Some Tales and Observations from the Past Month

Okay, so here’s the deal. The bulleted part of this blog entry I wrote about two weeks ago and it is decidedly more lighthearted and amusing than the lone paragraph which follows. That last paragraph was written just a few days ago and it tells a rather somber tale with absolutely no witty remarks or funny punch line. I figured that it would only be fair for me to warn you and also let you choose whether to read the final paragraph or not. Some people would prefer just not to know, you know? So if you are one of those people who turn off the television when the news anchor starts talking about the latest sad event (*cough* Mom *cough*) then just read the bulleted sections. You can pretend that the last paragraph doesn’t exist or that it is just footnotes or something else you would normally ignore entirely. Okay then.

  •  Although I can tolerate and can even appreciate most insects, I cannot express the extreme depths of my loathing for cockroaches at this point in my life (sorry Dad, I know you have an inexplicable fondness for them). First of all, they are the size of a Smart Car here in Madagascar. Secondly, they like to jump unexpectedly out of containers that I cannot possibly fathom how they managed to get into in the first place (a Tupperware container…seriously?). Thus far, I have been able to prevent myself from responding with the stereotypical girly scream but I will admit that I have indeed done the whole immediately-drop-the-container-and-flap-hands-frantically-while-mentally-freaking-out-and-muttering-expletives thing. Nasty little devil-spawn.
  • The frippery is quite possibly the most entertaining thing to hit Madagascar (at least for any foreigners who happen to be here). Don’t know what a frippery is (or frip as the cool kids call it)? Allow me to enlighten you. If you go to basically any sizable marketplace in Madagascar you will find merchants who are surrounded by chaotic piles of secondhand clothes. These clothes have mostly been donated from countries like the US, Japan, China, Germany, France, South Africa, etc. Interestingly, I have found quite a few clothing items from Bangladesh…but that is beside the point. The actual point is that it is endlessly entertaining to dig through the piles of clothing never knowing if you will pick up a women’s suit jacket from the 80’s with shoulder pads that could take your eye out or a skirt so full of sequins it looks like a disco ball. There are also some really hilarious English translations. I wish I had written down a poem I saw on a shirt once that had been so poorly translated into English you couldn’t decipher anything it said whatsoever. It is even better when you see Malagasy people wearing shirts when they obviously have no idea what it says in English. There is nothing that makes your day quite like seeing an especially large, intimidating Malagasy man wearing a “Girl Scouts of America” shirt. Of course, it is always exciting when you find that one decent item of clothing in the pile and purchase it for the equivalent of fifty cents US. I will neither confirm nor deny that I very recently bought a pair of blue velvet pants at a frip just because they were so terrible, they were fabulous.
  • A Ghost Story…Sort Of: We are in the tail-end of the rainy season here in the highlands which means I get cooped up in my house for long stretches of time while the skies open up outside. So whenever there is a slight reprieve and we have a reasonably sunny day I like to go for walks or ride my bike (not sure if I informed you that PC finally issued us mountain bikes). Well, one day I decided to take a walk in the little foresty area (yes, I made that word up) at the edge of my town. There is a path that runs through the trees and circles around on itself. But who uses trails these days? Trails are boring. So in my “brilliance” I decided to explore a little bit. I was picking my way through bamboo that would make a panda weep for joy and thorn bushes that seemed determined to take my jacket from me when suddenly I came to a small clearing. The first thing I saw in the clearing was a very large mud brick house that appeared to be abandoned since the weeds around it were basically my height. As I moved around to see the front of the house I noticed there once was a little balcony