So, 2 updates in one month so far, I definitely did not think that would happen. But, lo and behold, here we are in Tana again. We've been coming in groups yesterday, today, and tomorrow to spend the night here before heading in different directions to go to our permanent sites for a week. Some people have to fly, some have to drive over multiple days, and some just have short day-drives. For me, this means Ankazobe, which is 95 km north of Tana on good roads, so it won't be too bad of a drive. The Peace Corps car will drive me and 3 other girls who live off the same highway and will drop us at our sites as we get to them. We have very vague instructions about what we're supposed to be doing during this week-long visit, because getting a straight answer about anything from Peace Corps would be way too much to ask for. We're supposed to introduce ourselves to some main people in the community, like the mayor, gendarme, and our counterpart. I was supposed to do this with the PCV who is already at my site, but I found out today she's actually going to be our of site this week so I'm going it alone. Supposedly I'm staying in a hotel while I'm in Ankazobe, which might be interesting. I'm not real familiar with what Malagasy hotel standards are like, but we get 30,000 Ar (~$15) for each night, and 10,000 Ar (~$5) for walk-around money each day. From what I've heard, this should more than cover meals at site, since a typical meal at the restaurants runs about 2,000 Ar.
We'll also be checking out our houses while we're at site to figure out what we'll need to shop for (as far as furnishings) and going to the market to see how much everything will cost. I've been told that I need to build a fence around my house. Since I don't even know where to begin, I'm hoping I can hire someone to do it even though Peace Corps has apparently already tried and failed to find anyone who can. I'm excited to see the digs though, even if I won't be staying there for a few more weeks. I'm also anxious about the weather. It still sucks here in Mantasoa, but not quite as bad. The rain has let up to about every other day, or sometimes just for part of a day or night. It's still cold, but either I'm getting used to it, or it's slowly starting to warm up. I'm really, REALLY hoping the weather in Ankazobe is better.
Mostly I'm just looking forward to being away from my host family and having time to myself. Even if I have tasks to do, at least I can go back to the hotel at night and read, or sleep, or whatever, and not just hang around with my family until I feel enough time has passed that I can go to my room without seeming rude. My little brother Tsiory (the one I like) didn't realize I was going to be leaving their home eventually, and he's really sad right now. He told me that he would come to Ankazobe with me and cook my rice for me, which just broke my heart a little. Also, my host family thought I was going to be living with a different family at my site, and when I told them I would be living on own, they had a looong laugh. Apparently I can't do anything on my own, and the thought of me cooking, getting water, and cleaning by myself is HILARIOUS. Glad I can provide entertainment.
Speaking of being away from my host family and entertainment, staying at the PCTC yesterday and today has been amazing. This place is seriously the jewel of Mantasoa. We finished classes pretty early yesterday, and I think everyone was excited to have to a chance to hang out together and let loose (and since I'm sure PC reads this blog, that's all I'll say about it). On a totally unrelated subject, did you know you can get a coke-bottle of rum for about $1? Other than that, it's just been really nice to be somewhere with electricity, hot running water, and meals that aren't totally based around rice. It's also been awesome to get to hang out with the other PCTs, because there's a bunch of super rad people here. I think the fact that we're all going through this weird, stressful, crazy, and yes, fun, stage in our lives together is an automatic bonding factor. These are the people who understand what you're going through when you complain about not having a minute to yourself, or about having rice for all 21 meals in a week, or about “double dragon-ing”. It's certainly a diverse group, and it seems like everyone can connect to at least one other person. For the most part though, it just seems like a huge group of friends, and that's awesome.
Probably the most interesting thing I did this week was go to an exhumation. This is sometimes called the “turning of the bones” ceremony, and our volunteer class was lucky enough to be invited to one here. They usually happen every 4-7 years depending on the family, and it's basically a giant party. There's music, dancing, drinking, feasting, and, oh yeah, human bones taken out of a tomb and rewrapped in new shrouds. It sounds creepy, but it was actually a really fun time. Supposedly it's good luck to have vazaha at an exhumation, so hopefully our 35-volunteer-strong presence could help out. We all had a great time dancing, but it became clear after a little while that there was a LOT of alcohol being consumed by the Malagasy and it got a little awkward. For this reason, I'm especially glad that we got to go as a big group, because I would feel uncomfortable on my own in that situation.
On the topic of harassment, I haven't experienced very much here. The only time I've gotten “vazaha” (term for white foreigner, generally assumed to be French) yelled at me was in the big market in a nearby town. I think the people of Mantasoa are used to having volunteers in the village, so while we're still a spectacle, people aren't freaked out by us. Everyone says hello, and the kids are always especially excited to see us and talk to us. They've picked up some crucial bits of American culture, such as the chicken dance, high fives, and, for lack of a better term, the fist-bump-and-explode. I think this is what the Peace Corps meant by culturally exchange, right? I will say that I generally avoid talking to men, or even making eye contact since PC keeps warning us that any sign of friendliness towards a guy can be interpreted as you being romantically interested in them. I feel really rude, but whatever. Also, they apparently think all American women are super promiscuous because of such cultural gems as “Baywatch” and “Dallas”. Gross. One of the things I really hate about my homestay site is that it's in a sketchy part of a neighborhood (sketchy even for Mantasoa), and there's a hill I have to walk by that is always packed with guys. Apparently they have no jobs and have nothing better to do than letch. Creepers, ugh! Anyway, I never talk to them, even when they try to ask me what's up.
That's the news from Lake Mantasoa for now. Next time I'll be able to talk about my site and Ankazobe! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a fast enough internet connection to post pictures, because I've actually taken some for once. Hope all is swell in the states, think of me when you eat McDonalds or flush your toilet, because I'm certainly not doing either of those things here!