Malagasy Independence Day

FRIDAY (6/23/2017)

This is nothing like I expected, but if you asked me what I thought it was going to be like, I cannot answer that. It’s just SO different from ANYTHING I’ve ever experienced. I remember watching  a show, “The World’s Deadliest Roads,” or something like that, where you see cars, trucks or vans get stuck on muddy roads, where the ruts are so deep, the vehicles get stuck feet down, unable to move in any direction, and the passengers stuck there, by the side of the road, for days on end. THIS is what it’s like here, during the rainy season (approximately Dec – Feb) and even now, during the dry season, the roads in my little village, Masombahiny (ma-soom-ba-HEE-nee), though dry, are so deeply rutted and with potholes so deep, it’s hard to even walk on them, much less drive them.

Yesterday and today, we had classes with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alain Something (don’t ask me his surname), we just call him “Dr. A,” who covered malaria and other fever diseases yesterday, and diarrhea, skin ailments and other things we might encounter, such as animal bites by rabies carriers, unintentional exposure to HIV and/or pregnancy, UTIs, STIs and STDs, and a host of other things like the plague. Fun stuff. I didn’t realize how prevalent Malaria is in much of the world and how serious it can be. In 2013, Peace Corps volunteers contracted malaria at three times the rate of all other State Department employees combined, and in EVERY single case, the infected party had stopped taking his/her malaria prophylaxis (daily or weekly tablets). I thought it was just an annoyance, but malaria kills at an alarmingly high rate. In a nutshell, a mosquito bites a malaria-infected person, and their blood contains malaria gametes. Once that same mosquito bites another person and deposits those gametes into their system, the gametes travel into the person’s liver, where new blood cells are born. Once inside the liver, a gamete will kinda burrow into a blood cell and reproduce at such a rate that it eventually causes that blood cell to explode, destroying it and releasing all those baby gametes (they actually have a different name at this stage of development) into the blood stream where each one can infect yet other blood cells. As each red blood cell is infected and destroyed, anemia is a result, and as you can imagine, left unchecked, it wouldn’t take long for malaria to destroy enough blood cells to kill the person. By taking malaria pills either daily (for Doxycycline or Malarone, which is the one I have chosen), or weekly for a third one whose name I cannot remember, even if we’re bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito, our body essentially creates a ceiling above which the malaria cannot surpass, rendering it ineffective, though it may still be present. The malaria pills, alone, are not enough to guarantee we’ll be safe, we also need to sleep under insect repellent laden mosquito nets (tucked under your mattress at night), wear long sleeves and pants, and try to stay indoors during peak mosquito hours, which are dusk.

In a video they showed us, one Marine (I think he was a Marine, but maybe not), was living in the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Tana, and that Embassy is a malaria-free zone. They have put systems in place to eradicate all mosquitos from their protected environment, and as long as their employees remain within the Embassy environment, they don’t need to take malaria pills. He had to accompany Obama on a trip to Dar es Salaam in 2013, so he started taking his malaria meds. Upon his return to Madagascar a few weeks later, he stopped taking his meds, but he neglected to also take medication that would flush any dormant malaria from his system. Since he’d been bitten during his trip, but his malaria pills kept the virus from becoming active, but once he stopped, they took off, like crazy. Eventually, the malaria entered his spleen (where dead blood cells go), and had a field day, eventually rupturing his spleen. He as clinically dead for about 10 minutes and it’s a miracle he’d alive, and even more so that he can still walk, talk, has no brain damage, etc., though his recovery took months.  Malaria is no joke. I’d taken my mosquito net and folded it up above my bed thinking that since it’s now winter here, it’s too cold for mosquitos, but I now realize that was a dumb move. I now am back to sleeping under my net, and NOW I realize why all the Malagasy homes are shuttered tight at night — not so much for “the witches,” but definitely to prevent the entry of mosquitos. As much as I love sleeping with a window open, this is a luxury I can ill afford.

