Christmas Break (5 of 5): Cut Your Hair

February 2, 2009

I hadn’t cut my hair in seven months, mostly out of fear that a Malagasy barber wouldn’t know how to cut my foreign hair. Plus, stereotypically speaking, I was already a hippy for joining the Peace Corps, so why not embrace the image by growing out my hair? I welcomed the change.

The longer my hair became, the more my Malagasy friends hated it. Many Malagasy people associate long hair with Rastafarianism, which leads to associations of social irresponsibility, which then leads to ill opinion. I also liked to complement my longer hair with facial hair, and this choice in personal appearance was the straw that broke the zebu’s back. By the time I saw Michelle in December, to the Malagasy people I was as attractive as a taxi-brousse crash.

Michelle swore she liked my hair. She said she’d love me no matter what my hair looked like, even if it were all to fall out into irremediable baldness. But when I decided to cut my hair because it was too hot for Madagascar’s rainy season, she seemed thrilled. “You have a nice hairline and your long hair hides it. Hey, can I cut it?” she said. “Sure,” I said.

She needed some liquid courage before cutting her first client’s hair, so we drank some rum and played cards in her home while sweat dripped from every pore. Finally, she was ready. For the next hour she attacked my hair and facial hair with scissors she’d purchased in the market, and when she was finished my hair was short and perfect. My hairline looked nice, too. “I think I’ll give up teaching English and become a coiffure!” Michelle said.

Upon returning to my village, I discovered another advantage to cutting my hair: People no longer compare me to English singer James Blunt or think that I am English singer James Blunt.


Christmas Break (4 of 5): Christmas Cheer

February 2, 2009

Michelle’s home features an outhouse toilet. After the sun sets large rats run under its door and scurry on its floor, so at night Michelle goes to the bathroom in a bucket in the corner of her one-room home. To avoid any embarrassing situations while I slept at her home, we used the outhouse toilet as much as we could.

I awoke at 2 a.m. Christmas night with the feeling that my stomach was on fire. I needed go to the bathroom, and then it occurred to me that I had no convenient place to go. If I went to the outhouse toilet, it was guaranteed that I’d have to fight off rats, and it wouldn’t be pleasant for me to unleash a fury into Michelle’s bucket in the corner of Michelle’s bedroom while Michelle slept twelve feet away. I lay in bed and thought about what to do. I tried to ignore the pain until morning when I could use the outhouse, but I could not. I needed to go to the bathroom.

At 3 a.m. I finally decided to use Michelle’s bucket. “Hey,” I whispered into her ear, “I don’t feel well and I need to use the bathroom. Is it O.K. if use your po?”

“Of course,” she said sleepily.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I felt I needed to apologize for what I was about to do. “Don’t look up from your pillow and try not to hear me.”

I crept out of bed using my cell phone as a flashlight. My stomach was raging. While I sat on Michelle’s bucket and made noises that no girlfriend should ever have to hear, she lay still on her bed. When I finished, I stood up with my cell phone and took a deep breath. Then I immediately needed to vomit. I turned around, ripped open the lid of the bucket again and retched violently, my stomach heaving in pain. Michelle raised her head to see her boyfriend on his knees in his boxers destroying her chamber pot, all illuminated by the blue glow of a cell phone. Afterwards I climbed back into bed, got into the fetal position, and moaned softly. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach by a fist on fire.

The next morning Michelle still loved me. In fact, it’s been more than a month since her well water nearly made me unload my innards into her chamber pot, and Michelle still loves me. Our relationship, which has never left the lands of Madagascar, has endured many unromantic experiences in this country. Strangely enough, I think this endurance has made for the most romantic relationship I’ve been in.

Christmas Break (1 of 5): Intro

February 2, 2009

I spent a week in Antananarivo for our In-Service Training meeting (IST) and two weeks with Michelle. We spent Christmas at her site, a few days on Ile. St. Marie, and New Year’s Eve in Tampolo Forest where we went on a nocturnal walk and spotted four species of lemurs. We took a canoe to Nosy Akoho, a small island that was once the home to Betsimisaraka tribe royalty, and saw an additional two species. We also indulged in lots of rum, cold drinks and cold bucket showers to make the summer’s heat more bearable.

With my beautiful girlfriend at my side, my vacation was awesome. But instead of writing a long narrative of my vacation, I’ve written four small stories in the next four blog entries so the pig doesn’t get lost.