Me: Still good?
Person: Still good!
Me: What’s new?
Person: Nothing’s new. What’s loud?
Me: Ah, always quiet.
Person: Where are you coming from?
Me: Coming from the rice fields.
Me: Over there. *points with lips westwards
Me: Oh.. Mama Feno’s.
If you’re wondering about perhaps the most consistent thing in my life, it is this conversation. The greeting here in the North of Madagascar is ‘Mbola tsara’, meaning ‘still good’. I moved to my permanent site in May and have been loving the crap out of it ever since.
On the day I moved in, my neighbor, Joseline, came over around dinner time and said “let’s go eat rice”. I walked over and climbed in to sit with her, her husband, and their three grandchildren. They mounded a plate of steaming rice for me and handed me a strip of home-dried beef. The next night was another plate of steaming rice with a side of saucy cow brains. Despite perhaps an odd first two meals, the ambiance of sitting at a table lit by a gas lamp, with three kids so intently staring at me eat I burst out laughing, hooked me and I have been eating with them ever since. (This includes me cooking too or buying vegetables/fish, if you were wondering!)
This is mostly important because the people I share these daily meals with what I now consider my Malagasy family. It can get very confusing asking about how people are related in Malagasy. People maybe call many women their mom, grandma, or sister without there being an actual blood connection. For a split second trying to understand the family can get frustrating. I might think to myself “I KNOW this woman who is ten years older than you is not your mom! I know it! This can’t be true!” But when I think about how welcoming this family is and how full my heart is every night as I leave their house, I can’t help but love the idea of family here. Sometimes people ask me in passing “where is your mom?” It makes me feel a little giddy and a bit grateful that no one is saying something like “I KNOW this woman who is Malagasy is not your mom! I know it! This can’t be true!”
My average day begins with a gang of roosters surrounding my house and all coo-ing at the same time, over and over and over again. Then I get up, perhaps eating an avocado with sugar or a banana, and step outside to get coffee and some fresh, hot, rice-flour-bread-things. This is a pivotal moment each day since I have come up with the theory that once I step outside I most likely will not find myself alone or in control of my itinerary for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a hard moment at all. First of all, I love coffee and those rice things. Secondly, letting go of my need to know what will happen in a day is very conducive to meaningful conversations and fun.
The rest of the day really varies daily. I may spend the whole day working in the rice fields, working on my garden, walking around and talking to people, or something else entirely. I plan on writing a lot more about the rice fields in the future, just in case you are super curious about rice farming and planned on complaining to me about the serious lack of rice information in this post.
The first three months a Peace Corps volunteer is living in their permanent site, the main goals are just to build relationships, get to know the community, and get better at the language. Every so often, I spend a few hours just walking through town and talking to everyone I see. Walking up to people and introducing myself definitely requires the most courage, especially while I am still trying to build vocabulary in the language. As it is more terrifying, it is also super worthwhile. For instance, I was sauntering around and found myself in a four hour conversation with a few blacksmiths. Then they gave me a papaya the size of my thigh. A different day I was moseying along the road and met the operator of the rice mill. He took me to show me his rice, and there I met another lady on her way to harvest some beans. I hollered to him that I was leaving (probably came out as a garble of gibberish), and I went with her to help her harvest her beans. At the end of that day I found myself with a bag full of beans, some extremely important new vocab words, and two new friends.
A different neighbor, Olga, has become a very good friend. She’s 39 and her children live elsewhere, so she is always up to teach me and hangout. When it rained for the first time and I learned where all of the leaks are in my house (or maybe I should say where all of the roof is on my leaks), she helped me move all my stuff to the dry parts and lent me dry sheets while my bed sheets were still wet. Some days we go on silly walks where she tells me all about what we are seeing around us. She helps me by introducing me to people or teaching me new vocabulary. One of the Malagasy phrases she taught me is “Mandehandeha, mahita raha. Mipetraka amy trano, mahita jof.” This translates to “if you go out and about, you see things. If you sit in the house, you see ash.” (They use charcoal or wood for cooking so there is normally ash in the house).
My last bit of news is that my chicken has started sleeping in the mango tree next to my house. How did I a get a chicken, you ask? Well, it was handed to me from the back of a pick-up truck as I profusely denied interest in raising the chicken.
Shout out to my site-mate, Nate, for finishing his 2 years as a Peace Corps volunteer! Best wishes to you and the many dogs that loved you around Sadjoavato. Thanks for all of your help and once again I am sorry for sawing into your arm! Stories involving Nate are yet to come on this blog.
With love from Madagascar,
PS. Some photos too!