and I were uncertain for a second if we should say something. We’re very insecure about our knowledge on agriculture. You feel awkward telling people who’ve been living of their land for centuries about what they should and should not do to it. But it seemed just too wrong. We’re tree-huggers, goddamnit! No way we could let that happen! So we had our first real intervention, and the chief reacted surprisingly sensible to it. It seemed like the whole idea of preserving forestation (erosion! shadow! roots! water! wind! erosion!) wasn’t foreign to him at all and he had just been a little short sighted. He wanted to plant the cactus in straight lines, which actually makes sense, because it makes the recuperation of the fruit much easier. But he didn’t consider just leaving out the spots where trees were growing. So we saved our first bunch of trees. Sweet!

I cleaned some wounds after that, put some bandages on people, you know, the regular stuff…

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Centimeters deep, sogging wounds that flies had been feasting on for days. I really wonder where the Sarah has gone that had to put her head between her legs when she saw a bit of fresh blood. I took out my emergency kit, sanitized my hands, grabbed all the injured feet I could find and worked that disinfectant like I’ve never done anything else. I didn’t even shudder at the grossness of that one foot that had basically half its sole peeled off. My former weakness towards open injuries was genuine, though! I’m absolutely positive about it! Where has it gone?? From what I know- and I should know something, studying psychology and all- the human mind doesn’t work that way, being scared shitless of something on one day and completely fine with it on the next. I don’t get it…

Whatever. I get to help. That’s great.

We went back to the village to look at its water points and the river nearby. Looked all totally fine to me. Clean, well protected from animals, vegetable gardens right next to it that profit from the spilled water, the river with natural banks, most of which are fady, which is good, because that way people don’t pee next to the river… It took us a few hours to see everything and ask our questions. By the time we were finished with our assessment I had trouble not falling off my bike. Good that there was a humungous piece of meat waiting for us at home.

MEAT?!?!

Yep, the chief gave us a big piece of zebu and some rice to say thank you for our work. So what does the brave vegetarian Weltverbesserer do? She cuts of the fat with her swissknife and throws the meat into sizzling oil. I’m really sorry to say so, but it tasted horrible. I couldn’t make myself swallow it. I liked the fact, though, that what we ate stood right next to us while we ate it. We put up our tent exactly where the zebus slept. To sleep amongst them made it feel weirdly less condescending to eat them. Might be just me, though… So throughout dinner we were surrounded by friendly zebu faces (animals are the better people, honestly) and the next morning by zebu crap. Who stepped into it? That’s right. I did. I was already dirty to the point where it didn’t make any sense to try washing, though, anyways, so it didn’t make much of a difference. Same thing when I fell into a mud puddle when we were exploring the riverbank-forest. To have three layers of sweat and dirt on you or a fourth or a fifth is really potato-po-tah-to…

I saw two different kinds of lemurs in that forest! Hery, the guide, took us there after we had finished our work for the day but still had time until it cooled off enough for us to bike home. Lemurs = awesome. Jose asked me the other day what animal I wanted to be, if I could choose. I’d be a ringtail lemur. They’re so agile and social. He, of course, would choose to be an eagle. Macho.

The bike-ride home. Going to Manakaralahy was quite fun, early in the morning, with a nice breeze going on. I enjoyed the bad road, because I could jump over the little bumps. And in between I looked at the untouched scenery of baobabs and cactus and enjoyed that, too. Not so much on the way back. The road had gotten even worse, as in dry and sandy and partly unbikeable. And the heat… well, the heat is the heat. And I will never get used to it. Celia described my face as mainly red-to-purple with blotches of clear white when we stopped in between to cool down a bit.

We made it home though. There were times where I was doubtful about it. I took the best shower in my life and fell into my bed. No earplugs needed that night. I slept like a baby through every single rooster-cry from 5-8:00h in the morning.

The next day we went to Renosy. By bike again and this time at 12:00am. Why? Whyyy? Celia almost threw up and I drank 1,5l of water in one big gulp, when we arrived. Again- it was worth it. We were greeted by a villager under the obligatory Tamarind tree. He spoke French very well. It was great to finally be able to talk directly. While Celia carefully took notes, I tried to ask as many questions as possible on the water situation, the methods of cultivation, the past years of dryness and how the village managed, their most important source of income, where he learned French, if his daughter would continue to go to university after her bac, and so on and so on. He knew surprisingly much about the principles of the WWF. When some kids started ripping of the wings of some crickets to play with them, he looked at us with a concerned expression and said: “The WWF doesn’t like that, right?” And he had heard about the green village project, the methods of green agriculture the WWF is teaching and he wants to learn, he wants to apply them! He knows about climate change and that the traditional methods of predicting the weather don’t work anymore because of it. He had even heard about rainfall-gages and said he would love to learn how to use them. He was motivated, even enthusiastic about working with us. Thinking about his words and the hopeful expression on his face still makes my eyes water and my nose tickle with happiness. The most important thing he told me, though, was this: “People here don’t listen to each other. They don’t want to learn from each other. They want to stick to their ancient customs. Only when you vazaha (white people) talk to them, they open their minds to change.” Justification! Finally! That’s why we’re needed here!

