Coming back after IST, I found myself playing the new and enjoyable role of guide in Vondrozo. Because all of WWF’s local staff had left on trips shortly prior to or soon after the arrival of the group of six volunteers, it was up to me to orientate them and facilitate their temporary settling-in. We toured the town, went on bike rides (passing through smoke plumes rising from doro-tanety), met local leaders, and visited a VOI in nearby Madiorano. Through it all—and on the day-long car trips to and from Bevata, which had ten of us plus equipment crammed into a Land Rover (going) and a hatchback station wagon (coming back)—we had plenty of time to become well acquainted.
Christa Szumski is an anglophone Canadian (most recently from Calgary). She studied biology and sports science at Queens University at spent many a winter working at a lodge in the Canadian Rockies. Henintsoa Ravoala, who studied political science in Lyon, is ethnically Malagasy but has spent the last 23 years of her life in France. Kunigunde (Kuni) Baldauf, whose faculty with languages is humbling (her Malagasy skills will probably trump mine when I see them next week), is a geography student in Freiburg, Germany, though she hails from Austria. Sergio Rejado is a science grad from the Spanish Basque Country whose accent provides pretty much endless entertainment. “Love” and “laugh,” for example, come out sounding exactly the same. Ranto Tantely is a Malagasy sociology student from Mahajunga via Tana. His Malagasy/French/English abilities make him the de facto spokesman of the team—a role he owns. And Cara Elisabeth Brook is a Californian and recent Stanford earth systems grad. She’s taken trips retracing the steps of Johns Muir and Steinbeck, in addition to working and traveling extensively through the great parks of the American West—Yellowstone, Yosemite, Tetons, etc. Their three-month stay in Madagascar is a sort of conservation/communications internship; they’ll be making videos and brochures for WWF, and Cara has been documenting their experience at wwfexploremadagascar.blogspot.com. I’ve made a few cameo appearances and will likely make many more, so check it out if you’re curious to hear diverse perspectives on what we’ve got going on in Vondrozo.
After the WWF volunteers’ arrival but before Bevata, I dashed off to Farafangana to meet the new crop of PCVs rolling into town. Abe, Melissa, and Alison—the kids I’ve been banking with for the past five months—were also there, so we had the whole Sud Est crew present. There are four fresh volunteers in the education and health sectors. James Holcombe, from Orange County via Duke University, will be teaching in Farafangana—meaning he’ll get stuck dealing with the mob of folks who see us when we’re around and decide that they “want to learn English.” Example: a 16-year-old Malagasy girl named Florida talked with Melissa at the club and followed us to the beach the next day. When I told her that I wasn’t married, her immediate reply was, “I’d love to see the United States.” She’s in James’ class. Oh boy. Rebecca Miller is a South Suburb Chicagoan who went to the University of Illinois-Chicago and will be teaching down in Vangaindrano. Ralph, a health volunteer living in a small village between Manakara and Farafangana, grew up in Connecticut and studied at the University of South Florida.
And then there’s my sitemate, Erica Wherry, who’ll be teaching English at Vondrozo’s middle and high schools. She’s 22, hails from Atlanta, and majored in international studies at Spelman, an all-women’s Historically Black College (also in Atlanta). Since the WWF volunteers left a few days ago for villages to the north, Erica and I have been hanging out a lot—getting her settled in, going over the lay of the land, cooking together, etc. It’s unbelievably great to have her here, no question. It is strange, though, to think that my days of American solitude in Vondrozo are over. Sure, she’ll be busy teaching and I’ll be out on field trips frequently, but knowing that I have someone to commiserate with in English living a fifteen-minute walk away? It’s almost too easy.
In short, there’s a new cast of characters in town, and unforeseen plot twists are a veritable certainty.