That same video told a heart rending story of a 26-year-old black female Peace Corps Volunteer who lived in Ghana, and was two months from completing her two-year assignment, and she stopped taking her malaria meds. By the time she realized she’d contracted malaria, it was too late to save her. Her mother is a U.S. Embassy employee in Brazzaville, her father worked in the military all his life, and her grandfather did two tours in Vietnam, the WHOLE family was devoted to public service — and she died because she figured she was either immune (which is virtually impossible for Americans to achieve), or that she had dodged a bullet and no longer needed her meds.

So, we dodge malaria, there is also dengue fever, chikungunya fever, scabies, food poisoning, the black plague, etc. Once we get into our permanent site, we’ve been instructed to buy flea-repellent floor wax, sweep our floors twice per day, put our mattresses out in the sun weekly, and other things to do to keep the fleas away, since they spread the plague. Sounds like fun. The Peace Corps won’t hesitate to med-evac a PCV from anywhere in the world, on a moment’s notice, but it really behooves us to just be watchful, stay clean (which prevents 90% of all that can impact us), report any serious illnesses, fever, vomiting, etc. to our PC Medical Officer 24/7, and to take our meds. Every single Peace Corps and State Department employee who contracted malaria had stopped taking his or her meds. This is totally preventable, and I got the message loud and clear.  Okay, enough of that.

Tomorrow is market day. We’ve been given 5,000AR (ariary, the local Malagasy currency), which is less than $2.00 U.S., and will be given a list of items to buy at the market tomorrow. The food we buy will be given to the Peace Corps and used to prepare employee meals at the P.C.T.C.  We’ve been taught how to count in Malagasy, and the logic of numbers is similar to English, but getting used to the sounds is a bit challenging. I’m sure it’s gonna be great fun, though. Today, I bought one AAA battery, and when I gave the man 1,600 AR (about 50 cents U.S.), as I started to walk away, he said, “No, it’s 600,” and he gave me back the extra 1,000AR, which shocked me. That was so very kind of him. That battery ended up costing about 17 cents. Everything is SO cheap here, and yet this country is SO poor. It’s humbling and dumbfounding at the same time. As cheap as everything is, why can’t they fix the roads? Or provide sewers? Or safe drinking water? Or electricity for everyone? Or, or, or, or, or?  The answers to this are easy, through my American eyes, but the struggle is to look at life through the eyes of a Malagasy, walk a mile in their shoes, as it were. These people are surviving despite amazing odds against them. I’m just grateful that I may be able to play a small part in helping to make the lives of their children, and therefore the very future of the country, just a bit better. I love Madagascar. I LOVE Madagascar.

SUNDAY (6/25/2017)

Tomorrow is Malagasy Independence Day, but the partying started yesterday, for the most part, and on our way to and from the market, yesterday, we encountered many inebriated men stumbling down the streets, several wanting hugs and other forms of human interaction (which I politely declined). At the market, we were given a list of items to buy and 5,000AR each with which to purchase them. That’s about $1.50 each, in U.S., and I purchased some dried fish, English peas, carrots, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, a pineapple and some red onions, with change to spare. Some of the other volunteers have reminded me to not convert this to U.S., but I’m constantly amazed how far the dollar goes here and how MUCH you can get on SO little money. We were supposed to try to bargain for better prices, but this was never something I liked to do in the U.S., and I didn’t do it here. I tried once, but the lady just laughed at me, probably a combination of my lousy Malagasy skills plus they all knew the PCVs were in the house, with pockets full of money, so most vendors were not in a bargaining mood. Once we get out to our permanent sites, it will be different, but it was a fun and fascinating experience. I didn’t try to buy any meat, for obvious reasons, but several of the PCVs did and said how hard it was, mainly because the rule is that you cannot bargain over dead meat.  While out, I stopped by a store to buy a Malagasy SIM card for one of my spare Android phones (thanks to my son’s business partner who had a drawer full and gave them to me), plus I bought 4,000AR worth of credit (kind of like purchasing time on a pay-as-you-go cell phone), and altogether, it cost me 7,000AR, which is $2.00 U.S. The only problem with the SIM cards is that you have to be connected to wifi when you first install them, and there isn’t any wifi in town.