People kept on responding to my whole “Why-am-I-here-This-was-way-too-expensive”-guilt-thing by telling me that it was our mere whiteness that makes the difference and that that was why the WWF needed us to be here, instead of employing a bunch of local people- who would also have the advantage of being able to speak Malagasy- to do the job. I never really believed it. Hearing it spontaneously from a local, without even asking about it, convinced me, though, that there has to be something true about it. Also the reaction of other villagers to our presence contributed to me feeling less and less out of place and more and more confident that what we’re doing is meaningful, not only to us, but also to the people here and maybe, if we do a good job, even to nature, in the end. Celia was so touched by a little speech one of the women gave, that she started to cry and couldn’t stop for a while. I can’t rephrase what that woman said. It was too genuine, too personal, too tied to the context to translate it into English. My reaction was to grin from one ear to the other. As different as our reactions were, Celia and I still felt the same way afterwards: relieved in one way and weighed down again by the responsibility we feel now for those people, who believe in us and our work. It’s a weight we’re happy to carry, though.

I’ve been talking a lot about the emotional side of our work and I can hear my dad saying to all this: “That’s all just fine, Sarah. Good for you. But what is it that you’ll actually be doing??”. I can’t say that I have a plan. We’re still lacking majorly in information and we hate it. We couldn’t answer half of the questions the villagers asked us and I still don’t understand why we’ve been taught the Mahafaly dialect for three full days, without learning anything helpful and haven’t been told about agricultural methods, our projects, climate change or anything that we’re supposed to be working on now. Seeing those villages, hearing about their most pressing concerns, raised so many questions in me. I really hope we’ll get a good debriefing soon. With no internet and no library there’s no way we can find out on our own.

By the way, we got a live chicken on that last visit to Renosy. My Malagasy friend from under the Tamarind tree insisted that it was Mahafaly tradition to thank us with a gift for coming to their village. I left the chicken heavy-heartedly to Hery. It’s not going to live long in this place anyways, it might as well fill the stomach of our awesome guide. He left on the taxi brousse yesterday to go to Toliar to do his exams. He studies law, even though his dad doesn’t want him to. He wants him to work. So Hery has to earn all his money for studying himself. Earning money in this place is already hard. Studying on the side seems almost impossible to me. Clichee-developing-country-story, I know. Nevertheless touching in a way I’m seldomly touched by anything in my home country. I hope he’ll make it. He’s a good guy. Maybe things can change big time, if at least a few of his kind make it in this country. We decided to help him out as much as we can moneywise, never being able to rid ourselves of the feeling that it’s water on a hot stone. I want to stay in contact with him after this, I’m just too curious how his life will turn out to be. From one of the kids that suck on Zebu-poo throughout their early childhood to a lawyer with a conservational background? Would be nice, eh?

I just talked to my mom for about 30 seconds on the phone. She told me that my little nephew got pretty sick last week and had to stay at the hospital. He’s fine now, but hearing that just shattered my acquired okay-ness with the fact that I’m so far from home. Seeing how people live here makes you think of your home country as this paradise where nothing can ever happen to you or your family, where problems are all minor and stress is a word describing mere agitation, not real strain. I shouldn’t forget that that’s not true, that people do get sick and suffer, even with a functioning health and legal system. Just a note to myself… I hope Justus is better than fine by the time I can post this.

11.2.2011            Getting clean

Two days of doing nothing. I can understand if Haja isn’t feeling too well. But today he spent quite some time eating and drinking beer at the restaurant and I’m getting a little impatient now. Not that I didn’t enjoy getting sorted out, washing me and my clothes and resting, but two days are enough and it seems there’s going to be a third, if Haja doesn’t come to see and talk to us today. Grmpf…

12.2.2011            Manakaralahy, take 1

Today we were actually supposed to go to Manakaralahy again to have a meeting with the chief. When we were already almost there we met the chief who was coming in our direction. He told us that the meeting was on Monday. Thank you very much. So we went back to another day of doing nothing. GRRRmpf….

In the afternoon I went to see the doctor, though, to spend a few hours making plans about what there was to do about the hospital’s situation. It was just Jose, him and me and we got quite excited, dreaming about all kinds of projects. Jose and me were again not only impressed but really blown off our feet by the energy of this man. It turns out that he has pretty successfully gone into politics to make it easier for himself to go through with his projects. With his wife, he’s done exactly the same thing as the WWF, building water points and teaching people about growing vegetables. He is also growing fruit-trees on the hospital grounds to prevent malnutrition in his patients, he is experimenting with different endemic plants and their usage in pharmacy, he has his own little foundation with which he’s raising money abroad for concrete needs of the hospital, like food or water during dry periods, and so on and so on. And he’s been operating yesterday from 2pm to 1am. If I didn’t know he’s also engaged in campaigning against drug use, I’d say I know where the cocaine in this town is going…

As frustrated as I am with my own working situation right now- feeling a little neglected by our supervisors and held back unnecessarily in my motivation to do stuff, plus being just confused about what we’re expected to do, what we can do, what the WWF will do- I’m still hopeful that our stay here won’t be in vain and if it’s only for having met this man and helping him from now on.

