The following is a collection of some of my thoughts from my first month in Madagascar.
The Arrival of Eddy
Big news from l’isle rouge – I have a buddy! Eddy is another AKFC IMM fellow that was doing his fellowship in Cairo. Unfortunately, because of the political situation in Egypt, he had to leave. After a couple of weeks of placement-less-ness in Geneva, he was moved to Antananarivo to work with me on the RPD team at PAMF Madagascar.
Monday morning and the whole office stops working (including the CEO) to discuss where to put Eddy and move ALL the desks
Bienvenue Edouard! Tonga Soa Edwardantelianananana! (note: this is not a pose, he had no idea I was taking this)
He’s been here for about a couple of weeks now and my life has changed considerably. For example, I am now able to walk into a restaurant without getting weird looks! Eating alone isn’t exactly common here..
Candy crush, my meal companion pre-Eddy
The first month
Now that Eddy is here and I’m no longer on my own, it has really made aware of how different this experience is with a buddy and I’d like to share a little bit about what it was like in that first month.
After the shiny newness of the first few days wore off, I remember feeling like the animals in the picture at the top of this blog. Omg. Omg. Omg-ascar.This is real life now. How am I supposed to make friends? How do I carve out a life for myself here? Wait, how am I supposed to make friends?
Making friends seemed like an insurmountable challenge… mostly because instead of being grateful that I was in a country where I could communicate, I let the French language turn into a big ugly monstre.
I speak French (wow, it has taken me 5? 6? weeks to have enough confidence to say that), but speaking French to buy a croissant or to tell my colleague about my weekend is different than speaking French to form real natural friendships. At least, that’s what I had convinced myself. My French wasn’t natural yet, it was awkward and slightly uncomfortable and I had no confidence. I was really worried that nobody would want to talk to me, nevermind become my bff and giggle about my daily awkward encounters.
Kevin, my first and most loyal friend in Madagascar
Based on discussions between PAMF and AKFC on my living arrangements before I arrived, I knew that safety would be a serious concern for me in Tana. I understood that this meant I had to be cautious, but I didn’t realize it would completely transform my lifestyle. When I arrived, everyone here freaked me out.
“Don’t walk to work with your laptop. We’re giving you a (dinosaur) desktop. It’s going to take us 5 days to set it up because everything is slooowww here, so we’re going to drive you back and forth from your house 4 times a day so you can transport your laptop” (Although I may have embellished the wording on this one slightly, this did happen)
“Don’t wear jewels. Malagasy like to steal gold. Do you have a necklace hiding under your scarf? Why do you have so many holes in your ears?” (not sure if that last one was related to my safety..)
“Watch your purse…Are you watching it!?” x 100
Person A: “Don’t walk home past 5:30. Don’t take road X in the evening, take road Y”
Person B: “Don’t walk home past 5:30. Don’t take road Y in the evening, take road X”
Person C: “You are a jeune fille so you shouldn’t walk. Do you want a moto to ride home every day?” (Eddy will curse me forever for saying no to that one)
And most importantly,
“Do NOT leave your apartment after dark”
Okay je comprends! Completely fresh in this new land and not wanting to be the fellow that something terrible happened to less than one month in, I tried to listen to it all! Unfortunately, the winter sun (we’re below the equator!) sets by about 6pm in Tana. With my work day ending at 5:30, my window to get back to my apartment is slim. I might be able to pick up a couple groceries, but let’s not even start thinking about getting dinner or going to a yoga class! My slow transformation into a hermit had begun.
The man in the apartment across from me sharpening his knife on a Saturday morning (referred to affectionately as “Stabby” by Eddy and I)
So, how did I deal with these new challenges? I did what any girl on an island in the Indian Ocean would do – I sat in my room and ate pineapple and watched Bollywood.
A couple other things helped too:
Once upon another time in my life when I had moved to a different new place and was freaking out about making friends a friend told me to remember that I had friends, we just might not be in the same place at this time. Before I left home, some of my closest friends sent me videos to help me remember that. During those first few days I would watch Ham awkwardly wanting the video to end (and being upside down the whole time), Karen’s dancing hippo butt, Lesley and I throwing cheese, and lots of other wonderful memories which reminded me that it just might take a little time, but I would soon have madamemories to smile about too.
My biggest support through this fellowship so far has been my fellow fellows. My friend Savannah really put it best in her blog post here. Even though I was alone in Madagascar, I drew an incredible amount of strength from the fact that 25 other people in 17 other cities were figuring their new lives out too. I used to tell Savannah that at the most difficult/frustrating/boring times, sometimes I would just think of her in Bishkek, and recognize that she was 3 hours ahead of me and therefore, 3 hours further into her fellowship. If she could make it through those 3 hours, so could I!
My whatsapp screen.
In case you’re interested in reading more about their experiences, I just added links to a bunch more of their blogs to the right!
One Month Later
One month later and things are much easier. I feel at home here now and have settled into a routine.
I have friends!!!
Les Filles Malgaches
There are 3 things that Malagasy girls seem to universally like talking about.
2) Boys (Indian, in particular)
3) Celine Dion
Once I figured this out, I was all set!
This is my friend from work and her sister from our trip to a crocodile farm! This friendship really proves to me the beauty of language to bring people together. French is none of our first language. I would rather be speaking English and they would rather be speaking Malagasy. Even though none of us really want to be speaking French, we suck it up and do it for the sake of friendship. (awwww! Right?!)
The ismaili community has also been very welcoming and quick to get me veryyyyyyy involved. (Once they realized they could communicate with me in Gujrançailish) I am the new librarian, a religious class teacher and a camp counsellor (more on that in October!). This has been a great way for me to have a life outside of work.
The Ismaili jamaatkhana in Tana
On this front, I’m still trying to figure out how to balance caution with having a life, but it is becoming easier. My weekends are busy (when I can meet people in the daylight) and my nights are spent either at the mosque fiddling with the library, with friends who have cars or with my landlords family that lives above me. Although I can still be found curled up with my laptop some evenings, I’ve significantly reduced my hermiting time from those first few days. It also helped that I watched all the Hart of Dixie and Next Food Network Star I had and haven’t bought any more pineapple. Having Eddy around has also made a huge difference. With him, I’ve been able to walk places I was warned not to go alone and stretch the hours that I stay out (just a little, mom).
In a little over a month I’ve already learned way more than I could have ever anticipated. Not only about living in a developing country, but also about being alone in an unfamiliar setting and being a girl in a society where there are clumps of males everywhere. I’m still on the search for “Tana happy”, but I’ve found happiness in Tana and feel all warm and fuzzy when I think of it as home.
(Note: the last line was a test to see if you,ve been reading all my blog entries)
I’ll leave you with some panoramas from the last month..