After lunch, my family and I went over to the football (soccer) field to watch my oldest sister, Oni, play, but by the time we got there, her team had been eliminated.  While we watched the boys teams compete, her team (girls) started playing a pick-up game against some other boys, and I could clearly see why her team had been eliminated in the first round. Oni is an excellent player, by far the best on the team, but the team, well, they have some issues. After about 30 minutes of this, I left to join the other PCVs at a French resort outside town, Domaine le Hermitage, which has free wifi and where we all planned to have a drink, connect our devices and just spend some quality Peace Corps time without having to speak Malagasy. On the map the PC provided us, it looked like it was just up the road from the PCTC, but in truth, it took me about 90 minutes to walk there, up a hill, up another hill, down a hill, up a hill, down a hill… Carrying my laptop, iPad, extra phones, chargers and a few Malagasy books (in case we were gonna study together) in my backpack, in the searing sun, by the time I finally made it there (I ran into one of the two Erins in our group along the way, and she and I kept each other going), it was brutal. Had I not run into Erin, I’d have turned back long ago, CERTAIN that I’d somehow missed it. PLUS, there were no signs directing you to it, but there were plenty for the “Swiss Chalet,” which is only about a 1/2 mile past the PCTC. Keeping in mind that until we graduate “Trainee” status, we’re under a strict curfew to be home before dark, arriving at Le Hermitage just after 3:00, I knew I needed to leave around 4:00 to ensure I’d be home before dark.

Le Hermitage is owned by a white woman who owns at least four dogs, in a country where dogs are reviled. In some regions of the country, dogs are terribly mistreated, and being a dog lover, I’m cognizant of this, so when I sneak treats to a neighborhood dog I’ve nicknamed “Spot,” I try to make sure none of the locals see me feeding him because this could be an insult. “You think my food is dog food?” And in a country where many people are trying to find a decent meal each day, feeding a dog insults many. Cats, however, are treasured pets. Go figure. One former PCV had taken a dog as a pet at her permanent site and so loved the dog that she decided to have him shipped back to the States, which cost her about $5,000. She started a funding campaign in her region hoping to get people to help her with the cost, an event that was NOT appreciated by the locals. She should have known better, and probably DID know better, but she was coming to the end of service and probably thought, “What the hell, I want my dog.” We’ve been advised against having dogs as pets, but if we choose to do so, the PC won’t restrict it, but they want us to think about the damage it might do to us forming relationships with the people whom we’re tasked to support. That said, it breaks my heart to see how skinny all of the dogs are, just skin and bones, constantly searching for any scrap of food. It could be a combination of worms and lack of food, but they are SUCH great creatures and for them to be reviled is something I’m struggling to accept. It’s all a part of cultural integration.

Okay, so Le Hermitage looks like it was built in the 50s or 60s, and is very dated. By Malagasy standards, it’s quite luxurious, but by U.S. standards, it’s probably MAYBE a three-star hotel. One thing I discovered is that they have a crocodile encaged in an enclosure that is WAY too small, full of filthy water, where he cannot interact with any other wildlife, just a spectacle for the tourists to appreciate. It made me sick to see that poor thing stuck in there, probably for years. But some people of privilege don’t think about such things. That visit to Le Hermitage will be my last. I will not give them another dime because of this. PLUS, it’s way too far and not worth the time for the walk, especially when I can get to the PCTC in 35 minutes and get free wifi there, and there are no captive animals suffering in silence. While there, I ordered a rum and coke and the bartender gave me a short class half full of rum, and a cold bottle of Coke. COLD. Oh, how wonderful it was. See, in Madagascar, they really don’t do cold drinks and they don’t really do ice, mainly because the water isn’t clean. The only way to ensure the ice is safe is to boil the water first, then the ice will come out clear, rather than frosty white, but even then, in this country, it’s suspect, so everyone just drinks soft drinks warm, right out the bottle. This took a bit of getting used to, even though I rarely drink soft drinks, but it’s the same with juice and anything we’re used to drinking cold in the U.S. As long as the seal hasn’t been broken, bottled drinks are considered safe. This is particularly important when buying bottled water, since water bottles are used to sell everything from tea, juice, honey and even motor oil.

