Secret Meeting, Corrupt Police, and I Become a Man (calm down, it’s not as exciting as it sounds)

Continued from previous entry:

6) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you make an appointment with someone for 10 o’clock the following day and they are completely perplexed as to why you can barely contain your annoyance when they show up at 11:30. Being on time here is quite an anomaly. The concept of being on time is actually referred to as “fotoana vazaha” (foreigner time).

7) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you realize that whatever price the merchants quote at the market you should offer them half that price. And you’ll still probably be paying more than a Malagasy person would for it.

8) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have climbed onto a taxi-brousse so full of sweaty strangers jammed together that you can barely breathe and then endured a bumpy ride with someone you don’t know halfway (or all the way) sitting on your lap. Alternatively, you could be the one sitting on someone else’s lap. “Arakaraka”…it depends. On the plus side, this is a surefire way to make friends really fast. Or, you know, have an extremely prolonged awkward moment.

9) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have gotten excited upon realizing it is raining because that means you can put your bucket outside and catch rain water – which then means you don’t have to “maka rano” (fetch water) that day. This happens to be my least favorite chore. I think the day will soon come when I daydream about water faucets. Shiny, shiny water faucets…

10) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have also cursed the heavens upon realizing it is raining because that means the roads of loose red dirt through town are now going to be impassable, muddy rivers waiting to trap unsuspecting “vazaha” and eat their flip-flops.

11) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you desperately want to murder the rooster who crows every hour on the hour (whoever said that roosters only crow at sunrise is full of crap). You would go through with your homicidal plans too if only said rooster wasn’t dangerously close to the size of a pitbull. Seriously. I am convinced some of them have teeth.

12) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when your taxi-brousse driver has narrowly missed hitting a cart pulled by zebu (type of African cattle), a rickshaw, about a dozen chickens, and random pedestrians all in the past ten minutes. Those with high blood pressure should seek other means of transportation. Oh wait…there aren’t any. I was on a taxi-brousse once that hit a zebu cart. We just kept right on going.

Well, I am in town for the day to run some errands so I thought I might as well update the blog. Let’s see…what exciting things have gone on since my last entry. Ah yes, back in October I was asked by Peace Corps to participate in a “Stakeholder’s Meeting” which took place in Tana. You are probably thinking, “What the heck is a stakeholder’s meeting?” That is precisely what I thought to myself when I read the email invitation. I was intrigued by the ambiguous title and the possibility of free food at such a gathering, so naturally I attended. The meeting actually ended up being quite interesting. Some of the “higher ups” in PC Madagascar were in attendance as well as representatives from the various health NGOs that PC works with in this country. I was one of three health volunteer representatives. I was by far the newest volunteer in attendance and didn’t really feel like I had much to contribute but I warmed that chair quite magnificently if I do say so myself. The purpose of the meeting was to fill everyone in on the Health Program Review that had recently been completed in Madagascar. They (whoever “they” happen to be) are trying to decide what changes need to be made to the existing health program here. So as a health volunteer, I was quite interested in their findings…unfortunately, the bulk of the meeting was in French. My French is worse than my Malagasy (which is saying something). Nevertheless, I am glad the health sector is getting some attention and the free food was fabulous.

Oh! Backtrack just a sec. I forgot to mention a minor yet important incident that happened when I had just arrived in Tana for that meeting. I was in a private taxi cab on my way to the Peace Corps transit house when a Malagasy police officer flagged down my cab. He sidled up to the window and started asking all kinds of questions about where I was going, what I was doing, who I worked for, etc. etc. He was far more aggressive than most policemen and gendarme (military police) that I had run into before. Then he wanted to see my ID, which isn’t an outlandish request so I showed it to him. Well, that’s when things got interesting. He tried telling me that something was wrong with my Peace Corps ID and that he needed to see my passport (which happens to be in the Peace Corps office for safekeeping). There I was struggling in my poor Malagasy to 1) apologize profusely for not having my passport 2) explain that I cannot produce for him something that I do not have and 3) that I work for the Peace Corps for crying out loud and what exactly is the problem? He was gradually getting more and more ticked off and I was running out of things to say. Finally, I grabbed my cellphone from my purse and told him that I was going to call the security officer of Peace Corps so he could talk to him about the problem. I have never seen someone retreat so quickly in my life. Sometimes bluffing works, kids. As we were driving away the cab driver, who had basically been silent during this whole exchange, turns around and says quietly, “He was mad at you because you didn’t give him money.” Duly noted.

