In 24 days, I’ll be touching down in the District of Columbia. And about 40 hours after that, I’ll be back on the island to help my brother, Sean, and his fiancé, Michele, celebrate tying the knot. It’s absurdly awesome to be granted two weeks of family, friends, pizza, and dark beer in the good ol’ US of A. Stoked doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind.
In the meantime, work and life go on in Madagascar. After my most recent field expedition south, I traveled with other Sud-Est volunteers to Manakara for our regional Volunteer Action Committee (VAC) meeting. We then headed back to Farafangana, met up with the WWF volunteers, and celebrated Halloween with a bonfire on the beach and night swimming in the Indian Ocean. No costumes or candy, but I’d call it a fair trade.
I’d been planning to head north with the Explore! group and spend the next several weeks on a 200km hike through the Corridor (starting south of Ambalavao and continuing all the way back to Vondrozo), but WWF asked me to come back and help Augustin, a field agent, with peanut farming and forest restoration work with a few southern VOIs, instead. It was a disappointing turn of events. I’d been looking forward to the trek for many reasons, including my desire to eventually develop the route as an adventure tourism circuit. But I’ll meet the group in a few weeks as they arrive in villages closer to Vondrozo, and I’ll hopefully undertake the whole route sometime next year.
The past few days I’ve been on a home improvement and writing binge. I finally bought a kitchen table in Farafangana, so I’m no longer cooking on the ground. Big life step, no? I also built a towel rack and shelf to go with the table, repaired my garden fence, and hauled a few bags of compost home so that I can dig the second half of my garden this afternoon. Abe celebrated his 25th birthday with us in Vondrozo last weekend. We took a bike ride, found a hill with a view, and hung out until sunset. Or rather, until a large group of villagers showed up, weapons in hand, to tell us that we needed to ask permission before loitering on their hilltop. I should’ve known better, but they were friendly enough about it—especially once they realized that we could (sort of) speak Malagasy. In any case, that was our cue to pack up and head home.
As soon as Augustin gets back to town (probably tomorrow or the next day), we’ll head south to begin the peanut and restoration projects in Ankazomaneno and nearby villages. Peace Corps is putting us on “standfast” lock-down from November 16-19, meaning that I’ll have to stay in Vondrozo and be in phone contact. Andry Rajoelina, acting president of the High Transitional Authority, is pushing through a referendum—to be held on November 17—that will modify the Malagasy constitution and (à la française) establish a Fourth Republic (to supersede the current Third Republic). Flyers, banners, t-shirts, and broadcasts crying “ENY!” or “YES!” are everywhere. I haven’t seen a single dissenting advertisement. The outcome seems assured, though I’ve got very little sense as to what the referendum will actually change (other than lowering the legal age required for the presidency, which currently bars Rajoelina from holding the post). Most Malagasy don’t seem to know much about it, either, except for the dawning of the Fourth Republic (Hallelujah?). The vote doesn’t have the support of several rival political factions and is unlikely to be recognized by the international community, so all told, it won’t do much to advance the process of ending the country’s leadership crisis. It will pave the way for elections—perhaps as soon as next month—but those, too, are unlikely to win international approval. So it goes. Peace Corps doesn’t expect large-scale disruptions or violence, but the circumstances are fluid enough for them to be concerned, so they want us to be reachable and accounted for at all times.
Once I’m done standing fast, I’ll go north and join Florent and the WWF volunteers for a week of work and forest camping in Antaninary and the surrounding areas. Then, I’ll have to say goodbye to the WWF crew, pick up my bags in Vondrozo, and start the trek up to Tana to catch my flight to DC on December 2. I’ll be in DC December 3-5, in Hawai’i December 5-14, and back in Madagascar on December 17.
A weekend in DC and a wedding in Hawai'i…a charmed life, to say the least.