That rum and Coke was delightful, but the walk back from Le Hermitage still took over an hour, but it gave me and Jennifer, the only other black woman in our group, to have some quality time to chat, since we left first because the others insisted it was just a 35-minute walk back, but we KNEW they were wrong, and we were right. By the time I got home, my whole body ached, but since dinner isn’t until 7:00 p.m., I had about 90 minutes to rest and I’m telling you, I did NOT want to get up for dinner, but it would insult my host family, so I dragged my sore, aching body out of bed and ate dinner like a zombie. I’d have LOVED to have showered before bed, because I had worked up quite a sweat, but my/our routine is for me to warm my water in the morning and shower then, and I didn’t know if an evening shower would throw off someone else’s schedule, since I don’t know when everyone else showers. I went to bed kinda sticky, you know, when you’ve been working out and the sweat dries but you cannot wash yet?  That sticky feeling (yuck), but as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out like a light.

Our home is across a small stream from the soccer field, where the  Independence celebration is being held, and the music and festivities began on Friday, and the music continued through the night, they never stopped playing. Because we’re in a valley, the noise sounded like it was coming from a house across the street from me, as the sound bounced around, but as tired as I was, the all-night music was like a lullaby. The music is also louder at night since they are playing soccer matches, playing basketball, and running children’s rides during the day, but at night, it’s a party for the adults, but the PCVs are strictly forbidden from attending. My host mom, Clarise, told me that fights often break out and the crowds are so thick, it’s easy to wind up at the wrong place at the wrong time. The fireworks are tomorrow night (Monday), and I’ve been given permission to attend them, in person, with my family (because I’m older), but since our house is SO close to the event, we can probably just stand in the back yard and watch from there and not have to deal with the crowds. Whatever the family wants, I’ll just go along.

Oh, and my two Android phones that Snozz gave me are locked, and my SIM card won’t work, so I had to end up putting my Malagasy SIM card into my unlocked iPhone. Not what I’d intended, but until I get wifi again, on Thursday, I won’t be able to search to see how I can unlock these old phones from here. Fingers crossed.

After lunch, my host mom, Nene (neh-neh, means “mother”), the three younger girls and I, went to the soccer field, but when the youngest fell asleep in Nene’s arms, she took her home, so Nomena, Fahasoavena and I went on by ourselves. While we were there, the girls were on a merry-go-round, and I was just sitting down watching the crowd, when a barefoot pregnant girl walked by. I had to smile, and thought, “THERE she is!” During training last week, we were discussing local culture and I asked if it was appropriate to ask a young girl if she’s pregnant and I was told, “Yes, in fact she’ll probably tell you already, because she’s proud.” This blew my mind. One of the reasons why the Peace Corps is so adamant about empowering girls and women is to provide them with better options than being barefoot and pregnant. This is gonna take some getting used to. Oh, and the barefoot thing is QUITE common here. Shoes are optional pretty muh everywhere. School, church, walking to the market, whatever. I’ve seen nicely dressed young men, with nice jackets, shirts and pants, only to be barefoot, on the way into school. In one case, his feet were also wet, and I suspect he had to walk through a rice paddy to get to school and didn’t want to mess up his shoes, so he just went barefoot. The young, the old, girls, boys, men, women…. many of them are barefoot all the time, probably because they cannot afford shoes, or it may just be a personal preference. In OUR home, however, everyone wears shoes, no matter what.