on the second floor which now has crumbled completely and only the railing remains. I stood there gazing at the house for a bit, vaguely wondering what the story behind it was. What happened to the family who lived there? Why did they live so far away from the rest of the villagers? Then I noticed there were two other small buildings hidden by weeds close by. At first, I thought they were just very small houses, but upon closer inspection I discovered that they were actually Malagasy tombs complete with crosses and family names engraved in the stone. I will admit that I was a little creeped out to find that I had accidentally stumbled upon a dilapidated house and a pair of tombs in the middle of the forest. But that initial creepiness is nothing compared to what I felt a half second later when I turned around. Standing not ten feet from me at the edge of the clearing was the oldest, tiniest, little Malagasy woman I had ever seen. And by standing, I mean just standing and staring. She didn’t utter a word to me. Her eyes were clouded with cataracts and her wrinkles were deep enough to hide loose change. Attempting (rather poorly) to conceal the fact that I was about to jump right out of my skin, I muttered a feeble, “Manahoana”. She looked at me for one more beat, replied with “manahoana” which sounded like she should have dusted her vocal chords off first, and slowly hobbled off. I got out of there quicker than you can say “poltergeist”. Perhaps it is one of those things where you have to be there, but man was that unnerving. Okay, so she may not have lunged at me and tried to gnaw my arm off, but how did she sneak up on me so soundlessly? And what the heck was she doing out there (granted…I was out there too)? I wouldn’t be surprised if the zombie apocalypse starts in Madagascar…just sayin’.
  • Important health/cooking tip: Boiling a liter of sour milk twice as long as you normally would doesn’t make the milk fresh again. You just get a liter of boiling hot sour milk.
  • As I was walking to the market awhile back I saw a cute little puppy about as old (although not nearly as fat) as my dog Indiana. Of course, I immediately lapsed into my cute animal baby talk (I mean, who doesn’t?). My dialogue went something like this, “Who’s a cute little doggy? Who’s a cute doggy woggy? Oh, what a big boy…come here! Come and pl…” Why did I trail off you ask? Because it was at that point the puppy turned around and I saw that it had a rat the size of Texas clamped firmly in its adorable tiny puppy jaws. Infantile animal talk immediately abandoned.
  • Most of you I am assuming are already aware that I live on the hospital compound in Andramasina. I share a little cement house behind the hospital with Dr. Felana (who is almost eight months pregnant now) and the girl who helps her cook/clean since she isn’t very mobile at this point. Occasionally we also host nurses who are doing training at our hospital or clinic. But (as always), I stray from my point. I was awakened one morning before the accursed rooster even started crowing (so you know it was ridiculously early) by what can only be described as the most horrible moans and screams I have ever heard in my life coming from the hospital. I mean, we are talking horror movie quality cries of pain. Indiana, who barks at blowing leaves by the way, seemed not to care in the least. I, however, couldn’t go back to sleep after that. Later that day, I told Dr. Felana that I couldn’t sleep that morning because there were horrible screams coming from the hospital. She immediately launched into a rant about how there was a patient who was such a problem because he was screaming and moaning and pretty much causing a big scene for nothing. She said they eventually sent him to Tana (the capital). At that point, I was thinking, “Okay, so the guy was just being a big baby and fussing about nothing. He probably had a minor cut or something like that. Geez, it sounded convincing though.” Finally out of curiosity I asked, “What exactly was wrong with him?” To which Dr. Felana calmly replied, “Oh, his roof feel in on him.” Remind me not to get seriously injured here. Ever.
  • By now you should all be well acquainted with the most adorable dog in the entire universe, Indiana (I may be only very slightly biased). What follows is roughly the daily schedule of Indiana:

