Consolidation, returning to site

February 18, 2009

For 18 days we volunteers were consolidated at a beachfront hotel in Antalaha. The sun beamed for most of the time and we listened to the Indian Ocean’s crashing waves from our rooms. The Peace Corps gave us money to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, so we indulged in luxurious foods like coconut shrimp, chocolate mousse, pizza and crab. During this time we read books, took long afternoon naps, listened to music and wrote in our journals.

But our consolidation period was far from relaxing. As we wiled away the 18 days we didn’t know what would happen to us. It was possible that at any moment the Peace Corps would call us and report that we’d be leaving Madagascar forever, and it was equally possible that we’d return to our villages and our work. We received daily text messages from the Peace Corps’ security officer that reported the news: the mayor of Antananarivo declaring himself President of Madagascar and creating an alternative national government, the opposition storming the presidential palace, the military shooting and killing over 20 protestors in the capital, airplanes set aflame elsewhere, crowds fleeing from tear gas and grenades, more lootings and violence. Each day we were certain to be returning to America, and then we’d receive a text message giving us hope of returning to our villages, but then only to be dashed by a second and contrary text message. Antalaha’s beautiful beach setting and our luxurious meals were always tainted by the thought that we could soon be leaving Madagascar.

I’m writing to you from Sambava. Most Peace Corps Madagascar volunteers have been cleared to return to their villages. From what I’ve gathered, however, many volunteers are still bracing for evacuation. While most of Madagascar is presently peaceful, the political crisis at the capital has not finished. The crisis could intensify; we could be removed from our villages again. Today I’m returning to my village with the hope that I’ll spend the rest of my Peace Corps service there. It has become a home to me—a very happy home—and I would hate to leave it.


Sambava, Sam and Maggie

December 13, 2008

Sambava is the central town for the SAVA region. It has an airport as well as my bank. It also has niceties that I can’t get in my village like the Internet, cheese, and an entertaining nightlife. On average I’m in Sambava every three weeks either to withdraw money from the bank or pass through it on the way to another town.

There are only seven volunteers in the region, and we meet in Sambava for weekend getaways from our sites. We spend more money than we should on its niceties and we spend too much time than we should on its beaches. At night we drink THB, virtually the only beer available in Madagascar, and dance in discotheques to house and Malagasy music. Throughout our time together we talk about our lives as American expatriates and appreciate the fact that we all speak the same native language.

A few weeks ago two volunteers left the SAVA family. Sam and Maggie had finished their two year Peace Corps term in the region and were headed for new endeavors. In Sambava we had a farewell weekend for the two. They mean a lot to me. They welcomed me to the region when I arrived and they shared their experience and wisdom about all things Malagasy in the last few months.

John, another volunteer, and I accompanied the two to the airport. We took photos of each other and exchanged addresses as we waited for the plane to arrive. When it did, the reality of leaving Madagascar poignantly struck Sam. He was uncharacteristically quiet for a while, thinking about the last two years and how simply and freely he had lived in this beautiful country. Then he said, “When my parents took me to college my freshman year and we were saying goodbye, my dad didn’t cry at the time. But my mom told me he was crying uncontrollably in the car on the drive home. They had to pull over because he was crying so hard he couldn’t drive. That’s how I feel now. I’m fine now, but when I get on the plane…”