As I said before, the WWF doesn’t have the most anal employees.

15.2.2011            Manakaralahy, take 2

You know you’re in a cultural clash, when even the kittens don’t react in the way you would expect them to, Haley said. A black-and-white one silently sneaked into our home and when Haley and I politely asked it to leave by tapping it lightly on the butt with a broom, it refused. It actually advanced further into the room and didn’t show the slightest sign of fear. I guess when Malagasy want their animals to do something, they start by screaming at them and go over to throwing stones at them pretty quickly. So the cat might have misinterpreted our behavior as an invitation to stay.

Cultural clash. Celia doesn’t believe in the term. She says that you find links to understand each other between any two cultures. I think what she means is that it’s dangerous to use the term and not reflect further upon it. Of course, she’s absolutely right about that. I myself am currently working really hard on understanding the Malagasy attitude towards time. In a culture without clocks and cellphones the understanding of the term “appointment” is of course very different to the one of my own, punctual culture. I get that. What’s confusing me is that the one person around us, that has both a watch and a cellphone, makes Celia and me go twice to a village 15km from here, in the midday heat, on a road that’s only partly bikeable- and doesn’t show up himself. Our “coordinator” (I secretly started referring to him as our “discoordinator”) Haja sent us to Manakaralahy twice. Once, there was no meeting what so ever. The second time we arrived there, the committee d’eau was assembled, the chief was there, the tamarind tree’s shadow was crowded- and Haja never turned up. So Celia and me sat under that tree for four hours, staring at the villagers, having them stare back, slowly morphing into more comfortable positions, unable to communicate, lacking a translator and with no idea, what we were doing there. When we came back at night we had called Haja 18 times and cursed him every time our bikes got stuck in the sand, which should be the same amount. After four days of doing nothing, desperately trying to get him to answer our questions and debrief us about our upcoming work, we were- to be quite frank- pah-retty pissed. In a way the incident was good, because it gave us a good enough reason to finally force a meeting with Haja today, where I finally got to ask all my questions. It made me feel better in one way and even more desperate in another. Better, because I’ m almost arriving at putting together, what Celia and I will be doing throughout the next two months. Which is better than the nerve-wrecking uncertainty of the last weeks. Desperate, because I know now that we have to rely on ourselves and only on ourselves doing it. It became very evident, that the WWF expects us to “sensibliser et mobiliser” the villages we’ll be working in. And that’s it. No building fountains or fences. We’re there to help the people help themselves and that’s it. The effort Haja will put into supervising us will be minimal to non-existant. We’re just two educated western girls, left in the field to engage ourselves in developmental and conservational work. No internet to research agricultural methods, because we’re supposed to “base our work on our own impressions”. Bullshit, if you ask me. How can we be of any help to these people with our extensive knowledge on Sigmund Freud, Milton Freedman and Woody Allen? No environmentalist, biologist or at least a bunch of French speaking people around, to explain this new world to us. Just our discoordinator Haja. Haja said that if he has too much work, he turns off his phone. I guess that’s why we couldn’t reach him yesterday.

Ugh, I’m just so frustrated with this. I don’t want it to be just one big publicity stunt of the WWF, I want my work to be more substantial than having a life changing experience and then write and talk about it to raise funds. Plus, I’m unhappy about the ineffectiveness of the work the WWF is doing here (the actual work, not the make-pretend work for the volunteers). Right now, I don’t know what to tell people when raising funds: give money, so they can actually do stuff and hire qualified people? Or rather: Umm, yea, don’t invest in this. It’s not gonna be much of a difference.

Or am I horribly wrong? I sure didn’t see this area before the WWF started working here in 2004. Maybe the vegetable gardens, the water pumps, the green awareness in the people and the tree nurseries are all you can ask for and we’ve arrived here at a weird time, where it’s all about making the improvements sustainable, which obviously means not progressing, but stepping on the spot for some time. Were we just majorly naïve about what kind of impact one can have in just three months? Is the WWF maybe exactly right about showing us this particular area of its activity and is just not being articulate enough about what we can expect and what’s expected from us?