Moving on…I have now acquired a PUPPY! Yes, I am aware that if I continue at this rate of accumulating animals I will have my own version of Noah’s Ark by Close of Service in two years time. Do I care? Of course not. My friend Hanta had a mommy dog with little puppies that were two weeks old when I first arrived at site. Fast-forward two months and there were only a few puppies remaining. Some had died, some had been picked off by other dogs (street life is tough), and some were just mysteriously missing. Luckily, my favorite was one of the remaining pups and last month I finally took him home. Technically, he should have still been with his mother but she was so malnourished she wasn’t producing milk anymore. The poor little guy pretty much just slept the first week because he didn’t have energy for anything else. But after having plenty to eat (in proper Malagasy style he loves white rice), fresh water, and some TLC he became the hyperactive, clumsy, and awkwardly adorable puppy that I have in my possession today. I named him Indiana (like Indiana Jones, not the state…fans of the movie will appreciate the irony of naming a dog Indiana). The name choice was definitely influenced by the fact that I watched all four of the Indiana Jones movies the week I got him (yes, even the last one in spite of its deplorable lack of a plot). He has the habit of running at full speed around the room which usually ends with him running headfirst into a piece of furniture and sitting there dazed for a few minutes. Every time he does this I think, “Imagine how smart you could have been.” (LOL Pasha) Witnessing this spectacle is slightly worrying but also hilarious and endearingly pathetic. Pictures are posted below for your enjoyment.

Work is still pretty much the same. I was in Tana for some medical stuff for awhile so I fell behind a bit in the progress I was making. No worries…there is pleeeenty of time to pick things back up again. I did manage to make some posters about pesta (plague) to use when I give health talks at the clinic (see pic below). Which as it turns out is a good thing since I heard today that four cases of plague were confirmed in a neighboring town. Lovely. In other work-related news, I have now learned how to administer HIV and Syphilis blood tests. We give these tests at the clinic to women who come in for their first pregnancy consultation. It may seem like a small task, but it is extremely satisfying to me to have something concrete and medically relevant to do. I have also already seen some interesting things at the clinic. Three immediately come to mind: there was the lady who came in for the birth control shot but as she was speaking with the nurse I realized she had two thumbs on one hand. Medically, probably not problematic…but still interesting. Then there was the woman who came in for a pregnancy consultation and the nurse and I about died of shock when we saw on her record that she had her “tubes tied” years ago. Clearly, that procedure was not successful since she is currently about four months pregnant. My question is…if they didn’t do that procedure, what exactly did they do? Huh. Finally, a man came in just the other day bleeding profusely from a wound on his foot. Apparently, he had accidentally stepped on a plough blade. How exactly does one accomplish that?

As I stated earlier, I was in Tana for a small stretch and what does every volunteer do when they are stuck in the capital? Eat as much expensive “vazaha” food as humanly possible. There is a bakery close to the transit house that has ice-cream which comes shockingly close to American quality (most of the time ice-cream here is decidedly lacking in creaminess and has large chunks of ice in it). The other volunteers who were staying at the house and I also found a great pizza place called Lorenzo’s (the owner is Italian but speaks perfect English…no idea what he is doing in Madagascar though). Funny thing…sometimes when you order “vazaha” food here they don’t quite get it right. Some choice examples are 1) when I ordered a pepperoni pizza at Divina and I was presented with a pizza with green pepper topping instead. They took the “pepper” in “pepperoni” quite literally 2) a place called Happy King is the closest Madagascar comes to western fast food and they even have the paper cups with plastic lids and straws like American fast food. However, the illusion of having fountain drinks is ruined when you see them opening a coke bottle behind the counter and pouring it into the cup. Also, no ice. Bummer. 3) The Happy King menu includes common fast food options like hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. but it also has a “meal” that consists of a bag of popcorn, two hot dogs (which look even more questionable than American hotdogs), and a coke. I think they are confusing fast food and a football game. I give them kudos for the effort though.

