Got to see all my friends in my training group, most of whom live 3-4 days of travel away from me. I loved being surrounded by the people who came here with me, and to hear about all the exciting and inspiring things they’re doing in their villages.
Our conference was somewhat useful, and they bring us to the Peace Corps Training Center, where there’s unlimited electricity and hot water and they feed us 5X per day.
River trip (see previous posts)- best trip ever.
Checked off some Madagascar must-sees, such as baobabs, lemurs and tsingy. Also the red-tailed (?) mongoose, one giant man-eating crocodile, and the Madagascar kingfisher.
Getting out of my site and out of my region was good for me- I needed a break from my village life, and now I’m ready and excited to go back to it.
May low points:
Between being in Tana before the conference and our river trip afterwards, I spent too much money, drank too much, ate too much rich food, didn’t exercise enough, didn’t shower enough, and spent too much time on the internet when it was free and fast at the Peace Corps transit house.
Also, I generally don’t like to spend that much time away from my village. My projects tend to stall, and I get giant-sized guilt trips when I get back.
Peace Corps Volunteers:10
Boatmen:6 (plus one guide)
Types of lemurs identified: 3
Flat tires: 3
Cases of beer: 3 (plus rum, plus homemade wine)
Gunny-sacks of rice: 2
Tsingy injuries: none, miraculously
Awesome people, fantastic scenery, fun adventures, no sunburn, good music, cold nights camping, otherwordly limestone formations, and trees that look like they’ve been turned upside-down. Winning!
During our river trip, our group of ten was split into three canoes. We all traveled together, but sometimes on the river we did our own thing. The Battleship canoe shot groundnuts at each other with slingshots. The other canoe read Fortune magazine and worked on crosswords. My canoe napped, drank homemade wine, and read Harry Potter aloud to each other.
After our conference, a group of ten from my training group decided to take a canoe down the Tsiribihina river to see two of Madagascar’s most distinctive attractions- the tsingy rock formations and baobab trees. To get to that region (the remote West coast), we canoed for three days, camped for 6, ate rice for every meal, and skipped showering for about a week. Best river trip ever!
Last week was my training group’s mid-service conference. We had a week of trainings and sessions that ranged from extremely useful to extremely tedious. The most interesting was when a representative from the embassy came to talk to us (with unexpected candidness) about the political situation in the country (google it, things are getting interesting). The best part was spending time with friends I don’t see often enough. We also ate Thai food in the capital and visited the one tourist attraction that Tana has to offer.
Making chocolate by hand with the cacao farmers: This great group of workers takes care of the cacao that eventually becomes Madecasse chocolate, but their part in the process is fairly far removed from the finished product, so sometimes it’s difficult for them to imagine their role in the process. So, along with some friends, we made homemade chocolate at one of the cacao plantations. It doesn’t turn out quite like any chocolate you’d buy at the store, but it’s tasty and the guys enjoy it. Here’s an overview of the process:
Drying the cacao beans after fermentation is done:
Roasted cacao beans:
Same beans, shells removed: (this is the point when it begins to smell and taste like chocolate, but still bitter)
Pounding the beans into a paste in a big wooden mortar and pestle:
Finished product, flavored with citron or peanuts:
Enjoying our chocolate:
On a related note, I stopped by the Madecasse office and factory in Antananarivo to check out how it’s done professionally. It was great to see the equipment and meet the workers and sample the products (yum! pink peppercorn and citrus flavor is my new favorite)
This past weekend I went with friends to Donia music festival in Nosy be, although it was really just an excuse to wander around for the weekend on the beach. Nosy be is not easy to do on a budget, but we slept 5 people in a hotel room meant for two and ate street food for most of our meals. There’s a fantastic hotel that lets us swim in their pool all day if we buy two bottles of sparkling water and one mango juice. We did splurge on one meal on the beach, which we drank while watching the sunset.
This is how Ellen and I felt when and a friend and her husband surprised us after we biked to the beach by meeting us there
with this delicious seafood lunch:
Which resulted in this expression of satisfaction and contentment:
I know Easter was in March, but Easter Monday is a bigger deal here, and that was April 1st. I hiked to the river in the rain and swam with friends.
Went to Diego Suarez to do some work and have some fun. I had a very productive weekend and also managed to fit in a going-away party for a friend with one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in the past year. I also biked to Ramena beach with friends, which is a beautiful ride and a fantastic beach. Diego Suarez is one of my favorite cities anywhere.
I’ve been visiting a lot of cocoa cooperatives due to my new collaboration with Madecasse chocolate company. It’s been great to meet the farmers, see some new towns, and learn the subtleties of the post-harvesting process.
I found a scorpion in my bed the other day, and I hardly slept the rest of the night. I am grateful it wasn’t in an aggressive mood.
The gas tank for my stove ran out, so I spent a whole week cooking over charcoal, which is extremely frustrating, especially at 6AM when I’m trying to boil water for coffee and the coals aren’t hot enough.
My friends in the village love braiding my hair, but it’s not the most comfortable process, so I only let them do it on special occasions, such as my 24th birthday.