I’d taken a trek up to the PCTC this morning, to get some help with my phone, which was when I discovered the issue with the locked phones. All the wifi in the world wouldn’t help, and besides, PCVs aren’t allowed into the PCTC on Sunday, because they want us to spend as much time as we can with our host family and in the community at large. The guard at the gate called the trainer on call, and then the driver showed up, and between the three of them and my three phones, we finally got my Malagasy SIM working in my iPhone. After yesterday’s walk to Le Hermitage (turns out the PCTC is about half way to Le Hermitage) and back, then today’s walk to the PCTC and back, my feet, my back, my thighs, my butt, even my eyes ache. MAN, this was work, SOOO many hills, and there’s no such thing as a local taxi here. The public transit vans are called taxi brousse, which provide travel between cities, not within, and they are known to be packed to the gill, with luggage tied up top, and frequent breakdowns mostly because of the lousy roads. A three-hour trip can easily turn into eight hours, and some towns are so remote that a planned two DAY trip can turn into five, forcing travelers to sleep on the side of the road until either the road is cleared/repaired or the van is fixed. We’ll get training about that, later, but we’ve already been told that when we intend to take a taxi brousse, bring plenty of our own water, food and a list of other precautions. They’re generally safe, but not the most reliable form of transit, even though, for most of the country, it’s the ONLY form of transportation.

In short, no way to get to Le Hermitage or the PCTC without a private car or on foot.

I am SO tired, and SO sore, and I would LOVE to soak my feet in a bucket of warm water, but the two charcoal burners in the kitchen are in use cooking dinner. Perhaps, once dinner is done, if I’m still awake, I’ll warm some water and luxuriate in a nice foot soak. Ahhhh…. I can feel the relief already. Fingers crossed.

Sundays are also laundry day, and I was taught to use two empty tubs, in the front yard next to the well, put my dirty clothes in one tub, fill it with water from the well, scrub each item by hand using bar soap (I can also buy laundry detergent at the local store, if I like, but the Peace Corps has supplied us with bar soap that works quite well with clothing. I brought with me some glycerine soap for my body), then fill the second tub with water and rinse each item in the second tub. When they’ve all been rinsed, I empty out the soapy tub, fill IT with more well water and rinse the items a second time, then hang them up on the balcony of the house next door and hope they aren’t stolen.

But this morning, I changed it a bit. After my shower, since breakfast was still an hour away, I warmed up more water and placed my clothes in my own, personal pail (PC supplied), and poured the hot water on the clothes, and stirred them around with the bar soap, to make the water soapy. I ended up having to warm a second pot of water to provide me with enough to fully soak my clothes, but I figured giving them time to soak like this would make them easier to clean. I left them in the pail while I walked up to the PCTC, and didn’t touch my laundry until after lunch. By then, washing them was a breeze and I’m sure I’ll use this technique once I get to my permanent site. The Malagasy generally wash dishes, bodies, everything in cold water, but they’ve been trained that Americans like warm water, so they’ll heat water for us to use, but will continue to use cold water for themselves. I have to admire this, but I kinda wonder how they’d react to having a warm shower or bath. Would they love it or hate it?

MONDAY (6/26/2017) Malagasy Independence Day

Despite the fact that it’s the official Malagasy Independence Day, we still have language class, and our instructors, who would LOVE to have spent the holiday with their families, had to make the trek back down to Montasoa to teach us. They were good spirited about it, and even though they only get 1.5 days off per week, they didn’t complain. Oh, and NO, I did NOT get to soak my feet in a warm bucket of water last night, so I just massaged them to try to refresh them and work out some of the soreness.