Confusion, confusion. I’ll let you know, when it all clears up. Until then: I’ve had a huge steak and a grasshopper. I don’t know, which felt weirder. About the steak: I’ve been craving meat for two weeks now, worse than ever before. I would pass a disgusting heap of fly-infested goat-meat on some vendors market stand and my mouth would water. I guess it’s because of my ricericericepastabeansrice-diet. Or the simplicity of life awakened the animalistic carnivore in me, I don’t know. I just know that I wanted that Steak of a happy Zebu (not so sure about their killing methods, didn’t dare find out…) so badly, that I had it. And it was divine. You could slap me around the head with one of those right now and I wouldn’t want to eat it, but this one steak evoked pleasure in me that clearly had to be guilty, otherwise it wouldn’t have been so intense.

About the grasshopper: Yuck. Kristien and Jose brought home a bag of dried grasshoppers. I decided that I want to be the kind of person who tries these kinds of things, too. Stay open minded, put curiosity over irrational instincts, blah blah. God, it’s tiring to be like that sometimes. Funnily, dried grasshopper tastes like hay. Ha ha! You get it? Grass-hopper? Hay? Ha! And it tastes a little like shrimp and it’s crunchy and you have it with its head on and all and I didn’t like it. Full stop. Kristien and Jose had half of their bag and the rest magically disappeared. Either the grasshoppers went through a resurrection and just hopped off or Kristien and Jose didn’t like their dish as much as they first claimed to and for that got rid of their seconds. Out of principles and stuff, I’ll go with the first assumption. (Correction: the bag reappeared. No resurrection! I still don’t think they’ll eat the remaining hoppers, though…)

Oh, and I had an apple. It’s apple season now. It’s funny how you actually feel how abruptly seasons change in a place that knows no refrigerators. One day it’s mangos all over the place and the next day you can’t find a single one. Then cucumbers suddenly appear, while tomatoes vanish and a week later that’s over, too. And now: apples. Sweet mother of all that’s good and tasty, that first apple was probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. I missed apples. Same goes for bread. Kristien and I made a little experiment on sourdough. The tiny, burnt, almost rock-hard lumps of “bread” that it resulted in were appreciated by everybody. It’s funny how the human mind works. How something so simple becomes so incredibly valuable, if you can’t have it all the time. I should deprive myself of certain things more often. It’s just sooooo good, when you have them for the first time after a while. Just imagine… dark bread… cheese… honey… I have to stop here, I’m drawling on my laptop.

17.2.2011            Manakaralhay, take 3 and 4

Or: Hope-wishful thinking-hope

So we finally had our meeting with the comitee de gestion d’eau in Manakaralahy. Yesterday we went there, but another NGO stole our thunder: PAM was distributing cornflower for pregnant women and children, so the whole village wasn’t available, because they were waiting in line for that. What could we do? We only got “environment” and “water” and stuff- they got the corn. We ended up just setting a date for the next day and went back home. Today then: we had the meeting. Okay, none of the young people were there, because they were working on the fields and mines. But at least their grandpas attended. And the chief. That’s something… (HNGRMPF)

We could have done the whole thing better with more thorough coaching (or: more info). But we managed what we came to do (came four times to do…) * and maybe the redundant effort we put in it will seem like mere starter’s troubles when we’ve been going for a while. I sure hope so. Three days, a bunch of nerves and energy wasted. We try not to think of it as a waste, though. We just haven’t figured out yet, what else to think.

Whatever. Today my awesome raincoat came back to me (I forgot it in Tana, shame on me) and with it Nosy, our coordinatrice. She’s driven, she knows everything about the projects, she’s available (now) and she felt our frustration immediately, when she came through the door. So she asked us for an evaluation of the work we’ve done so far and with that as a base she’ll make new plans how to go on from here. With us- together. Thank you! Finally! I really think this is going to change things big time. Hope!

Plus, I’ve talked to my mom and dad on the phone. It resulted in some extensive sniffing from my part and lots of happy thoughts. Thank you so much, guys! I can’t wait to meet up with the doctor again and put down a status quo-report for you to look at. To get you guys to work together might justify my entire stay here.

It all comes down to one thing: the “success” of our stay here depends completely and solely on us, the volunteers. The fact that those volunteers are almost desperately driven, knowledgeable in complementary areas and on the same page about pretty much everything, makes this what? A good idea? Hell, yea! So stop pretending that there’s a “programm”, WWF, give us all the information and we might even do a great job in your name!

* Right, I wanted to tell you guys, what we’re actually working on. We set up a meeting with the comitee to do reelections of its secretaire, tresorier, vice-president and president and to have a look at their books, to see if everything is okay. Goal: make sure that the committee is working. Why? Water is the limiting factor to everything here (by the way: it is everywhere. One tends to forget that). So its accessibility is also at the core of durable, green development of the region. A clean, central water point keeps people from polluting the river and it makes vegetable gardens and tree nurseries possible which serve as a source of income for the people and make them less dependent on deforestation. So the WWF helped at forming those committees. Our job is to help them keep going on their own. It turns out that they really need that help. The idea of keeping track of their income, of punishing people with fees, rather than having them give a zebu to the gods, and of democratic elections are new to them and even though they accepted them and started believing that they make sense, they have trouble acting according to them. I feel some of the answers we gave to their questions were inapt, though. And we didn’t go through with democratic elections, because we had to admit that it might be best, if the chief would just put the people in charge that could write and read. They hardly filled all the posts. Again: we’re just two vazaha who come to them knowing so much and so, so little at the same time.