5:00am – Start whining to be let outside

5:15am – See that Kim is clearly awake because she is covering her head with the pillow.         Whine louder.

5:30am – Wag tail excitedly and attempt to eat Kim’s pajamas as she lets me outside in a strangely zombie-like manner and immediately returns to bed

6:00am-6:00pm – Run around the hospital grounds scaring the elderly, eating garbage, peeing on as many objects as possible, barking at small insects before consuming them, and checking periodically if Kim is home to refill my food bowl, pet me, and tell me how handsome I am. It is an especially good day if I can avoid chickens.

6:00pm – Reluctantly come inside and get tucked into my bed by Kim. Note to self: If I lay my ears back and do the sad eyes she will always give me an extra treat.


So, as you can gather from his itinerary, Indiana has a pretty sweet deal here. Of course, he repays me for the kindness I show him. For example, he eats my clothing, occasionally pees indoors, scatters my garbage, incessantly licks my legs, jumps on my bed…wait. Huh. Obviously I am joking…I can’t imagine living here without my little “African Wild Dog” as company. However, there is one habit of his that I could certainly do without. Rather early on he showed quite a talent for finding random bones during his adventures outside. He then likes to bring his little trophies into my room to chew on loudly for hours at a time. This didn’t bother me initially. That is, until I started really thinking about it. As was previously stated, I live on the hospital grounds. Indiana is a big chicken and the possibility that I might refill his food bowl at any given time is too alluring so he doesn’t wander from the hospital unless I am taking him for a walk. So…the conclusion I have to draw from this information is that he is finding those bones somewhere on the hospital grounds…big bones. I think you see where I am going with this. He brought in a vertebra once that I had to remove from the room and throw far, far away while he was sleeping. I will continue to tell myself that these are pig bones. I am still trying to come up with something to tell myself if he brings in a human skull one day.

  • Newsflash! According to basically everyone in my town, I am an absolutely amazing dancer. Those of you who have had the unfortunate experience of actually seeing me bust a move in the States will most likely be both horrified and amused by this. I kid you not, I can’t go wrong with Cotton Eyed Joe, the Macarena, or the Electric Slide here in Madagascar. Wide eyed stares and exclamations of, “Tena mahay mandihy ianao!” (you are such a good dancer) are sure to follow. I am going to soak it up while I can.

Alright, this is the paragraph I warned you about. If you are reading just out of curiosity thinking that I might have been kidding and it might be an amusing tale after all, stop right now. None less amusing than this story (that’s for you, Pasha). *Deep breath* Last week, Indiana got very, very sick and passed away. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, and was vomiting blood. I sat up with him for two nights, hoping that he would improve. I am sure I was quite a sight for the people I share the house with, sitting on the cement floor singing “What a Wonderful World” to my dying puppy (that’s my comfort song). He just got weaker and weaker and there was absolutely nothing I could do. There is one “veterinarian” in my town but he really only gives vaccinations to animals and can help you out if your zebu has the sniffles. As I was sitting there feeling completely unable to help my poor doggy I did have one illuminating moment when I realized that in many developing countries, including here in Madagascar, there are countless parents who experience the unimaginable pain of being unable to help their ailing children. Some people live in areas where there are no doctors, no hospitals, and no clinics to turn to. Sometimes the needed medicine or treatment just isn’t available here, even at the biggest hospitals. Sometimes the parents have to choose between buying medicine for one child or feeding the rest of the family. In the US, if there is a real health emergency we have to be treated even if we are unable to pay and there is always a hospital an ambulance ride away. But what is a family to do here when their child is dying of Tuberculosis, gasping for each breath, and the nearest hospital is 60km away through jungle and impassable dirt roads? Anyway, that thought put things in perspective a little bit, but it didn’t make it hurt any less to be sitting there watching Indiana slip away. I will probably never know what really happened. It is possible he had some severe doggy illness. Maybe he ate something bad in his wanderings around the hospital. Some of my Malagasy friends strongly suspect that someone poisoned him (dogs are not highly regarded here at all and certain people here at the hospital compound have made troubling remarks in the past). But the bottom line is that my heart is heavy and my room is full of emptiness without him. So, wherever and whoever you are, lift your glass of adult beverage, water, chocolate milk, or whatever it is you have nearby. Here’s to Indiana, a really good dog and the best Peace Corps pal a volunteer could ask for.

One less devil spawn

The lovely Christmas cards Katelyn's class sent me! Much appreciated.

Finally got my PC bike. Much better than my bike in college.

My room at the hospital from the outside...

...and from the inside

One last pic of Indiana...happily munching on a bone



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pasha
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 01:05:53



  2. Sara Halligan
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 01:11:10

    Oh Mimi, I was sitting in the living room reading the blog aloud to Vin and Kaylie and had to stop because I couldn’t go on after the first couple sentences. In tears I read the rest to myself. I wish so much I was there with you to sing to Indy and comfort you. I’m so sorry. I know he was your buddy.
    We love and miss you very much.


  3. madalife
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 22:31:55

    I haven’t seen this in Madagascar yet but I found on TV a girl wearing a victory t-shirt of Hillary Clinton as president of United States.


  4. Rick Conner
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 23:31:31

    In the night of death, hope sees a star, and in listening love can hear the rustle of a wagging tail. Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are with us always, we have only to look up. Love is immortal,
    and death is only a horizon;
    and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.


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