My family has not eaten meat at any meal since I arrived, and I thought it was in deference to me, but it was actually because they cannot afford it. Independence Day, however, is a cause for national celebration, and my host mom purchased a small amount of pork for Sunday’s dinner and they killed one of their roosters for today’s lunch. I was just glad I wasn’t hear to see or hear that poor animal being slaughtered. Being vegan, I believe that NO animal should be killed for human consumption, but I accept that most don’t share my views. My host family likes to tease me about it, in a kind-hearted way. One of the other volunteers was awakened Friday morning by the death squeal of a pig her family was killing for the weekend’s meal, and to sell a portion as well. She was so distraught by this, the sound was beyond description, and since neither of us grew up on a farm, just the thought of that animal’s last gasp for life — it breaks my heart. I noticed that the pork my family was eating had a large amount of fat still on it, and though Americans would throw that part away, nothing was wasted. Same for the rooster. His ankles and feet were savored, his head, every part. Even the entrails were on the plate with the rest of the cut-up bird. She’d made me a nice egg salad, instead. I’ve had to start eating eggs again, because I’m very afraid I’m not getting enough protein. We have tons of rice, some beans and plenty of potatoes and carrots, but protein is usually replaced by a carbohydrate, including the tasteless French bread. This morning for breakfast, we had soupy rice (there is a term for this, but I cannot remember right now) and a bowl of peanuts. I’d never seen peanuts like this. They had a red skin, which the girls removed before eating, and were shaped like kidney beans. The red-skinned peanuts I get in the states are more round. These tasted the same, though, and we eat family style, with all the dishes placed in the center of the table, then I serve myself first because I’m the honored guest. I just grabbed a bunch of the peanuts and dropped them into the rice on my plate, stirred and it tasted pretty good. I just kept thinking, “protein, protein, protein.”

Class started at 8:30 this morning (normally at 8:00) because the LCFs (our language and culture instructors) drive down from Tana (the capital city) on Monday mornings and the extra half-hour was intended to give them extra time to get here. They were still 30 minutes late, though, and the day’s festivities on the soccer field are literally right next door to our Learning Center. We went down to the field to listen to the speeches and watched the locals sing the Malagasy National Anthem a few times, then there was a quick parade around the perimeter of the field in which we marched. We were the last group and had been invited to participate late last week, but it was an honor for the Peace Corps to have been invited.

SO, it’s clear that the fleas love me. They’re everywhere. We’ve been told that when we arrive at our permanent site, to sweep twice per day and wax the floor with an anti-flea wax (who knew there was such a thing?), and Borosy Coco afterward, which shines the floor and fleas don’t like clean, shiny floors, so we’ve been told. The Borosy Coco must be borrowing from French, since there is no “c” in the Malagasy alphabet, and it’s usually just called “koko brusse.” It’s an old coconut, but in half, like a cantaloupe, the middle is scooped out (for food), and what’s left is placed on the floor, open end down, and the top is cut just enough to provide a flat surface, and you use your foot to slide this half coconut across your floor, back and forth, to shine it up. I have no idea if it works, but generations of Malagasy can’t be wrong, so every other day or so, I koko brusse (sounds like Bruce) my floor at my host family, but will do it daily once I move into my own quarters. We’ll find out this Friday where we’re going to be stationed. No one has ANY idea whether we’ll be in the highlands (like where we are now, cooler, fewer mosquitos, but gets quite cold during Winter months… like now… and more rain) or closer to the coast, where food spoils more frequently, more mosquitos and bugs in general, but if you’re close enough to get to the Indian Ocean or Mozambique Channel, you CAN swim in the water. In the highlands, NO swimming in ANY body of water because of all sorts of parasites, plus people use this same water to wash, dump their chamber pots, etc. The lakes/streams LOOK good but for Americans, with no innate immunity to any of this, it can be deadly.  No poisonous snakes (thanks GOD), but there are plenty of other ways the Madagascar eco-systems can kill you. The black plague is serious here, too, and plagues are spread by fleas, so one must be ever vigilant.