18.2.2011

It’s raining! Three weeks of sunsunsun and now the edge of a very wet cyclone is hitting our little brick-hut. I’m wearing jeans and a sweater right now. It’s almost like home.

Time to tell you a little more about my fellow volunteers. We spent the majority of the last month together and accordingly we know each other really well by now. We learnt a lot about each other’s home-countries, we shared the usual that-time-when-I-was-sooo-drunk-stories, we know each other’s attitude towards Sarkozy, access-benefit-sharing and god and every one of the group can recount exactly the details of each group-member’s bowel-movements of the last week. If I ever write a book about my stay here, I’ll call it “Diarrhea”. We get along very, very well. No open or covered conflicts. If Jose didn’t do the dishes for a while, Celia is sure to tell him off for it, just to be sitting in a corner with him soon after, discussing why the American Dollar will never go down entirely (or will it??). If someone’s upset or sick, Myrah is sure to find some earnest comforting words immediately, Celia will rush to that person’s side for some extensive back-rubbing, Haley will not fail to show genuine interest how that person’s feeling long after his or her condition, Kristien shows empathy through several “Awwww, man! That sucks!” and Jose offers a little stiffly and formal- he’s a guy!-, but nonetheless honestly concerned and friendly his open ear for any kind of troubles. And I go through with my usual pep-talks, psychologist style. I don’t get the opportunity very often, though. These kids are strong, man. No one’s been really homesick or too upset about the situation here. Since we all get along, there’s no need of any mediation, either. I have to say, I’m almost glad when I can do a little earnest nodding and intensive listening. I shouldn’t jinx it, though! It’s been really great.

So, what have I learned through my colleagues?

–          Tequila is made from Agave

–          It’s hard to find hot Armenian guys

–          Potato leaves are edible in Madagascar and very good with tomato and garlic (and rice, of course)

–          Mannegen Pis gets dressed up for special occasions

–          showering is overrated

–          Beware of the fruit of the cashew nut!

–          Righty tighty, lefty loosy!

–          In Vegas, it’s okay to ask a girl if she’s a prostitute

–          Pure lemon helps against nausea, cactus fruit clogs, papaya, too, mango NOT

–          If you ever find Lebanese food in Germany- go for it!

–          Canada likes the queen and the Belgium prince likes dogs

There was lots more. Pretty advanced stuff, too. Jose loves preaching about philosophy and economy. Celia has an incredibly broad view on politics, born in Lebanon, of Armenian origin, educated in a French school, living in NY. Kristien obviously kept her eyes, ears and mind wide open, wherever she went in the world. Myrah is a Malagasy who worked her way through to a degree in ecotourism, going for another. Haley has the most experience with going into the wild and her knowledge on biology helped clear up a bunch of pressing questions. We never get bored talking, that’s for sure.

By the way, if anyone is wondering, why my parents can reach me: there’s an emergency number reserved to close relatives that we can use. It’s kind of an honor-code not to give it out to your boyfriend, pet, recent friend-with-benefits, frat-brothers, frequent-fridge-raiders, roommates or life-long sister-like friends. I stick to the code grumpily.

I dream about home almost every night. One day I dreamt that I went to Maex’s house and when I entered the living room, it was full of Lemurs and der Buffka was sitting on the sofa, grinning and saying: “Siehste ma, wie ich Lemuren zuechten kann!” and then Anneke came in, rolling her eyes, saying: “Ja, vielen Dank auch, Sarah, das naechste Mal bringste was anderes mit aus Madagascar!”. Oh, and I dreamt, that Laura and Mikosch had a child and that’s why I couldn’t move back into my room. Laura stood in the doorway saying: “Tut mir Leid, aber wir brauchen das Zimmer jetzt fuer die Kleine.” Und ich konnte im Hintergrund grade noch Kaja erspaehen, die mit Baukloetzen auf meinem Fussboden sass und spielte. Hehe, kleines best of. Ich traeume tatsaechlich oft in deutsch und es passiert mir auch als Einzige, dass ich ab und zu in meine Muttersprache zurueckverfalle. Zum Beispiel “Genau!” (mehrmals), “Servus!” und “Haehae, meeeega…” sind mir schon rausgerutscht. Lustig. Ich schaetze, ich vermisse Zuhause einfach mehr als alle anderen…

I M B A C K

YEAY

I’ve got internet-access!!! Just half an hour, but I get to post stuff and I’ll download emails I got and read them at home and answer them and send them the next time I get to be here (don’t ask where “here” is, too complicated). This will probably be in 2 weeks! Write me, people, I’d love to have some news from that cold place farfar away, where rain is considered a pain in the neck and dogs get fat! And from other places, too, of course. 