Finally, to further demonstrate that the Malagasy like to take their time with things, I received my bank card last week…after three months of waiting. This is exciting because it means when I am in the capital I can use the bank card at the ATM machine (although the fact that it is in French may pose a slight problem) instead of waiting in the oppressively long line for a bank teller. However, much to my amusement the card reads “Mr. Kimberly Hope Conner”. Ah well, I won’t let a little gender confusion ruin my excitement about the card.
I’ve got more, but I will be in town again next weekend for the In-Service Training so I’ll save some tidbits for then. Veloma vetivety!

P.S. Feel free to comment…it’s nice to know people are reading!

Me and Indiana!

Distributing vitamins during Mother and Child Health Week

Posters I made about pesta (plague)

Indiana - the most spoiled dog in Madagascar


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katelyn
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 15:27:59

    Love it, Kim! I also love your puppy, but not as much as you do I’m sure. Sending so much love your way and missing you every second. ❤


  2. Jen Wang
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 15:30:16

    Kim!!! So proud of you. Sounds like you are having a crazy but amazing time over there…We’re going to have to meet up and exchange war stories when we COS…


  3. Sara Halligan
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 16:32:02

    Hello my sister in a far away land. I miss you so much. You’ve had quite the adventures lately. I’m so proud of you for learning to administer the HIV and Syphilis tests. That’s kind of a scary thought tho. Hoping the next gendarme encounter is few and far between. Not cool. Way to think on your feet though Watson ; ) “The rain falls mainly in the plains” and Madagascar too! LOL. I can just see you trudging through red mud and it sucking off your flip flops and you cursing that dang red mud while the locals discuss their “vazaha”. Maybe the rooster should be Christmas dinner? So I’m thinking New York city cab drivers don’t have nothing on Malagasians. I can imagine that is a hot mess from your description. Indy is sooooo cute. I imagined him bigger. I love his sonar ears and his color is beautiful. He looks like a very happy puppy. Your a good momma. You know were gonna have to try to get him home with you. Kaylie says he has to meet his cousins in “The America”. lol. We love and miss you Mimi. Love reading your blogs. You are in our prayers and thoughts everyday. Till next time Mr. Kimberly, (ha) take care of yourself and know you are loved dearly.


  4. Pasha
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 18:48:47

    OMG Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim Indiana is soooooooooooooooooo cute. If I didn’t know he was eating cockroaches, I’d want to give him a kiss on his widdle bitty nose, but I suspect he licks that nose with the same tongue that laps up bugs. But he’s so cute I might just give him a kiss anyway.

    Love love love and miss you. I’ll try to call you on Wednesday/later this week!! ❤


  5. madalife
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 19:17:29

    PCV Madagascar should know what to do next time whenever they get harassed by a police officer, call the security officer of PC immediately.
    Unfortunately, in poor countries like Madagascar the military and police officers often abuse their authority by extortion instead of protecting people and the community.


  6. Steve
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 16:24:08

    You are having the adventure of a lifetime!


  7. Chris
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 20:11:56

    hey sis. long time reader, first time poster. anywho. your entries are both inspiring and humbling. I find myself clicking on your blog link every day or so to see if you’ve posted any new adventures, even when you’ve just posted the day before. I’m sure by the time you get back you’ll have enough stories to fill a book. I keep you in my thoughts everyday and I hope your time is productive and goes quick.
    big hug. lots of love.


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