I MISS MY KIDS – I know we weren’t really close, and if I hadn’t been living with my son, David, for the past few months waiting out this Peace Corps delay, I’d probably have seen him fewer than a handful of times. But, as I see so many other children every day, I cannot help thinking of my own, though they’re both grown now and living wonderful lives. But seeing these kids makes me think about all the wonderful times we shared going to Disneyland, learning to ride bikes, learning to swim, playing instruments, potty training, parent-teacher nights, making them Hallowe’en costumes, and all the fabulous trips we took when they were growing up. I wish my kids could see just how happy these kids are, though many don’t even have a single pair of shoes, and many with their baby teeth completely rotted out, while others, some as young as three or four, going down to the stream to fetch a bucket of water to be used to flush the toilet, just barely able to lift the full bucket and keep their footing on the slippery rocks. It’s mind blowing to see people who have SO little, yet find great happiness in the little things, things we’d discard as trash, they’re making toys and are happily playing with them. I just wish my kids could share my sense of wonderment, and perhaps appreciate why this mission of mine has been so important to me all my life. I don’t think they really understand this slowly burning drive to help others in need, especially when they’re living in a country where those who need help the LEAST are getting the lion’s share of pretty much everything now, and everyone else can just suck it up. There are so many things about Madagascar that I love, and though the roads are awful, the water undrinkable, the parasites and vermin waiting to attack at every turn, this country is so utterly beautiful — everywhere you look — I am in constant awe of it all. Perhaps one day, I can get them to come, but I doubt they’ll do so as they’ve made it clear they have no interest in coming to Africa. I know where they’re coming from, because I was there, too, never wanting to go anywhere near Africa, feeling no kinship, no relationship despite my very obvious African heritage. As I got older, though, Africa started singing to me. I heard the call, very softly at first, but slowly, the song started calling my name, telling me to come home and I’m SO glad I listened and acted on it. Africa. I love Africa. Sure, there are things that could be better, yes, but the PEOPLE are what I love. The people who, having nothing or very little, still wear their hearts on their sleeves, willing to smile at a moment’s notice and welcome me into their lives. It’s humbling. Truly humbling.

SHORT HAIR IS A REAL “THING” – I’d read somewhere that a woman with very short hair is a bit of an oddity in Madagascar and that people don’t quite know what to make of a woman who “looks like a man.” I’ve experienced this quite a bit, though people are always kind and often greet me first, but the stares are unbelievable, especially from young children. I’m glad I’m a confident person who doesn’t really care what others think of me, because if I wasn’t, I’d have wilted from the attention. Even if I say Manao Ahoana, the standard greeting any time of day, and smile, the dropped jaws and bug eyes staring at me makes me chuckle inside. Some will return the greeting, but as soon as we pass, they’re staring at me as I walk away. I know because I sometimes turn back to see and catch them in the act. The only thing that bothers me about this is that Jennifer, the only other black woman in our “stage,” (pronounced stahzh. We’re the 51st stage of Education volunteers the PC has assembled in Madagascar) when she and I are out together, folks keep telling her “You look Malagasy,” while I’m standing there, invisible. The one with the Malagasy roots is not even there in their minds. I can’t help but wonder if they’d notice me if I still had long hair.  Well, not gonna find out, and either they take me like I am or not at all.

Speaking of Malagasy roots, I’ve pretty much given up any hopes of documenting my Malagasy ancestry while here. There are several reasons but the main problem is the roads. They’re awful, and even on dry days, no mud to speak of, it can still take 3-5 DAYS to get from one part of the island to another, and if the taxi brusse breaks down (multiple times is common), that can easily stretch into a week… on the road… in the middle of nowhere… having to pee and poop by the side of the road…. and hope you brought along enough food and water… just in case. If the theory that my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather was a sailor who left Madagascar for New England around 1770, that meant he probably lived near the coast of Madagascar. But which coast?  East? West? North? South? And even if I DID know where he originated, it’s doubtful there would be any extant documentation I could find. SO, if I go to Antananarivo, or “Tana,” as we call it, and check out the National Archives, thought the French are noted for being great in the documents department, dating back to 1770 is a real stretch — PLUS, I don’t know William Lee’s original Malagasy name. The fact that his name was changed implies that he was enslaved, either in the U.S. or Canada, but my research of him shows that he came into New France from “the colonies” around 1775, even his extensive military records and subsequent land records don’t give me a clue as to his true origins.  So, with this one, just as I did with his son, Peter Lee, and grandson, William Barnard Lee, I’m gonna just throw this one up to the Universe. If there are records or any other data that will help me document the life of William Lee, please let it come to me. And I let it go. The ancestors want to be found, and whenever I give it to them and walk away, the ancestors have ways to get me back into the fold of active research. We shall see.