25.1.2011

We’re in Toliar now. It’s the hottest place I’ve ever been to. 35 degrees at 8:00 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t think one could ever adapt to this kind of weather, but I already feel a little more comfortable in it than two days ago. Not that I could imagine getting any serious work done right now and sure as hell I wouldn’t be able to pull a “pousse-pousse”. That’s some kind of riksha people use here to get almost everywhere. Us westerners all feel the same about it: it seems humiliating to make someone who is just as hot as you and isn’t even wearing shoes pull you around runningly through the blazing hot city, while you’re comfortably sitting in the shadow. But then again those guys seem desperate for customers and almost force you into their man-carriages. The natives seem to have absolutely no problem whatsoever with using the pousse-pousse. I won’t get in one, though. I’d rather pull one of those guys around for a little bit.

Yesterday we went to visit the local authorities to present ourselves and make sure they know we’re here in case we need their help at some point. So we went around town in a taxi, stopping in front of the few more wealthy looking buildings, ran in, sat in front of a probably corrupt old man and the obligatory picture of the wayyy too young looking president (he’s 36, but he looks like he’s just gotten rid of his acne), had Malalatina (our ‘boss’ so far) say a few words, shook hands and went on. Through this I saw a few offices of grand men of Madagascar from inside. I didn’t like what I saw. Big TVs, huge speaker (remember, they have a DJ for president?), no books in the bookshelves. One could tell that Myrah, our malagasy volunteer, didn’t like how the men behind the desks presented themselves either. She grumbled something about corruption and false priorities when we were far away enough for them not to hear.

Our activities of today left me in a more cheerful mood. We had two presentations about what exactly the WWF is doing in this region and- going more into detail- what we‘ll be doing here. After them I felt more hopeful about the world in general and I’m finally excited about what I’m doing here. Throughout the entire week I was 100% sure that they picked the wrong girl, that I knew nothing and had no abilities whatsoever that I could offer to a country like this. Today I learned, that Celia and me are going to be in charge of a project called ‘green village’. The concept is pretty much exactly that of my Facharbeit: let groups of people compete with each other for a price, to make them start using your help and become more sufficient while putting less strain on the environment they’re living in. The villages are rated every year and the ones that are the ‘greenest’- planted the most trees, manage their water the best, have the most houses with vegetable gardens…- can pick whatever price they want. This year the main criteria will be how many other villages the already “green” villages managed to convince to go green, too. This is supposed to ensure the projects durability by creating a kind of domino-effect. Celia and my task will be to assess the current situation in three different villages and help them out to become greener and at teaching other villages about being green. I love it! The help required is so basic, that we can actually do it- teach people how to cook carrots for example, since those haven’t been introduced to the region until last year. Or show them how to manage their watersupplies, or educate their kids about nutrition. I can do that! I did that! I get to be creative! The one thing that’s really important now is to get my Malagasy going. I’m on it…

Oh, if you could just see this place. The dusty palmtress, the grim looking women carrying live chickens by their feet, the heaps of mangos, the crayfish that seems black under all those flies… you should also see me in between all this, shiny-faced by sunscreen and sweat, hair fuzzy, even though I try to braid every single one of it into a tight bun, in my old-woman’s-khaki-shorts and kiwi-flipflops, dizzily stumbling from shadow to shadow… I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. She doesn’t wear make-up, she can walk for hours in the heat and doesn’t complain, she eats what is there, even meat (not that that has happened yet!), she doesn’t talk about her feelings, because it’s so obvious that they’re not important compared to what has to be talked about and she sure doesn’t surf. I’m having a hard time growing into her shoes.

27.1.2011

Betioke- 10 hours to go to Ejeda. Boy, what a trip! We got up at 4am to have the two jeeps packed at 7.30. All our stuff was piled up about 1,5m high on top of them. I still can’t believe that none of the bikes, the gas-patrons, matrasses, chairs, water-containers, etc fell down. We went through deep, red mud puddles, the cars swayed about 30degrees from side to side, when one wheel was going over a giant rock and in between we were going as fast as possible, to make it in time. Inside of my Jeep: three people and a Babyseat squeazed together and one lucky person in the front. I feel kind of bad- that lucky person was me. Poor Haley had to sit between Nosy, our local advisor, her 18 months year old daughter and her nanny. Why I got the good seat? Well, Malalatina was quite frank about it: “You go in front, you have the bigger rear.” We should have told her about European “fady”s (fady= things you can never do, that are considered very offensive, like pointing your finer at a older person or cutting branches from a tree close to a grave), such as DO NOT COMMENT ON THE SIZE OF A WHITE GIRLS BEHIND.