20 Replies to “Malagasy Independence Day”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the journey. with you during your training prior to your swearing-in-ceremony. Please continue to Blog and keep us posted.

    Sacramento Woman of Color

  2. Oh, Lisa. Knowing how tired you must feel, I’m really appreciating the great length you’ve gone to when making this post.

  3. Thank you thank you for posting. What a wonderful descriptive account of your days. I am so excited for you. I love love love your posts.

    I am so glad you are a writer!

  4. That was quite an excursion, Lisa. And the malaria thing is totally a thing, all over Africa. It claims at least a million children’s lives a year across the Continent.

    You’re so brave and I hope you enjoy this experience and are able to make a contribution on the order of magnitude that you have in the mind of your heart.

    That little girl, Fahasoavana, is so cute!!!

    I still have more left to read, you really wrote a lot…

    Tony Regusters
    Baltimore MD

  5. Wow Lisa!
    It sounds like your adventure is full of many challenges, but I know your up for them. As life continues to adjust for you those challenges will become fewer and before you know it those hills you complained about will be little bumps in the road.
    I think about you often and hope that you are safe, remain healthy and continue to remain positive.

  6. Hey Lisa, loved hearing about your trip thus far. I am looking forward to reading and learning more. Just found out there is a genealogy room at one of the libraries here and I think I may check it out soon and see how far I can go with it.

  7. Lisa I love your blog updates, It makes feel as though I’m right there with you. Please be safe & keep the updates coming.

    1. I am so glad to read of your adventures,I can only imagine what you are experiencing, It’s like reading a book, stay safe and continue to communicate,love you much, My dear friend

    2. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing your experience so poetically. I look forward to accompanying you on this
      awesome journey!

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences, reflections, and pictures. It is so educational. The things we take for granted, here are not available in Madagascar. The cultural differences with the length of a woman’s hair, treatment of dogs, and more are enlightening. The preventative measures required for possible mosquito and flea bites make you wonder they have survived and how much of the natural immunities we have lost.

  9. As I sit and read your wonderful blog it is 530am…I am filled with joy for you…I have begun to cry as I realize how brave you are to have pressed on toward your dream..God bless you..thank you for sharing..I look forward to being transported to Africa are an excellent story teller!!

  10. Lisa I could not stop reading your blog. I could visualize your descriptions of daily life and your experiences so far on your journey. The photos are awesomely documenting your surroundings. I’m feeling Spot too! You are braving it! Thank you for sharing it with us and be healthy and happy.


  11. Wow Lisa!! I am so proud of you and the way You have embraced you new way of life!! It is very interesting and reading your blog it is in fact humbling to do so and do realize that America is truly even on the worst day a better life than in other countries!! I have so enjoyed reading this first step of your journey to not only help your ancestral people but to find out about your lineage! Please Lisa Stay vigilant and diligent about your health and if for some reason you can’t come back and regroup and go back!! Thank you for sharing this new phase if you life! Take care

  12. You are such a great writer! I really enjoyed learning about everything that you are noticing. It does make me think I have too much. Please stay safe from all the bugs etc.

  13. Lisa, thank you for writing in great detail about your travels.
    I have a strong interest and enjoy watching programs about unbelievable road, town and citizeness ect….
    Once again I Salute your bravery tenacity and your courage .

  14. Lisa: what a great read! I couldn’t put it down! So sorry that I wasn’t able to give you a hug before you left, but I send them virtually! Keep writing—a book is in the making! Tracey

  15. Dear Lisa,
    Wow! Your blogging is great! I so enjoyed reading all about your adventures and misadventures! Please continue to let your “people” know how things are with you. Hearing from you is wonderful, and helps one to keep perspective on what is really important. I wish you well and send lots of blessings your way. Yes, you are protected.

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