Everybody is quite glad to be out of the car now. Tomorrow we’ll have to do the same thing again for 10 hours on a road that’s supposed to be even worse. Right now it’s pouring outside, too, so the amount of puddles (puddles? ponds!) will increase. Phew. Hold your thumbs. I don’t really believe we’ll make it, but I was proven wrong so many times already about stuff like that…

28.1.2011

Made it! We’ve arrived in Ejeda. The town is much more civilized than I thought it would be. There’s epiceries where you can buy sponges and bubblegum, the people have enough to eat and there’s even a hospital and a lycee. It might be the only ones in a radius of 200km, but it’s definitely reassuring to have our base here. Our house is also much more than I expected. We don’t have running water, but a ton that water-carriers refill regularly and our toilet is a hole, but it’s a clean hole (so far…). The rooms themselves are painted in green and blue and red, the floor is concrete and we built a little chinese table out of gas-patrons and a board. We even duct-taped mosquito-nets in front of our windows after the first night. After having had the light on inside there was Billions of insects swirling around the room and- when the light finally went out- around my bed, because there was one blotch of light right above my head that came from outside and that those stupid insects found absolutely irresistible. It felt like a grasshopper-moth-mosquito-thunderstorm was crashing down on my mosquito-net. If I wouldn’t have had one I would inevitably have breathed them in because there were so many of them. Jose asked me, if the flapping-noise was me trying to kill them. It wasn’t. It was them trying to kill me.

At some point the light outside went out, too. I still don’t really understand where it came from in the first place, since there’s no power in the whole of Ejeda after ten. However, that made the insects stop bugging me (pun! The first I managed to come up with since writing in English, heehee). The next morning our room was a bug-battlefield. The floor was covered with them, some still twitching, but most dead. So we got Mosquito-nets for the windows.

30.1.2011

I’m the first one down. I don’t know what exactly got me- was it the Mango I didn’t bother to peel completely or the water I accidently got in my mouth when showering? – but it doesn’t really matter, eh? Yesterday I felt weird all morning and by the afternoon I started to shiver and vomit and feel hot and cold at the same time. I left the meeting we had with our coordinator to lie down at home. I fell on my bed and closed my eyes. When I reopened them, there were about ten little dark faces leaning over me. A bunch of kids just came into the house. They smiled at me and then the youngest of them said, pushed forward by one of her sisters: “Donnez moi de l’argent!” I tried to explain to them with hands and feet that I was sick and had to sleep. I even managed a “rano ratsy!” (bad water), to explain my situation. But they would just keep on smiling and asking me for things. “Donnez moi un livre!” “Donnez moi biscuit!”. At some point I heard something in the kitchen, so I went to check. When I came back to my room, the kids were sitting in my bed. I practically had to shove those little intrudors out of the door, just to have them back knocking on it with some photographs of themselves in weirdly “sexy” poses. I “thanks but no thanks”ed them and closed the door. I felt horrible about their disappointed faces, but I also didn’t want to puke on them. When my coordinator came to check on me, the thermometer had already climbed to 40 degrees and I was out of it. We went to see a doctor who made sure that it was neither Typhoid nor Malaria. Just a digestic infection, so he let me sleep at home. The most miserable night followed, with me stumbling through the rain to the “toilet” every hour. But the fever went away pretty quickly and in the morning I felt a lot better. Right now I just feel weak and nauseas, but no headache and the toilet-running-intervals are growing. If this is going to go away as fast as it came, I’d be very thankful for that.

I want my mommy, though.

31.1.20011

Things I miss most right now:

People, of course

A clean, comfy bed without dead flies in it

Fresh, clear, clean water that tastes like nothing but water

A hot bath in clean water

An apple

Air

The last point should have come earlier. I feel like the worst sissy complaining about this, but the thing that I find hardest to deal with are not the insects in my clothes, nor the rice-and-nothing-but-rice-diet, nor the toilet situation, nor the fact that I’m incapable to get my clothes even close to clean in the water I use for washing them, but- the smell of fire. The guy who’s guarding our house when we’re away has his little fireplace right under our glassless window and the smell of whatever he’s burning on it pretty much all day long is something I can’t escape from right now and it’s driving me NUTS. It’s a sickening, unusual, kind of sweet smell, that feels like it sticks to your tongue. I can’t tell how much of my nausea comes from those bacteria roaming around my colon and how much comes from that smoke. I’ve tried everything, from breathing through my stuffed kiwi Steve (yes, he has a name now) to breathing through my mouth with earplugs in my nose. All impractical. I think not breathing at all could work. I heard that it’s not good for your health, though.

2.2.2011

I’m feeling better in more than one way. Being sick definitely didn’t contribute to my constant effort to STAY POSITIVE. In fact, I’ve been on the lookout for a place to just cry and finally get that huge lump out of my throat throughout most of yesterday. I didn’t find one, but the lump dissolved by itself. What helped? A nice talk about uni, our plans for life, our travels, etc. with the girls on the porch in the shade, a shower and an evening talking about poo with Jose. It really doesn’t matter much how many insects you step on, when you get up in the morning or if the shirt you just washed smells worse now than before, as long as you’re with people. And what people! My fellow volunteers are so well-educated and –traveled, that even if our conversation drift off to poo sometimes it always comes back to politics, development help and how evil humanity is. Of course, some is just showing-off of intellect and blahblah, but if you throw that out one fact about these people remains: they don’t even ask the question of “Why do you care?” They just ask “What can be done?”. It’s already hard to imagine that there are actually people in the world that you have to talk into caring.

For example about this: we were at the local hospital today to get our first medical course. The doctor told us especially about the kind of accidents that are happening all the time in the area. And on the side, he described what the situation for him has been like for the past years: He has patients coming in from villages as far away as 200km. The clinic has no ambulance. He regularly has cases of open fractures that arrive at the hospital two days after the accident happened. I saw the pictures. I had to hold on to my seat to keep upright. The others went chalk-white, too. None of us looked away though. It’s reality, it happens every day. Just imagining the misery and the pain…That doctor is the first real saint, I’ve ever met. A lot of his patients run off after their treatment, because they can’t pay for it. He keeps on giving out medication and operating on people, though, knowing, that he will probably have to pay for it out of his own pocket. He lives at this hospital with his wife, no kids, his cellphone always in his pocket. His number is the 911 of the area. One man, responsible for the lives of more than 37 000 people. His number is given out through the radio. He’s been doing this for nine years. I already know that I will never forget this guy and right now, I feel more obliged to him than to the WWF. When I told him my parents were gastroenterologists, his eyes went shiny. He told me, that there’s almost no knowledge about gastroenterology in Madagascar and that all he knows he’s getting from the internet. We already made an appointment to talk some more. He’ll give me a few examples of cases he had. I think he really hopes to get some European experts down here through me. Mom, dad, can you hear me? We’ll have a lot to talk about, when I come home…

When I told him that I’m considering (CONSIDERING, mom, don’t get your hopes up!) going into medicine he immediately offered me to stand by a few of his operations. I think I’m going to do that. Gaaaaaaaaaaaah.

While I’m writing this, “our” Zebu Pepe is calmly grasing in front of the house, Kristien is scrubbing pots, Haley escaped the blazing heat and is reading a Jane Austen novel on the common room, Jose is reading War and Peace on the porch, Celia is at the local school teaching kids English and Myrah is chatting with our guard. When I look outside I see those bulging cloud-mountains, that I think only the madagascarian sky has room for, and lots of green. And the Zebu, of course. As soon as I’ve finished this, I’ll go and scrub the toilet and then we have to figure out how to burn our trash. It’s all so peaceful right now that I can’t even feel the third world from inside our fence. How are people overseas supposed to understand it? It’s easy to look away and almost as easy to forget. But 60% of the world needs help, not even speaking of nature and wildlife. You can either recoil after hearing that number, shrug it off and enjoy the fact, that you’re part of the lucky 40%. Or you try to change something. I can understand completely the first reaction, since before I came here and throughout my first 2,5 weeks I felt like the amount of things going wrong in the world just crushes the chances of anything ever really changing. That making a difference is like pouring water on a world on fire with just your hands to cup it. I just came here because I felt obliged to at least try, out of that good old eternal inferiority complex of the privileged child.

Glad I have that, now. Glad to be a cliché, glad to have been guilted into coming to Madagascar by the sheer benevolence life has had towards me. Because I overcame my negativity and I’m profoundly hopeful now that things actually can change, and it’s not even that difficult. We say that you can only fall deep, if you went up high. Same goes for the opposite: if a doctor doesn’t have anything to work with, every dollar he gets might spare a life that otherwise might have been lost. If there’s only one tree left, every planted tree means a doubling of the forestation of the area. If there’s only a few turtles left, every single one that doesn’t land in someone’s pot is a huge chance for the population to recover. And how much is a dollar to western society? And how much of an effort is it to plant a tree? And how hard is it to just leave that poor turtle alone? Compared to the effect of not doing the right thing? You get my point. The glass is half full, goddamnit, if you have determined to pour some more water in it and not just drink it.

I think I have to stop preaching for a while. I guess I’ve lost most of my readers by all that moral talk and I promise I’ll be good and shut up at home about it, except for when I’ll do my obligatory 3 official speeches about this internship in my hometown. Ten years of vegetarianism have taught me a lesson about how much impact you have on people who don’t want to hear what you want to tell them: za-ha-ha-ha-hero. You end up losing all your chances of someone actually turning to you in earnest interest of your reasons. And with that the chance of holding on to that person tightly and stating as quickly as possible and before they can free themselves and run away all the facts that you think necessary to change their attitude. But even if you manage to do that there’s still no guarantee of them not being fast asleep next to you by the time you’ve finished, right, Mimi???

Soooo, I’ll stop being a pain in the ass now and go back to making fun of stuff. For example of Jose, who managed to get a cricket into his boxers last night. A big one, too, he said. But then again, guys tend to say that about pretty much everything they find in their boxers. Ba-dam-bam-tschsch!!